Orchids in Medicine?

Question: Are orchids used in medicine?

Answer: Worldwide, some orchids are used medicinally but compared with other families, despite their numerical dominance in the plant world, orchids only contribute a small number of species to medicine.

Orchidaceae is the second** largest Family in the world after Asteraceae which has about 32,280* species whilst the orchids consists of about 27,753 species. In the big picture, their numbers are similar but only 2.32% (619) of all orchids species can be considered medicinal as opposed to 7.17% (2,314) of Asteraceae.

It is worth noting, that only 28,187 (6.48%) of the possible 434,910 species worldwide are recorded as being used medicinally. But of all of the world’s families it is the small Family of Moraceae (Mulberry, Figs & Mallow) that contributes the most. Of its 1,229 species 22.54% are medicinally useful.

 

 Total number species

 

 Percent of species used medicinally

 

 Number of Species used medicinally

 
World wide

434,910

 

6.48%

 

28,187

 
             
Asteraceae

32,280

 

7.17%

 

2,314

 
Orchidaceae

27,753

 

2.23%

 

619

 
Moraceae

1,229

 

22.54%

 

277

Concerning Australian orchids only a handful are known to have been used medicinally such as Cymbidium for dysentery, Dendrobium teretifolium bruised leaves for pain relief and different parts of  Dendrobium discolor as a poultice and for ringworm.

Cym caniculatum drawing

Notes:

**Many sources will state that the Orchid Family is the largest Family worldwide but for the purpose of this article, the information used is from 2017 State of the World’s Plants. Species numbers tend to be a in state of flux as botanists are discovering new and reassessing data.

*All figures in this article are based upon figures found in the 2017 State of the World’s Plants report.

Reference:

https://stateoftheworldsplants.com/ accessed 9 June 2017

https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/98/9/625/1547881/The-uses-and-misuses-of-orchids-in-medicine accessed 9 June 2017

 

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Growing Cymbidium canaliculatum in Adelaide 1983 and Now

In 1983, Ron Robjohns, NOSSA’s first treasurer, wrote a comprehensive series of articles about growing epiphytes in South Australia. Thirty years on Ron’s information for growing is still helpful and applicable for today. Any updates or extra information are in black text.

NATIVE ORCHID SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA JOURNAL Volume 7, No. 11, December, 1983

GROWING EPIPHYTIC ORCHIDS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA – R.T. Robjohns

Cymbidium canaliculatum

A most interesting orchid, also one of the few epiphytes to grow in Western Australia. It is credited with a southern limit of near Forbes in New South Wales, extending northwards to Cape Yorke Peninsula in northern Queensland and westwards across the Northern Territory to the northern areas of Western Australia. Although sometimes found in the near coastal areas of the eastern states it is primarily a plant of the open forests of the drier inland areas. In some of its habitats there is less than a 55 cm rainfall, summer temperatures of over 38⁰ C with a very low humidity and winter temperatures dropping to below freezing. While not exclusively, it is usually found growing in hollow branches or trunks of trees where its roots penetrate the decomposed wood and often grow to considerable length. No doubt the fact that the roots are protected from the heat enables it to survive and even thrive under such harsh conditions.

It frequently grows to form large clumps of crowded pseudobulbs having two to six leaves which are thick, rigid and channelled and are from 10 to 50 cm long and 2 to 4 cm wide. The racemes are up to 50 cm long and can be erect or pendulous with up to 60 extremely variable flowers about 2-3 cm across.

The colours range from green, brown, purple, dull red or a combination of those colours and may be either with or without spotting, the labellum, however, is usually white with red markings.

I find that C. canaliculatum responds reasonably well to cultivation and have grown and flowered it in plastic planters filled with a mix of charcoal, pine bark and rotted hardwood, also in hollow logs filled with the same mixture. Propagation from backbulbs has been with limited success and it looks like about a six year project from planting to flowering.

An established plant can take full sun and will withstand our winter frosts without detriment. Fertilising has been with the occasional dose of liquid fertiliser. When purchasing from a nursery I would suggest medium to small plants as although large clumps may look attractive they usually have had the root system almost completely removed – an operation to which they do not take kindly.

Cym caniculatum drawing

Les adds that Cym. canaliculatum should be kept dry from Anzac Day (25th April) to September when the flower spikes appear.