The orchid family (Orchidaceae) is diverse and maybe the largest family of flowering plants.1A constant flux of data on the members of the families makes it difficult to declare the largest family. The Orchidaceae consists of about 25,000 to 30,000 accepted species. During the blooming season, the orchids bear a variety of exotic flowers. And they are usually fragrant too. But a few orchid flowers look incredible, and in fact, resemble other species of animals. Here I have assembled a list of 11 orchid flowers that look like animals or humans.
1. The Bee orchid flowers resemble female bees. One can find these orchids in grasslands, pastures, and on roadsides throughout the UK.
Binomial name: Ophrys apifera
The Bee orchids grow during winters to a height of 6 to 20 inches (15 to 50 cm). Ideally, the perennial plant grows best on moist and humus-rich soil. In the UK, the bee orchids can be found in grasslands, open meadows, pastures, and roadsides.
The plant blooms in spring from mid-April to July, during which it produces up to ten spiky bee-like flowers from its stems. Although spread throughout the UK, the bee orchid is scarce in the northern region. Furthermore, the Wildlife Order of 1985 protects the species in Northern Ireland.
Due to their strong resemblance to female bees, certain species of male bees attempt mating with it. Instead, they end up pollinating the flower. Unfortunately, these bee species are not common in the UK hence the orchids in the region are self-pollinated.(1,2,3)
2. The Butterfly orchid is a generic term used for orchids belonging to the Psychopsis genus, along with various other orchids. The Psychopsis orchids are native to South and Central America.
The Psychopsis orchids are epiphytic2and bear single flowers which grow 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) long. Some of the Butterfly orchids have reddish to purple dots on their leaves and pseudobulbs,3which makes them look attractive even when not in bloom.
Another genus, Platanthera, has over 100 species that are called the butterfly orchids. The orchids of this genus are native to Europe, Asia, North Africa, North and Central America.
Psychopsis has five species that are called Butterfly orchids. These are Psychopsis krameriana, Psychopsis limminghei, Psychopsis papilio, Psychopsis sanderae, and Psychopsis versteegiana. The five species are native to Central and South America. Of these, Psychopsis papilio’s usage is common as ornamental orchids.
Psychopsis orchid flowers mimic butterflies- the lips resemble the wings, and the sepals, petals, and the column somewhat resemble the head. In fact, these plants are of great curiosity to the botanists as they use their appearance to stir insects’ defensive instincts. When the wind blows, insects such as bees think that it’s a butterfly acting aggressively. Consequently, the bees’ defensive instincts tempt them to attack the flower, but they end up pollinating it.(1,2,3,4)
3. The Dancing Lady orchids refer to approximately 330 species of the Oncidium genus. These plants are native to South and Central America, Mexico, West Indies, and South Florida.
Other common names: Dancing Doll orchids, Golden Shower orchids
Like Butterfly orchids, these plants are epiphytic- they do not require soil for growth. Instead, they grow on tree branches away from the ground.
Also known as the Golden Shower orchids, the most popular Oncidium species have yellow and pink-colored flowers. With a striking floral pattern, the flower resembles the skirt of a dancing woman. Although native to the rainforests of South and Central America, the dancing lady orchids are now cultivated globally due to their popularity. The plant blossoms in late summer or early autumn. Furthermore, the bloom can last for months.(1,2,3)
4. The Fly orchid is native to central Europe. Due to its appearance, the orchid flower attracts bees and wasps.
Binomial name: Ophrys insectifera
All the Ophrys orchids are terrestrial and generally grow less than 1 foot (30 cm) tall. The Fly orchids are a central European species, but they are spread throughout Europe. For optimal growth, slightly wet and alkaline soil is ideal. Similar to the Bee orchids, the plants are present in urban areas. The plant blooms during June and July.
Like the Bee orchid, Fly orchids bear several flowers on their spikes. Also, the appearance, texture, and scent lure particular species of insects such as bees and wasps. And the scent released from the orchids resembles female sex pheromones. This luring technique results in pollination of the flower, and it is called pseudocopulation.(1,2,3,4)
5. The Flying Duck orchid is native to Australia and strikingly resembles a duck in flight.
Binomial name: Caleana major
Other common names: Large Duck orchid, Large Flying Duck orchid
The Flying Duck orchid is a terrestrial, perennial plant found in the wilderness of eastern and southern Australia. In late spring or early summer, the flowers blossom and grow 1/2 to 3/4 inches in length. The plant itself attains a height of 8-16 inches (200-400 mm). The tiny flowers attract male sawflies for pollination.4
Unique in their appearance, the Flying Duck orchid also featured on the Australian postage stamps in 1986. Currently, the plant is in the vulnerable plant list in Australia due to urbanization and a decrease in insect pollinators.(1,2,3)
6. The Holy Ghost orchid is native to Central and South America, and the flower appears to have a little dove inside.
Binomial name: Peristeria elata
Other common names: Dove orchid, Flower of the Holy Spirit, flor del Espiritu Santo (Spanish)
The Holy Ghost orchid, an epiphyte, is the most famous orchid in the Peristeria genus. The inflorescence can grow from 6 inches (15 cm) to 4 feet (120 cm) long. Four to twelve flowers spring from the bulb’s base. Also known as the Dove orchid, the central part of the orchid’s flower mimics a dove resting inside, and there are purple spots on it. Interestingly, the flower’s scent is similar to beer. The blooming season lasts from July to October.
The orchid is found in Central and South America, and it thrives in humid mountain forests. Specifically, their location stretches from Costa Rica and Panama southwards to Peru and Brazil.
The Republic of Panama declares the Holy Ghost orchid as their national flower. Unfortunately, the orchid is in danger of extinction. Extensive trafficking of the orchid from its natural habitat threatens the species’ survival. By the same token, the Washington Treaty on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists the orchid as threatened.(1,2,3,4,5)
7. The Monkey orchid grows in the mountain forests of Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. The term “Monkey orchid” refers to more than one species of orchids. These include Dracula simia and Dracula gigas, and the orchid flowers strongly resemble the face of a monkey.
Other common names: Monkey-like orchid, Monkey-face orchid
The epiphytic Monkey orchids are not season-specific. They can bloom any time of the year, and the flowers grow up to 2 inches (5cm) in length. The column-lip-petal arrangement strongly resembles the face of a monkey. Also, the flowers smell like ripe oranges.
Formerly belonging to the Masdevallia genus, the orchid species later moved to the genus Dracula. The Monkey orchid’s natural habitat is in the mountainous regions of South America, 3200 to 6600 feet (1000 to 2000 meters) above sea level. However, a few cultivators have managed to cultivate the incredible looking orchids elsewhere.(1,2,3,4)
8. The Moth orchid is a common term which refers to the species of the genus Phalaenopsis. The flowers of the orchids resemble moths in flight.
The Moth orchids are famous orchids, traded throughout the world. A majority of the Moth orchid species are epiphytic, but a few are lithophytes.5The stem of the orchid usually has a few leaves, but they are thick, fleshy, and elliptical.
The species can bloom for several weeks to months, especially when kept indoors. Also, the orchid flowers emit a sweet fragrance. The flowers are white, pink or purple-colored.
The various species of Phalaenopsis are native to Asia, Queensland, New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago. As per the World Monocot Checklist, there are currently 63 species and seven natural hybrids of the genus. Their natural habitats are unique to each species. While some grow in moist lowland forests, other Moth orchids thrive in seasonally dry environments.(1,2,3)
9. The Naked Man orchid is native to the Mediterranean. The orchid flowers grow in a cluster and resemble the shape of naked men.
Binomial name: Orchis italica
Other common names: Italian orchid, Hanging Naked Men
The orchid grows 8 to 20 inches (20 to 50 cm) in height. And its flowers are pale pink (or purple) and usually clustered. Low nutrient soil with partial sunlight is ideal for the growth of Naked Man orchid. The petals and sepals combine to taper into the shape of a helmet. In the slightest of breezes, the basal leaves of the orchid start undulating vividly.
10. The Swaddled Babies orchid belongs to the genus Anguloa, also known as the Tulip orchid. They grow at high elevations in South America.
Binomial name: Anguloa Uniflora
Other common names: Tulip orchid6
The Swaddled Babies orchid is a terrestrial plant that resembles a baby cuddled up in a swaddling cloth. Relative to the plant size, the orchid flowers appear quite large. The plant itself attains a height of 18 to 24 inches (45 to 61 cm). The orchid blooms during the spring season. Also, the flowers are overwhelmingly fragrant, and they smell like cinnamon.
Anguloa orchids, in general, are also called Tulip orchids due to the shape of the sepals. Typically, the Tulip orchid flowers have a waxy appearance. The leaves of the orchid are deciduous- they shed seasonally.
11. The White Egret orchid is native to Japan, and it resembles a snowy egret in flight.
Binomial name: Pecteilis radiata (syn. Habenaria radiata)
Other common names: Fringed orchid, sagisō
The White Egret orchid is a terrestrial plant with grass-like leaves, and the flower resembles the namesake bird. Their leaves are deciduous, and they grow 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm) long. The blooming season starts in July and lasts until August.
Also known as the Fringed orchid, the plant grows best on well-drained soil with partial sunlight. The orchid itself grows up to a height of 12 inches (30 cm), and the flower stalk bears one to eight flowers. While the sepals are plain and green, the petals and the fringed lip are extravagant and pristine white. The lip gives the flower the shape of a flying egret.
The White Egret orchid, native to Japan, grows in some other countries as well. Such as China, Korea, and Russia. In Japan, the orchid is popularly called sagisō.
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