Orchids are flowering or seed plants. With more than 30,000 species and numerous fertile hybrids, they are one of the largest plant families. They are a cosmopolitan family found everywhere except in deserts and at the poles.
The largest number of species grows in tropical and subtropical areas. In Croatia, there are around 150 species, and over 60 species in the Plitvice Lakes NP.
The shape of the tuberous roots of orchids resembles testicles, giving its name to the entire orchid family Orchidaceae (όρχις meaning “testicles” in Greek). The tubers, or corms, enable these plants to survive in periods of cold and dry weather.
Because of its beauty, the orchid is known as the queen of flowers. But aside from its beauty, it is also known for its “treacherous” nature and adaptability, as well as its unique and special life cycle.
Orchids are mainly pollinated by insects (zoophily, entomophily). The modified median petal, especially for the Ophrys genus, the bee orchids, resembles in colour and shape of female insects to attract the pollinating male insects. Besides visually, the male insects may also be attracted through smell mimicking female pheromones. The males are tricked into mating with the flowers, thereby pollinating them.
In extremely unfavourable conditions of cold and dry weather, in places where there are few potential pollinators, self-pollination also takes place.
The chances for pollination are rare, so the flower stays active for a long time. After pollination, they produce a large number of seeds measured in millimetres, which are then dispersed by wind. Seeds are small and low in nutrients, and can’t survive without landing on a surface containing a sufficient amount of mycorrhizal fungi with which they form symbiosis. The fungal mycelia attach to the seed to provide it with nutrients, thus enabling germination and survival.
With around 60 species of orchids recorded so far, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is an area abundant in orchids. They mostly grow on grassland, and due to poor management of this type of habitat (grassland overgrowth, inadequate agricultural activities, pollution), they are now highly endangered. Our most beautiful orchid, and a Natura 2000 species for the Park, is the lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium calceolus). It is a forest species that can be found at several point localities in the Park.
*salep – a sweet beverage made of dried and powdered tubers of the Orchis morio, O. militaris and other species. It was used as an aphrodisiac in the past. In Europe, this beverage was replaced by coffee.
*vanilla – spice derived from the fruits (pods) of the orchid Vanilla planifolia, which originates from Mexico.