To temperate-zone plant enthusiasts, the orchid family seems more than a little strange. On the one hand, native orchids grow wild without assistance from people, they are rooted in the soil, and they survive freezing cold winter temperatures. On the other hand, the tropical orchids that we encounter are ornamental plants, pampered by their human caregivers, cultured indoors in pots filled with fir bark or other media designed to mimic the plants’ natural epiphytic habit, and, as a group, these ornamental tropical orchids have essentially zero tolerance to frost. Of course, their flowers, fruits, and seeds define them all as members of the orchid family, Orchidaceae, but from the perspective of how they actually live, and how we interact with them, native orchids and their tropical ornamental relatives seem utterly, profoundly, different.

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Publication Date

Spring 2016

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Copyright © 2016 Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Sempervirens (Fall 2016), 6-7.

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