To the early Greeks, the orchid represented virility. To the Chinese, it was known as “the plant of the king’s fragrance.” The folks in the Middle Ages saw it as an aphrodisiac and love potion. To me, Phalaenopsisthe orchid with its interesting history is a wonderful plant and cut flower, perfect to enjoy in my own home or for giving as a gift, bringing a smile to those who receive them.

Most people think orchids are fragile and hard to grow when, in fact potted orchids are easy to care for. Their availability makes them affordable, and the selection is huge.

The most popular is the Moth orchid, aka, Phalaenopsis. It features beautiful large blooms and is available in white to deep purple and every shade in between. Its low light and easy watering requirements make this instant beauty a perfect start for beginners. Though, I warn you, you may become an orchid addict.

Here are a few more orchids found at local garden centers and florists: Cattleyas, Cymbidium, Oncidium, Vanda and Miltonia (Pansy Orchid).

CattleyaThere are more than 30,000 orchid species growing around our big blue marble and probably a few more awaiting discovery. Except for Antarctica, orchids have adapted to every environment — mountains, bogs, rainforests and grasslands. The majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes, which means they grow anchored to trees or shrubs in the tropics or subtropics. Other species are lithophytes, growing on rocks or in very rocky soil, or are terrestrial.

Over 120 million years ago, this magnificent flower shared the earth with the dinosaurs. A fossil dating back to 20 million years ago holds an extinct bee trapped in amber carrying pollen from an orchid on its wings.

Also, the orchid has been used in traditional medicines to treat many diseases and ailments. They have been used as a source of herbal remedies in China since 2800 BC. In recent years, a number of studies have been published on anti-cancer activity of the chemical moscatilin, which is found in the stems of the orchid species Dendrobrium.

The orchid family also includes Vanilla. Yes, the same vanilla found in cooking and flavoring. It’s an edible orchid. Its dried seedpods are commercially Spider Orchidimportant in baking, perfume and aromatherapy. Some dried leaves are used to flavor rum.

Collectors have often sought orchids of all types. Hundreds of societies and clubs worldwide have been established, including the American Orchid Society, which serves to encourage cultivation and collection of orchids, and also concentrates on conservation and research.

Next time you are wondering “what should we take” as a housewarming gift or to a birthday or dinner party, consider the amazing orchid and be sure to get one for yourself, too, so you can enjoy the history, past and future of the impressive orchid.

What is your favorite type of orchid and why?