No Leaves, No Problem!

By Matthew C. Pace

Mar 5 2020

Although the vast majority of plants have leaves, not all plants do, and many leafless plants are orchids. Leaves are the primary food producers for plants, so leafless orchids use one of two strategies to produce food:

  • If they are epiphytic (growing harmlessly on the branches of trees), their roots contain chlorophyll and produce food
  • If they are terrestial, they partner with or partially parasitize species of fungi in the soil through a complex set of relationships we are only begining to understand

Leafless orchids include the famous Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, featured in the popular book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation. Like many leafless orchids, the Ghost Orchid is an epiphyte, growing harmlessly on the branches of trees.

Browse this selection of leafless orchids, the odd-balls of the orchid world!

Digitization of NYBG Steere Herbarium orchid specimens made possible through a National Science Foundation digitization grant (award #1802034).


Digitization TCN: Collaborative Research: Digitizing "endless forms": Facilitating Research on Imperiled Plants with Extreme Morphologies

Orlean, Susan. 1998. The Orchid Thief. Random House. New York.

Adaptation. Directed by Spike Joneze, performances by Nicolas Cage, Merly Streep, and Chris Cooper, Columbia Pictures, 2002.