Orchids, known for their reputation as the most beautiful flowers ever, are a remarkable group of plants. They belong to the most advanced family within monocotyledons in terms of taxonomy and encompass 600-800 genera and 25,000-35,000 species. Orchids exhibit an astonishing variety in the size, shape, and coloration of their blooms. They are highly coveted as prized cut flowers and treasured potted plants, making them more popular than any other flowering plants.
Orchids, renowned for their enduring and stunning blossoms that fetch high prices globally, have gradually shifted from being a pastime pursuit to becoming a lucrative trade. However, this evolution was impeded by the difficulties of adapting orchids gathered from diverse regions to the local environment, resulting in their demise. Additionally, there was a lack of knowledge regarding propagation techniques, and numerous orchid varieties that thrived under careful cultivation were unable to fertilize themselves. Furthermore, the absence of functional endosperm posed challenges in germinating the seeds.
The germination of nursery bed seeds requires a lengthy period, and any disturbance to the soil or physical environment leads to the extinction of the entire population. Orchids comprise 9% of our country’s flora and constitute the largest group of advanced plants in India. It is estimated that there are approximately 1,300 orchid species (140 genera) in India, primarily inhabiting the Himalayas with sporadic presence in the Eastern and Western Ghats. The distribution of orchid species across different regions in India is as follows.
The North-Western Himalayas have around 200 species of orchids, while the North-Eastern India has approximately 800 species. The Western Ghats region is home to about 300 orchid species. However, it is the North-Eastern India that boasts the largest collection of temperate and sub-tropical orchids due to its unique gradient and diverse climatic conditions. The hilly regions of India showcase a wide range of orchid diversity with different species blooming throughout the year including large-flowered, terrestrial, epiphytic, and saprophytic orchids.
In India, indigenous orchids are categorized based on their habitat preferences. Terrestrial orchids are more abundant in North-Western India, while epiphytic orchids are predominantly found in North-Eastern India. Small flowered orchids, on the other hand, are commonly seen in the Western Ghats.
Habenaria is the largest genus of terrestrial orchids and includes around 100 species. Similarly, Dendrobium consists of approximately 70 species and is the largest genus of epiphytic orchids. Most species of Paphiopedilum, also known as lady’s slipper orchids, are found only in the North-Eastern Himalayas. However, one exception exists – P. druryi has been documented in Kerala but is now endangered in its original habitat.
Certain native Indian orchid species have faced overexploitation due to their beauty and high demand, putting their natural populations at risk.
Some genera that are almost extinct include Arundina, Cymbidium, Coelogyne, Dendrobium, Paphiopedilum, Renanthera, and Vanda. The provisional list of 150 endangered plants in India includes numerous orchids such as Acanthephippium sylhetense, Anoectochilus sikkimensis, Aphyllorchis montana, Arachnanthe clarkei, Arundina graminifolio, Cymbidium macrorhizon, Dendrobium densiforum, Didiciea cunninghamii, Eria crassicaulis, Galeola lindleyana, Gastrodia exilis, Paphiopedilum fairanum, P. druryi, Pleione humilis, Renanthera imschootiana, Vanda coerulea, V. pumila and V. roxburghi.