For the Love of Orchids!

Written By: Fran Newsom, IMF

Orchids are one of the largest and oldest families of plants in the world. Over 30,000 species of orchids inhabit every part of our earth with only two exceptions, the driest deserts and Antarctica. 

Perhaps this is why they seem to have a magical beauty and allure that contributes to the belief that they are hard to grow. In reality, most are not difficult plants and some are practically indestructible. Humans crossbred species to create 150,000 hybrids with more appearing all the time and with a few basic tips, your orchids can grow, thrive and bloom!

Evidence of orchids appears from as long ago as 120 million years which also makes them some of the first flowering plants. Scientists have identified the oldest orchid fossil on record. A tiny gnat, preserved in amber, carrying a tinier bundle of orchid pollen from between 45 and 55 million years ago. It’s likely that orchids evolved in the Cretaceous Period, blooming alongside the dinosaurs, and have been enticing pollinators with their bright colors, bizarre shapes and unique scents for tens of millions of years. Several have an evolutionary relationship with a single bird or insect pollinator.

Unlike most plants, they do not grow in soil, but in the air and are called epiphytes because their roots attach to trees, rocks, and cliffs where they capture moisture and nutrients that wash over them in the rainforests. Because of their minimal water and soil requirements, orchids make good house plants.

The first step in caring for your orchid is learning what kind it is. Most of the orchids that are sold are hybrids created specifically for their flowers and ease of care in homes and offices. offers information about basic care for the most common kinds of orchids available for sale and are best suited for beginners.

There are only 3 orchid species native to Hawaii, but 32 species in 13 genera in Iowa and include some of our rarest plants. The most beautiful and showy native Iowa orchids have been at risk of being collected for most of this century. Many of our native Iowa orchids require a special fungi present in the soil to survive. For this reason, transplanting them almost always fails.

Most importantly, habitat destruction, dangers from pollution and climate change endanger many orchids. Please do everything you can to stop these threats because we are already losing many of these wondrous plants forever! You can help by reducing what you use, recycling and taking action to stop the destruction of the rainforests and wetlands. Only buy plants from legitimate vendors, and never take plants from the wild.

Fran Newsom, IFA, IMF

Resources:, George Poinar, Jr. entomologist, Oregon State University  and Central Iowa Orchid Society