Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wild orchids

Orchids are my favourite group of plants. They are fascinating mainly because they are beautiful and interesting and although there are many species none of them is common.

Orchids have been arousing passions for a long time. In the Victorian era adventurous individuals embarked on orchid hunting trips in central and south America and Asia mainly to collect specimens for gardeners and horticulturalists in Europe and the USA. They often went back home with large numbers of rare species and long tales about their dangerous expeditions. 

Today many orchids are legally protected and it is not allowed to collect or export them. Although illegal trade in orchids still exists modern orchid hunters collect images. They are equipped with cameras, identification books and notebooks and often publish their results in specialist websites. Some restrict their hunting to a particular country or area while others travel and wide.

In Malta orchids can be found from the end of December to early June most species are in flower in March and April. 

Thirty eight species of orchids have been recorded in the Maltese islands. Over the past two decades the number of recorded species has increased partly because new species have been found by plant enthusiasts but also because what was considered as one species, the brown orchid, is now considered to be five different species. 

These species belong to a group known as the insect orchids. Male insects, especially bees and wasps, are attracted to the flowers which look like female members of the species. They land on them and attempt to mate. While their attempts to mate are unsuccessful they unknowingly end up with pollen on their back which is then transferred to another orchid of the same species which manages to trick them into landing on it. 

Some species of orchids enhance their performance by producing chemicals known as pheromones similar to pheromones used by female insects to attract males.

Finding, photographing and identifying orchids is an interesting and challenging hobby that can give days, weeks and months of satisfaction.

This article was published in The Times on 29.02.2012

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