Orchids are very special plants with very special flowers. The flowers come in a rainbow of colours and in many interesting shapes and patterns. One of an orchid’s petals always has an unusual shape. It is called the lip. Usually it is very showy. People often notice the lip of an orchid before anything else. Orchids are the only plants that have these very special petals. Can you spot the lip in the drawing below?


The answer may surprise you. Orchids for the biggest group of flowering plants. There are at least 25,000 different kinds of orchids! Some people who study these plants think there may even be many thousands more. Only about 61 of these very special plants grow in Ontario and 75 in all of Canada. Fortunately, many of our Canadian orchids have truly gorgeous flowers. – show pictures of interesting varieties for kids…


Orchids are amazing! Different orchids live from the Equator north to the Arctic Circle and south to the southern tip of South America, and from sea level to 5000 m. high on mountains. Some of these orchids live in trees. Others live on rocks or in the ground. Canadian orchids often live in places like bogs, swamps, forests, and meadows. The soil in these places is almost always wet. This makes the soil acid, or sour. Most plants can not get the nutrients they need from acid soils, and so they can not live on them. Canadian orchids can and do. How does this make them even more special?


Only the roots of the magnificent Showy Lady’s Slipper orchid survive winter, under a blanket of snow. As spring arrives, warm sunshine and longer days help the orchid plant to make leaves. These leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a chemical that lets green plants make their own food. They do this with water, minerals, and energy from sunlight. This process is called photosynthesis.

When the Showy Lady’s Slipper orchid is about 5 years old, it produces a big, beautiful flower in late June with a pink, slipper-shaped lip. Its colour and fragrance invite bees to come inside looking for food. Most flowers make nectar, a honey-like substance, for visiting bees. Instead this orchid makes yummy hair-like growths that bees can eat. When the bee leaves the flower, it brushes past a sticky sac filled with yellow pollen. The sac sticks to the bee’s back. When the bee visits another Showy Lady’s Slipper flower, the sticky sac comes off the bee and attaches itself to part of the flower called its stigma. This process, called pollenation, is how flowering plants start making seeds.

Orchids make very tiny seeds in a seed capsule. The capsule grows behind the flower as it fades. One capsule can contain may thousands of seeds. The seeds will ripen by the end of the summer. As they do, the capsule splits open and the seeds are blown away by the wind. Only a few usually fall to the ground where orchids like to grow. These may germinate, or begin growing when spring arrives the following year

As the new Showy lady’s Slipper plants grow, they spread their roots into the surrounding ground. These roots can also make new growths that develop into new orchid plants.

Mission Statement: The Conservation Committee of the Southern Ontario Orchid Society works to help preserve wild orchids in their native habitats, to forward scientific inquiry into their unique structures, requirements, and evolutionary relationships, and to educate everyone about their uncommon beauty, sensitivity, place in the natural world, and need for protection.

Observing Wild Orchids: Avoid stepping near or touching orchids. Most have shallow, extensive, sensitive root systems and delicate flowers and stems that are easily damaged. It’s thus best to search for them in small groups.

Don’t Touch: Many of our orchids take 10–16 years to reach flowering size. Picking or digging them up is illegal, prevents them from reproducing, and almost always kills the plant. Never reveal site locations to people whose commitment to conservation is in doubt.

Photographing orchids: Set packs down carefully away from the orchids you wish to photograph. Use a long focus lens, with the camera set on a tripod away from the plant. If needed, gently tie back surrounding vegetation, but don’t remove it.
( from “ Jewels of the Biosphere ” )

Useful Websites:

Conservation material at The Canadian Orchid Congress:
Descriptions and pictures of most Canadian orchids at website of Royal Botanical Gardens
List and pictures of Ontario orchids
Northern Ontario orchid pictures and blooming times:
Windsor-Essex orchids:
Species at Risk. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
“ Jewels of the Biosphere ” by Tom Shields. A description of some of the orchids found on the Bruce Peninsula.

For more information contact: