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Orchid (Polystachya bella).—Sven Samelius
Any of the more than 22,000 species in nearly 1,000 genera of nonwoody perennial plants that make up the family Orchidaceae. Bearing attractive flowers, orchids grow in most of the nonpolar world, especially in tropical regions, in soil or on other plants. Hybrids with showy flowers for the commercial trade come from the genera Cattleya, Cymbidium, Vanda, and Laelia. Flowers vary widely in size, colour, and shape, but all are bilaterally symmetrical and have three sepals. Most orchids photosynthesize, but some live on dead organic material or absorb food from a fungus living in their roots. Vanilla is extracted from the seedpod of the genus Vanilla. Many folk medicines, local beverages, and foods are prepared from parts of orchid plants.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on orchid, visit Britannica.com.