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Orchids: More than meets the eye

By Jake Williams 

Throughout the history of nature, there have been many species of plants that have populated the Earth. However, as the world evolved throughout the ages, a continuous theme is that the old dies out and the new begins to bloom. There are new species and types of plants discovered all the time but there is one type that has remained constant throughout the world’s history: orchids.  

Orchids are a diverse group of flowering plants that have existed throughout history of all the world. There are around 28,000 types of orchids within the world, and they are found on every continent except for Antarctica.  Like all living things in the world today, orchids have had to evolve to continue to survive. They have evolved to be able to live off trees and not use soil due to the number of plants that use soil. They also shoot upwards to break tree’s canopy so pollinators can access them easier.  

“There are also over 40 types of orchids in just Indiana,” Erica Oliver said. 

There are many kinds of orchids that are used in today’s world. Some cultures use orchids for medicine. Many different types of orchids are used to produce goods that are commonly used today. 

“What some people don’t realize is that vanilla is actually a type of orchid,” Erica Oliver said. 

Orchids have become the subject of fascination for many people in the world. At Ball State University, there is a greenhouse dedicated to the growing and love of orchids. The Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Greenhouse opened in 1970 and houses around 2,000 types of orchids. 

“Dr. Joe Rinard was our lead donor that helped create this greenhouse for his wife that loved all things nature,” curator Cheryl LeBlanc said. 

The greenhouse has continued to take in new orchids for a very long time. It can be visited during the weekday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays. 

An orchid sits at Ball State’s greenhouse.

With people’s high interest of orchids, it can cause some unfortunate situations. In Susan Orlean’s 1998 book “The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession”, the book details the story of a horticulturist, John Laroche, and a group of Seminoles in south Florida poaching rare orchids. There are many species of rare orchids that are not allowed to be removed from their natural habitats, but this has not stopped people from doing so. 

Laroche was far from the first person to poach orchids. There have been several people caught in the act of illegally trading orchids in the past. Orchids can be worth a lot of money so the poaching of these plants can cause a lot of issues with people. If someone is caught poaching orchids, they will have them confiscated and poachers may have to pay a hefty fine. 

“When they are confiscated, they will be taken to caregiving places instead of getting rid of completely,” Erica Oliver said.  

Orchids are fascinating plants and despite their beautiful looks, there is more than meets the eye with them. From poachers to conservations look to make sure they live on; orchids are a unique species of plant that will continue to impact nature and the world. 

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