Orchids are unique flowering plants under the botanical family Orchidaceae and are one of the largest flowering families in the entire plant kingdom. They occur in almost all the continents except in the polar region. There are over 25,000 species in the world. It is estimated that about 1,300 species of orchids are found in our country with Himalayas as their main home and others scattered in Eastern and Western Ghats.Orchids are a charismatic group and have been called the “pandas of the plant world”.Orchids are sensitive to climate change. “In particular, they are good ecological indicators for the increasing temperatures and aridity associated with widescale deforestation in the tropics. Diminishing orchid populations often signal long-term deleterious environmental change.” (Christenson, 2003). The study of wild orchids has many conservation and scientific benefits, including the use of the orchid family as a base-line indicator of ecosystem health.
In India, orchids are employed for a variety of therapeutic use in different systems of traditional medicines like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani. Acampe praemorsa , an epiphytic orchid is used in rheumatism. Tubers of many Habenaria’s are being used to treat for unconsciousness, vermicide and as blood purifier. Locals in the form of salep are using Cymbidium aloifolium as emetic and purgative. Dendrobium ovatum for stomache ache, Eulophia nuda for tumors and bronchitis, Flickingeria nodosa (Purusharatna) is astringent, aphrodisiac, expectorant etc. Luisia zeylanica is being used as emollient for boils, abscess and burns. Habenaria acuminata, Nervilia aragoana, Satyrium nepalense, Vanda testacea, Zeuxine strateumatica are some of the other orchids, which are also medicinally important.ref
Most of these orchids are “food deceptive.” Using bright colors and sweet perfumes, they falsely advertise a free meal of pollen and nectar to attract bees, beetles, butterflies, and other pollinators. Why do some orchids continue to dupe insects in order to reproduce? One leading theory held that the strategy reduces the chances of self-pollination, making the orchids more efficient in dispersing their pollen to other plants .Steven Johnson—a researcher in the School of Botany and Zoology at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal—lead the study. He says that because orchids are hermaphroditic, or able to mate both as males and as females, they can self-pollinate. However, genetic variety is often lost when this occurs, leading to less-fit offspring, Johnson said. The process is known as inbreeding depression.The study’s findings confirm an observation made by Charles Darwin, who wrote that orchids employ a “beautiful contrivance” to avoid self-pollination.
The first raid on orchids in the Northeast, and particularly in Manipur, was by the British who extracted as many plants as they could and took them back to England in huge quantities .Orchidelirium is the name given to the Victorian era of flower madness when collecting and discovering Orchids reached extraordinarily high levels. Wealthy orchid fanatics of the 19th century sent explorers and collectors to almost every part of the world in search of new varieties of orchids. Orchidelirium is seen as similar to Dutch tulip mania . Today there still exists some levels of orchid madness, that has some times resulted in theft of exceptional orchids among collectors such as the ghost orchid .ref:Wikipedia
The present threat to the Indian orchid is primarily from China, which has a huge market for the plant. Orchids are used by the Chinese as aphrodisiacs and are also used to make a variety of popular health drinks. What makes this possible is the fact that orchids last upto a month, even longer, after being plucked.Smuggling of orchids to China and other countries like Japan and Korea is one of the main factors for depletion of the flowers in both western and eastern Himalayas. In the western Himalayas orchids are sold for as high as Rs 10,000 per kg, while in the eastern Himalayas — Arunachal, Sikkim, Nagaland and Manipur — the orchids fetch around Rs 600-900 per kg.
The list of plants banned or restricted for export from India formerly included a few orchids but now include all orchids growing wild. Steps have also been taken to conserve Indian native species by establishing orchidaria, sanctuaries and germplasm conservation centres. Botanical survey of India has established two orchidaria one at Shillong and other at Yercaud to conserve rare and endangered species. The ICAR research complex at Shillong, the Indian Institute Of Horticultural Research at Hessaraghatta and the Indian Botanic Gardens at Calcutta maintain collections of orchids in their orchidaria. Some states have also established orchid sanctuaries in Sikkim at Singtom and Deorali and in Arunachal Pradesh at Tapi.
Tissue culture should be encouraged to raise saplings and reintroduce them in the original habitat. One should not pluck orchids but cultivate hybrid ones.