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Plants: Species Collection: Orchids

If roses are the flower of romance, then orchids are the flower of passion. Collectors through the years have risked life, limb, and incarceration in their quest for yet another rare orchid to add to their hoard. They've often died in the effort--usually by accident or disease, but sometimes as a result of murder by headhunters or even a rival orchid collector! There have even been cases of "death by orchid." Borneo's Grammatophyllum orchids can grow to a circumference of 40 feet (17 meters) and weigh more than half a ton (tonne). These have been the death of more than one collector who was crushed when trying to dislodge one from the top of a rain forest tree.

The deaths, near-misses, thefts, smugglings, arsons, backstabbings, and intrigues of the wild, weird world of orchid collectors would make titillating material for any number of movie plots, should Hollywood ever decide to create an orchid thriller. You can get a taste of this world with books like Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy, by Eric Hansen, or The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.

The largest family of flowering plants, orchids are found on every continent except Antarctica, in almost every kind of habitat. There are even orchids that grow in rotting wood and bloom underground. The orchid family has more than 35,000 known species, and at least another 100,000 hybrids. Here at the Zoo, we have 948 taxa, and 22 of our orchid species are conservation-worthy. Our Orchid House has both cold rooms and hot houses, since orchids thrive in many different kinds of temperatures. You can see all kinds of rare, unique, historic, and gorgeous orchids in the Orchid House when it is open for Orchid Odyssey on the third Friday of every month, as a part of Plant Day, and select Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

If you want to see orchids but can't come on Orchid Odyssey days, don't fret. You can still see plenty throughout the Zoo even when the Orchid House is closed. One of the best places to view them is in the tree tops of Fern Canyon and the display case at its foot. You'll also see the exotic flowers in the Albert's Restaurant orchid garden and even inside some bird and reptile enclosures.