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What Is a Christmas Orchid?

One type of Christmas orchid helped Charles Darwin develop co-evolutionary theory.
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  • Written By: Todd M.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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Christmas orchid is an informal name for a handful of different orchids that blossom during the winter holidays. Some Christmas orchids are also used in traditional Christmas floral arrangements. Most of these types of plants are easy to grow but require unique conditions in order to blossom during Christmas. The three best known species of orchids that blossom during Christmas include Percivel's cattleya, winika and the star of Bethlehem orchid.

Percivel's cattleya, Cattleya percivaliana, is an orchid species that is native to Venezuela. This Christmas orchid has showy blossoms with large, ruffled petals. The notable bottom lobe of a Percivel's cattleya ranges from deep red in the center to light pink along the margin. Many orchid enthusiasts have remarked that the strong odor of these flowers can be found objectionable. This species can be raised as a Christmas orchid by allowing the soil to become completely dry before watering it again during the late fall.

Winika, Winika cunninghamii, is a species of epiphytic orchid that is native to the tropical rainforests of New Zealand. Epyphytic plants are able to survive on cliffs and tree branches without the need for any type of soil. The blossoms on this Christmas orchid consist of five white petals with fuscia tips and a center lobe of bright yellow and rich brown. There is a hybrid of this Christmas orchid available called Dendrobium Christmas Chime as well.

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The Star of Bethlehem orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale is native to Madagascar and well-known amongst orchid lovers for its elegant, white flower and particularly long stem. Also known as the comet orchid, this Christmas orchid blossoms during the summer in the warm forests of its native habitat. In Europe, North America and other colder climates, the orchid is cultivated to blossom indoors during the early winter.

In addition to being a Christmas orchid, the Star of Bethlehem orchid is also at the center of a famous story concerning the theory of co-evolution. During the 1860s, Charles Darwin studied the orchid closely to determine how it was pollinated. He concluded that the flower could only have evolved its unusual blossom if a particular moth had evolved along with it.

According to Darwin, this moth would need a proboscis, or mouth-like appendage, that was 14 inches (about 35 centimeters) long. The moth was discovered 21 years later and video footage was taken of the moth pollinating the flower at the turn of the 21st century.

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