Canberra Orchid Society
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Orchid Shapes

In order to describe accurately the features of a particular plant, botanists have developed a generally accepted set of terms and criteria. There are descriptions covering characteristics of all parts of plants, such as leaf shape, shape of stem/bulbs, covering and colour of leaves, flowers, etc.

The main contributors to the terminology were C. Linneas, especially his Philosophia botanica (1751) and J. Lindley almost a century later. An excellent presentation of botanical terms, descriptions and the botanical language is provided in William T. Stearn Botanical Latin Timberpress paperback edition 2004. The following draws on some of that material as used in describing orchids.

It should be noted that the use of Latin by botanists in describing plants has now been replaced by English.

Inflorescence Shapes

Orchid flowers show incredible variety in the shape of the individual flowers and the arrangement of those flowers. The following diagram illustrates the major forms of the flower arrangements. Examples are given of the orchids that have those particular forms.

Pseudobulb Shapes

A distinguishing feature of orchids is the variety of shapes of the pseudobulbs. Some common shapes are shown below, along with typical cross sections. It should be noted that that all orchids have pseudobulbs. Some pseudobulbs may be naturally ribbed, whereas in others the presence of ribbing indicates moisture stress.

Leaf Shapes

Again, there is a wide range of shapes in orchid leaves. Many of the common shapes are illustrated below, including several illustrative cross sections.

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