When the sky is grey, the temperature downright chilly and the wind whistles through the palm trees, alleys and streets, it is a great day to visit the Orchid House in Estepona. With its temperature and humidity controlled to suit these marvellous plants, it is an ideal place to forget the outside world for an hour or so.
The orchid house is divided into two areas, one with Asian orchids, the other with orchids native to South America. The orchids nestle in amongst shrubs and semi-tropical perennials as they would in the wild. Opened in 2015, the plants in the Orchid House have had time to establish themselves and now provide interest throughout the year. With over 4,000 species now established there is always something in bloom. You do have to look carefully sometimes. Many orchids are shy and solitary and hide beneath foliage or up amongst the branches of trees and shrubs.
Conversely, others are flamboyant creations that delight in covering a patch with iridescent colour. Orchid Plants can develop into gigantic clusters weighing from several hundred kilograms to one ton. The rhizomes or tubers form spectacular bundles. The genus Orchis comes from the Ancient Greek word for ‘testicles’ because of the shape of the bulbous root.
Some orchid plants can survive for over 100 years making them as long-lived as many trees.
Orchids grow all over the world apart from areas of extreme hot or cold weather. They have been around for over 100 million years, and there are over 25,000 species with more being discovered every year. The diversity is huge. The largest orchids, Grammatophyllum speciosum, - Tiger Orchids can grow to 2.5 metres, whilst the smallest, Plztystele jungermannioides will grow to just 2 millimetres.
The bond between orchids and certain species of insects is tight and highly specialised. Petals have similar shape and colour to imitate female insects to attract males and ensure pollination. Ophrys apifera, better known as the Bee Orchid, lures male bees with its enticing smell and bee-like appearance. When a male bee approaches the flower to mate, it becomes covered in pollen and is sent off to fertilize the next orchid it visits.
This dependence on a particular insect does have a drawback, if the insect becomes extinct then so too does the orchid.
Other orchids imitate animals, see if you can find the Owl orchid or the Monkey orchid. Wonderful.
People use orchids for numerous purposes. Substances isolated from orchids are used in the perfume industry, as spices and in traditional Asian medicine. Vanilla comes from the pod of an orchid, Vanilla planifolia. It is difficult to grow, requiring high humidity, bright but indirect sunlight and warm temperatures, which explains why it is so expensive.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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Submitted by Heather on 6 Aug 2019
Hello, is there a shop there where you can buy orchids?
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