Plant Diversity ›› 2018, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (04): 196-208.DOI: 10.1016/j.pld.2018.06.003

• Articles • Previous Articles    

Physiological diversity of orchids

Shibao Zhanga, Yingjie Yanga,b, Jiawei Lia,b, Jiao Qina, Wei Zhanga, Wei Huanga, Hong Hua   

  1. a Key Laboratory of Economic Plants and Biotechnology, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650201, China;
    b University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2018-03-27 Revised:2018-06-20 Online:2018-08-25 Published:2018-09-08
  • Contact: Shibao Zhang
  • Supported by:

    This work is financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31670342, 31370362) and the Natural Science Foundation of Yunnan Province (2018FA016).


The Orchidaceae is a diverse and wide spread family of flowering plants that are of great value in ornamental, medical, conservation, and evolutionary research. The broad diversity in morphology, growth form, life history, and habitat mean that the members of Orchidaceae exhibit various physiological properties. Epiphytic orchids are often characterized by succulent leaves with thick cell walls, cuticles, and sunken stomata, whereas terrestrial orchids possess rhizomes, corms, or tubers. Most orchids have a long juvenile period, slow growth rate, and low photosynthetic capacity. This reduced photosynthetic potential can be largely explained by CO2 diffusional conductance and leaf internal structure. The amount of light required for plant survival depends upon nutritional mode, growth form, and habitat. Most orchids can adapt to their light environments through morphological and physiological adjustments but are sensitive to sudden changes in irradiance. Orchids that originate from warm regions are susceptible to chilling temperatures, whereas alpine members are vulnerable to high temperatures. For epiphytic orchids, rapid water uptake by the velamen radicum, water storage in their pseudobulbs and leaves, slow water loss, and Crassulacean Acid Metabolism contribute to plant-water balance and tolerance to drought stress. The presence of the velamen radicum and mycorrhizal fungi may compensate for the lack of root hairs, helping with quick absorbance of nutrients from the atmosphere. Under cultivation conditions, the form and concentration of nitrogen affect orchid growth and flowering. However, the limitations of nitrogen and phosphorous on epiphytic orchids in the wild, which require these plants to depend on mycorrhizal fungi for nutrients throughout the entire life cycle, are not clearly understood. Because they lack endosperm, seed germination depends upon obtaining nutrients via mycorrhizal fungi. Adult plants of some autotrophic orchids also gain carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other elements from their mycorrhizal partners. Future studies should examine the mechanisms that determine slow growth and flower induction, the physiological causes of variations in flowering behavior and floral lifespan, the effects of nutrients and atmospheric-nitrogen deposition, and practical applications of mycorrhizal fungi in orchid cultivation.

Key words: Orchid, Abiotic environments, Photosynthesis, Morphology, Mycorrhiza