The scented bug orchid, known in Maltese as orkida tfuħ, is a variable plant with a dense flower spike. It grows in garigue, rocky steppes and abandoned fields throughout the Mediterranean, except in Cyprus and the far eastern part as well as in Central Europe and western Asia. The flower scent varies form an unpleasant ‘bed-bug odour’ to a sweet scent.
The great majority are to be found in the tropics mostly Asia, South America and Central America. They are found above the Arctic Circle, in southern Patagonia and even on islands close to Antartica.
Botanists do not agree about the total number of orchid species. Some accept 22,000 species but the number may be as high as 25,000.
This is about four times the number of mammal species or more than twice the number of bird species. About 800 new species are described every year and since the 19th century horticultarists have created more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
An extinct species of stingless bee was found trapped in miocene amber which formed about 15-20 million years ago. The bee was carrying pollen of a previously unknown orchid on its wings.
This find is the first evidence of fossilised orchids to date. This indicates that orchids may have an ancient origin and have arisen 76 to 84 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. In other words, they may have co-existed with dinasours. It shows also that at that time insects were active pollinators of orchids.
According to another study the overall present distribution pattern of orchids shows that they are even older and may go back roughly 100 million years.
This article was published in The Times on 29 April 2009.