A tall, slender stalk leads to an exquisite flower composed of three inner petals, three outer petals, and a cupped petal distinct from the rest. Labellum, inflorescence, sepal—the names of the anatomical parts sound as fabulous as they look. The whole exotic composition is almost alien in appearance, extravagant in the extreme, yet possessed of a delicate intricacy. Orchidaceae is arguably the most stunning and elegant family of flowering plant known to man. For millions of years, the orchid family has thrived and expanded, defying evolution, Mother Nature, and the exploitation of its greatest opponent—Man.
One hundred and twenty million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a magnificent flowering plant came into being—the orchid. Evolution led to the demise of many plants and animals, but the orchid flourished, thriving on every continent save Antarctica. Orchids have adapted to live in all kinds of environments—mountains, bogs, grasslands and rainforests. At least 35,000 orchid species now populate the planet—and there is always the possibility that unknown species still await discovery.