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Plants of the Orchid Family

      The orchids are the only monocot plants in the northern latitudes with distinctive, irregular blossoms. It is worth a trip to the floral store to see the unique flowers, but far more exciting to find them in the wild. The flowers are bisexual, with 3 sepals and 3 petals. The sepals can be green or colored like the petals. The lower petal is often modified into a sort of "sack" or "spur". There are 1 or 2 stamens combined with the pistil into a column. The ovary is positioned inferior and consists of 3 united carpels (syncarpous/tricarpellate) with the partition walls present, forming an equal number of chambers. It matures as a 3-valved capsule with numerous seeds. The inferior ovary is one of the more distinctive patterns for identifying members of this family. It elongates into a seed capsule while the flowers are still present. The seeds are almost microscopic, consisting of a minute embryo enclosed in a few cells. Orchids associate with fungi, and must find the proper host to successfully germinate.

      The Orchid family is the biggest family of flowering plants, most of which inhabit the tropics. Worldwide, there are about 735 genera representing at least 20,000 species, possibly as many as 35,000. Vanilla flavoring is extracted from the immature pods of Vanilla planifolia. There are 88 genera and at least 140 species of orchid in the U.S. and Canada, mostly in the South. Many are rare species and should not be harvested.

Key Words: Irregular monocot flowers with a distinctive inferior ovary.

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Calypso bulbosa.Fairy Slipper.

Goodyera oblongifolia. Rattlesnake Plantain.

Cypripedium montanum. Mountain Lady Slipper.

Cypripedium montanum. Mountain Lady Slipper.

Corallorhiza maculata. Spotted Coral Root. Tobacco Root Mountains. Pony, Montana.

Corallorhiza striata. Striped Coral Root. Kirk Hill. Bozeman, Montana.

Platanthera stricta. Slender Bog Orchid.

Platanthera stricta. Slender Bog Orchid.

There are more
Orchid Family pictures
at, as well as the
North American Orchid Conservation Center

Check out Botany in a Day

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