Although orchids are classified as Monocotyledons, they are acotyledons in terms of seeds. The specific features of a petal (the lip) and sexual organs unified in a particular structure called a column (or gynostemium) makes the flowers bilaterally symmetric.
Orchids have been the subject of many classifications. They are a monophyletic group according to the Angiosperm phylogenic group (APG3). Today botanists recognise around 20,000 species, making it one of the biggest plant families along with the Asteraceae. However, over 71,000 names have been published, so some species have over 20 synonyms.
The Muséum’s collection contains over 92,000 Orchidaceae specimens representing most of the described species. Herbaria are essential tools in the study of this family, although they can deform the flowers and thereby make identification difficult. This is why the collection is completed by specimens preserved in spirit collections and photographs of living orchids.
Based on the herbarium of Sébastien Vaillant (1669-1722), the Muséum’s general herbarium has expanded over time, in particular thanks to donations and deposits. These include the collections of Drake del Castillo (1855-1904), containing 500,000 specimens, and E. Cosson (1819-1889).
In the 19th century, the Muséum’s herbarium benefited from the enthusiasm of the plant exchange societies, giving us a snapshot of French flora at the start of the industrial area. In 2003, the orchid collection was the first to be fully computerised as one of the first projects of GBIF-France.
Finally, the orchid collection was further enriched in 2013 with a large group of photographs by Marcel Lecoufle, an orchid producer and renowned photographer, as well as a set from Jean Bosser, an orchidologist specialising in Malagasy flora who passed away in December 2013.
As the collection contains plants from all around the world, it is frequently consulted by many specialists. This area of the herbarium is of particular interest due to botanists’ fascination with orchid biology and morphology… Madagascar, New Caledonia and French Polynesia are particularly well represented. Illustration: Paphiopedilum rotschildianum. This species is one of the rarest representatives of the Paphiopedilum genus, and is only found on Mount Kinabalu in Northern Borneo. Due to its rarity, this species is protected by international conventions. This specimen was confiscated by customs, who brought it to the Muséum.