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Beautiful Orchid In Edwin & Frances Hunter Arboretum
A Representative Of An Enormous Plant Family At Palomar College
W.P. Armstrong 10 July 2021
The orchid family (Orchidaceae) is the second largest family of flowering plants with at least 20,000 species. It is exceeded only by the sunflower family (Asteraceae) with at least 23,000 species. These numbers are debatable by some botanists, and of course, new species may be discovered, particularly in the canopies of tropical rain forests that have not been destroyed by humans. There are higher numbers in some plant lists; however, many of these are unresolved pending DNA cladistic analysis. There are 11 genera native to California, including the elegant lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium) and the mycotrophic coralroot orchid (Corallorhiza). My approximate numbers come from some top plant taxonomists and botanical references. Although not many orchids grow on the Palomar College campus, I feel this very diverse and highly evolved plant family deserves to be recognized by a beautiful bright red species (Epidendrum) that grows along trails in the Arboretum. Orchids have the world's smallest seeds and are my favorite spice (vanilla), although I must admit that chocolate is a close rival. Some of the gee whiz and statistical information for this web page is from my following two Arboretum Lecture (Zoom) Topics:

  Botanical Record Breakers Parts 1 & 2  
Amazing Diversity Of Flowering Plants

A brilliant red Epidendrum orchid photographed along Arboretum trail on 10 July 2021. There was also a pink-flowered hybrid nearby. Originating in tropical America, there are at least 800 native species and many hybrid forms. They are commonly pollinated by hummingbirds and butterflies in nature.

By the way, people ask me if we have native orchids in San Diego County. The answer is yes. Eleven species are reported, including the lovely stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea) along perennial streams in mountain canyons. I have also seen the latter species in Death Valley!

Detail Of Orchid Flowers & Pollination
See Two Spectacular Orchid Blossoms
See The Mycotrophic Coral-root Orchid
See Orchids: The World's Smallest Seeds
See The Vanilla Orchid: A Delicious Spice
  Rare Rein Orchid Following Chaparral Fire   


I couldn't resist mentioning another orchid that I met on a Palomar College field expedition to Belize in 1991. In fact, this orchid happens to be the national flower of Belize. During this trip I became fascinated with logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum), the tree that spawned this Central American nation.

ARMSTRONG, W.P. 1992. "LOGWOOD: THE TREE THAT SPAWNED A NATION."
                      PACIFIC HORTICULTURE 53 (1): 38-43

  Logwood & Brazilwood: Trees That Spawned Two Nations  


The Largest Families & Genera Of Flowering Plants
The largest family of flowering plants is the ubiquitous sunflower family (Asteraceae or Compositae). Judd, W.S. et al. 2008 Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach lists 23,000 for Asteraceae, 19,500 for Orchidaceae and 18,000 for Fabaceae.] The sunflower family includes a great diversity of species, including annuals, perennials, stem succulents, vines, shrubs and trees. It is well-represented in parks and gardens throughout the world, with bedding plants, ground covers and shrubs. Familiar common names, such as daisies, marigolds, zinnias, gazanias, chrysanthemums, dandelions, thistles, ragweeds, sagebrush, cosmos and dahlias all belong to this family.

Leafy daisy (Erigeron foliosus var foliosus), a common wildflower in San Diego County. It is also native to the hillsides of coastal sage scrub adjacent to Palomar College, although I did not observe it following the Comet Fire of January 2021. It was formerly classified as E. foliosus var. stenophyllus.

Diversity Of Flowering Plants
Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
  The Legume Family (Fabaceae)  

In other words, if all the 250,000+ species of flowering plants on earth were lined up at random, every 4th species would be a sunflower (Asteraceae), an orchid (Orchidaceae), or a legume (Fabaceae). If you happen to pick a legume, the odds that it will be one of the 2,000 species of locoweeds (genus Astragalus) is about one out of nine!

Largest Genera Of Flowering Plants With 800 or More Species*

FAMILY
GENUS
# OF SPECIES
ARACEAE
Anthurium
900
ASTERACEAE
Senecio
Vernonia
1250
1000
BEGONIACEAE
Begonia
919
CYPERACEAE
Carex
2000
ERICACEAE
Erica
Rhododendron
860
850
EUPHORBIACEAE
Euphorbia**
Croton
2400
1300
FABACEAE
Astragalus***
Acacia
2000
1000
LAMIACEAE
Salvia
800
MELASTOMATACEAE
Miconia
1000
MORACEAE
Ficus
800+
ORCHIDACEAE
Bulbophyllum
Dendrobium
Epidendrum
Pleurothallis
1000
900
800
1120
OXALIDACEAE
Oxalis
800
PHYLLANTHACEAE
Phyllanthus
1270
PIPERACEAE
Peperomia
1000
ROSACEAE
Rosa
2050
RUBIACEAE
Psychotria
1500
SOLANACEAE
Solanum
1400

* Judd, W.S., Campbell, C.S., Kellogg, E.A., Stevens, P.F., and M. J. Donoghue. 2008. Plant Systematics:
A Phylogenetic Approach
(Third Edition). Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, Massachusetts.

** Some authors subdivide Euphorbia into several genera incl. the prostrate sandmats (Chamaesyce).
The On-line Plant List By Kew & Missouri Botanical Garden gives 2031 species for Euphorbia.

*** The On-line Plant List By Kew & Missouri Botanical Garden gives 2,481 accepted species
for the genus Astragalus, 2029 species for Carex, and 149 species for Rosa.

Working List Of All Known Plant Species. 2011. Kew & Missouri Botanical Garden.
Published on the Internet: www.theplantlist.org/

Astragalus (Locoweeds): One Of The Largest Plant Genera In The Legume Family


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