Posted by: marinvit | November, 2009

Orchid Flower

Orchidaceae are well known for the many structural variations in their flowers.

Some orchids have single flowers but most have a racemose inflorescence, sometimes with a large number of flowers. The flowering stem can be basal, that is produced from the base of the tuber, like in Cymbidium, apical, meaning it grows from the apex of the main stem, like in Cattleya, or axillary, from the leaf axil, as in Vanda.

As an apomorphy of the clade, orchid flowers are primitively zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical), although in some genera like Mormodes, Ludisia, Macodes this kind of symmetry may be difficult to notice.

The orchid flower, like most flowers of monocots has two whorls of sterile elements. The outer whorl has three sepals and the inner whorl has three petals. The sepals are usually very similar to the petals (and thus called tepals, 1), but may be completely distinct.

The upper medial petal, called the labellum or lip,  is always modified and enlarged. The inferior ovary (7) or the pedicel usually rotates 180 degrees, so that the labellum, goes on the lower part of the flower, thus becoming suitable to form a platform for pollinators.

This characteristic, called resupination occurs primitively in the family and is considered apomorphic (the torsion of the ovary is very evident from the picture). Some orchids have secondarily lost this resupination, e. g. Zygopetalum and Epidendrum secundum.

The normal form of the sepals can be found in Cattleya, where they form a triangle. In Paphiopedilum (Venus slippers) the lower two sepals are fused together into a synsepal, while the lip has taken the form of a slipper. In Masdevallia all the sepals are fused.

Orchid flowers with abnormal numbers of petals or lips are called peloric. Peloria is a genetic trait, but its expression is environmentally influenced and may appear random.

Orchid flowers primitively had three stamens, but this situation is now limited to the genus Neuwiedia. Apostasia and the Cypripedioideae have two stamens, the central one being sterile and reduced to a staminode. All of the other orchids, the clade called Monandria, retain only the central stamen, the others being reduced to staminodes (4). The filaments of the stamens are always adnate (fused) to the style to form cylindrical structure called the gynostemium or column (2). In the primitive Apostasioideae this fusion is only partial, in the Vanilloideae it is more deep, while in Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae it is total. The stigma (9) is very asymmetrical as all of its lobes are bent towards the centre of the flower and lay on the bottom of the column.

Pollen is released as single grains, like in most other plants, in the Apostasioideae, Cypripedioideae and Vanilloideae. In the other subfamilies, that comprise the great majority of orchids, the anther (3), carries and two pollinia.

A pollinium is a waxy mass of pollen grains held together by the glue-like alkaloid viscin, containing both cellulosic stands and mucopolysaccharides. Each pollinium is connected to a filament which can take the form of a caudicle, like in Dactylorhiza or Habenaria or a stipe, like in Vanda. Caudicles or stipes hold the pollinia to the viscidium, a sticky pad which sticks the pollinia to the body of pollinators.

At the upper edge of the stigma of single-anthered orchids, in front of the anther cap, there is the rostellum (5), a slender extension involved in the complex pollination mechanism.

As aforementioned, the ovary is always inferior (located behind the flower). It is three-carpelate and one or, more rarely, three-partitioned, with parietal placentation (axile in the Apostasioideae).


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