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Balilashaki, K.; Martinez-Montero, M.E.; Vahedi, M.; Cardoso, J.C.; Silva Agurto, C.L.; Leiva-Mora, M.; Feizi, F.; Musharof Hossain, M. Cymbidium Orchids. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 23 June 2024).
Balilashaki K, Martinez-Montero ME, Vahedi M, Cardoso JC, Silva Agurto CL, Leiva-Mora M, et al. Cymbidium Orchids. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 23, 2024.
Balilashaki, Khosro, Marcos Edel Martinez-Montero, Maryam Vahedi, Jean Carlos Cardoso, Catherine Lizzeth Silva Agurto, Michel Leiva-Mora, Fatemeh Feizi, Mohammad Musharof Hossain. "Cymbidium Orchids" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 23, 2024).
Balilashaki, K., Martinez-Montero, M.E., Vahedi, M., Cardoso, J.C., Silva Agurto, C.L., Leiva-Mora, M., Feizi, F., & Musharof Hossain, M. (2023, June 23). Cymbidium Orchids. In Encyclopedia.
Balilashaki, Khosro, et al. "Cymbidium Orchids." Encyclopedia. Web. 23 June, 2023.
Cymbidium Orchids

Cymbidium is an economically important genus in the orchid family (Orchidaceae) that has a pronounced medicinal and ornamental value. Medicinally, the plant is employed as a tonic to treat weakness in chronic diseases, dizziness, eye problems, burns, and wounds, etc. Cymbidiums are highly prized for their graceful flowers and sweet fragrance and are among the top ten most popular cut flowers. They are one of the most important commercial orchid groups and account for 3% of cut flowers in floriculture. Some orchid species in this genus are particularly threatened by excessive harvesting, so conservation measures are needed.

Orchidaceae traditional uses health protection conservation

1. Introduction

The genus Cymbidium, also known as Boat Orchids, includes 75–80 species. As flowering plants in the Orchidaceae family, they are evergreens that bloom in winter and spring. They grow as epiphytes, terrestrial or lithophytes [1] in tropical and subtropical regions such as northeast India, eastern Asia and northern Australia.
Figure 1 shows multiple species of the genus Cymbidium that are predominantly epiphytic, but some species are also lithophytic and terrestrial or rarely leafless, saprophytic herbs, usually with pseudobulbs. Among orchids, Cymbidiums rank first, and in floricultural crops they account for 2.7% of the total cut flower production [2]. This genus has had medical applications for many years, particularly in the eastern part of Asia. Thus it serves as an important medicinal plant in the pharmaceutical industry [3].
Figure 1. Some natural and hybrid cymbidium orchids: (A) C. giganteum; (B) C. iridioides D. Don. (the iris-like cymbidium); (C) C. insigne ‘Alba’; (D) Cymbidium ‘Maluka Baby Pink’; (E) C. lowianum, (the Low’s boat orchid, (F) C. tracyanum L. Castle; (G) C. aloifolium (L.) Sw. (the aloe-leafed cymbidium/boat orchid); (H) C. bicolor (L.) Sw. (the two-colored cymbidium); (I) Cymbidium ‘Foxfire Mini Pharaoh Malcome’; (J) C. tigrinum C.S.P. Parish ex Hook. (the tiger-striped Cymbidium) [Photo plate prepared from Mohammad Musharof Hossain’s unpublished photographs].

2. Medicinal Value of Cymbidiums

Orchids have a long history of traditional medicinal use. Some orchids have been utilized by Indians since the Vedic period (2000 BCE–600 BCE) for their healing and aphrodisiac properties [3]; the Chinese and Japanese also have an ancient cultural history with orchids. In legend, they advocated the medicinal fuction of some orchid species in the 28th century BCE [4].
Several Cymbidium species, namely C. canaliculatum R. Br, C. madidum Lindley, C. eburneum Lindl., C. aloifolium (L.) Sw., C. devonianium Lindl. ex Paxton, C. iridioides D. Don, C. giganteum Wall. Ex Lindl. and C. sinense Willd., are used as medicinal plants in the traditional medicine of many Asian countries [5]. So far, different compounds such as phenols, alkaloids, phenanthrenes, stilbenoid derivatives, and steroids have been extracted and identified from the Orchidaceae, and the molecular structures have been elucidated by various spectroscopic methods [3].
Of the various Cymbidium species, only a few have been critically studied for their ethnomedicinal, glycosidic, and other pharmaceutical properties. The C. aloifolium plant, for example, is said to have emetic and laxative properties. It yields salep, a nutritious drink enriched with starchy polysaccharides, which is consumed in traditional drinks and desserts. The root powder can relieve paralysis symptoms, and boiled-down aerial roots are used to bandage broken bones. The extract of the leaves is applied to treat fevers and boils. It is also used as an emetic, tonic, laxative; it can treat burns, wounds, and earaches. Crushed plant extracts with ginger are administered to treat eye weakness, dizziness, chronic diseases, and paralysis. It has two substituted bibenzyls, a phenanthraquinone (cymbinodin-A) and a dihy-drophenanthrene [3]. A decoction from the rhizome of C. ensifolium is used to treat gonorrhea, and a flower extract is used for eye inflammation [6]. The extract of leaves of Cymbidium (C. giganteum) has unique blood-clotting properties [7]. The pseudobulbs of C. longifolium are employed as a sedative, while an aqueous solution of dried and powdered pseudobulbs produces emesis when taken orally on an empty stomach [8]. The roots of C. faberi Rolfe. have been used in China for decades as an important herbal folk medicine to loosen phlegm and relieve cough, etc. [9]. The available literature demonstrates that phenanthrene compounds isolated from various orchids have shown various promising biological and antioxidant activities [10].
Recent reports state that extracts of Cymbidium roots have a high antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, and the stem extracts contain phenolic compounds that exhibit a high antioxidant activity and cell cytotoxicity [11]. In another study, ephemeranthoquinone B, two phenanthrenes, and a phenanthrene glucoside were isolated from the roots of Cymbidiums along with six known phenanthrenes 5–10 [12]. The extracts from C. kanran Makino are enriched in flavone C-glycosides, including vicenin-2, vicenin-3, shaftoside, vitexin, and isovitexin [13]. The compound of 7-(4-hydroxybenzyl)-8-methoxy-9,10-dihydrophenane-threne-2,5-diol (HMD) was synthesized, together with five studied compounds [coelonin, 5,7-dimethoxy-phenanthrene-2,6-diol (DD), shancidin, 1-(4-hydroxybenzyl)-5,7-dimethoxy-phenanthrene-2,6-diol (HDP), and 2-methoxy-9,10-dihydro-phenanthrene-4,5-diol (MDD)], from the roots of C. faberi, as reported by Lv et al. [14]. Except for HDP, other compounds dose-dependently suppressed the production of NO, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL -6) in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced primary mouse peritoneal macrophages. Gigantol, a bibenzyl compound, has been isolated from C. goeringii, C. aloifolium and some other orchids and has shown anticancer activity [15]. It is a potent inhibitor of TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-1 and affects the mRNA expression levels of these cytokines in a dose-dependent manner. The qualitative analysis of various organic extracts of C. aloifolium revealed eight different photochemical compounds, namely n-hexadecanoic acid, 9,12-octadecadienoic acid (Z,Z), 9,12,15-octadecatrienoic acid, (Z,Z,Z), octadecanoic acid, phytol, 2-butyn, 2-cyclopenten-1-one, and 1,4-benzenedicarboxylic acid [16]. Most of the identified compounds are biologically significant. In addition to the medicinal uses of Cymbidiums, endophytic fungi from orchid plants have been reported to secrete secondary metabolites containing bioactive antimicrobial siderophores [17].

3. Floristic Significance of Cymbidiums

Cymbidiums are a highly valued flower-growing plant. Because of their long-lasting inflorescences and large, attractive flowers, Cymbidiums are among the top ten commercial orchids. Among the 75–80 species, not counting the natural hybrids, are C. floribundum Lindl. (Golden-Edged Orchid), C. devonianum Lindl. ex Paxt, C. elegans Lindl. (Elegant Cymbidium), C. eburneum (Ivory-Edged Cymbidium), C. mastersii Griff. & Lindl, (Master Cymbidium), C. erythraeum Lindl., C. iridioides (Iris-Like Cymbidium), C. lowianum (Rchb.f.) Rchb.f. (Low’s Boat Orchid) and C. tracyanum Rolfe. (Tracy’s Cymbidium), C. dayanum (L.) Sw. (Day’s Cymbidium or Phoenix Orchid), C. suave Sw. (Snake Orchid or Grassy Boat-Lipped Orchid), are the most beautiful, popular, and floristically important Cymbidium species. The greatest commercial use of this genus is associated with the splendor of its flowers and the splendor of its flowers and inflorescences. In floriculture worldwide, Cymbidiums hybrids are divided into three groups: miniature hybrids (e.g., Cymbidiums Autumn Emerald ‘Royale’), large-flowered hybrids (e.g., Cymbidiums ‘Kirby Lesh’) and another commercial group called ‘pending Cymbidiums’. Some Cymbidiums hybrids form clusters of up to 30 extravagant, multicolored flowers, including white, green, cream, mauve, and yellow [18]. The Tropical Cymbidiums Orchid is a well-known ‘winter flower’ with a flowering period of about two months, showing about 15 exquisitely beautiful and magnificent epiphytic flowers on the first inflorescence [19]. Undoubtedly, the commercial planting of this plant and the use of hybrid cultivars, despite having the advantages of a breeding cultivar, will lead to the elimination of native species and the reduction of genetic diversity and gene pool.

4. Reproductive Biology in Cymbidiums

Cymbidiums take 4–7 years to flower, but they are capable of triggering early flowering. This was demonstrated by Kostenyuk et al. [20] and suggests that the concerted action of phytohormone, as well as nutrient concentration and putative promoters/suppressors, determine the timing of the transition of the Cymbidium orchid from the vegetative to the reproductive stage [20]. The application of 6-benzylaminopurine, restricted nitrogen supplies with phosphorus enrichment, and root removal early induced the transition of a Cymbidium shoot from the vegetative to the reproductive stage for 90 days [20]. Furthermore, according to preview reports, the increase in leaf starch content during vegetative growth and soluble sugar in pseudobulbs and roots during the reproductive growth of Cymbidiums is critical for increasing the growth of the plant and thus promoting flowering [11]. Plants cultured at a high light intensity of photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) exhibited a lower time to flowering induction and development, alsoincreasing the number of inflorescences and flowers, in comparison with plants cultured at a low light intensity (PPFD) [11]. Moreover, shading treatments can significantly increase different inflorescence traits, such as quality, height, ratio, and spacing. The study by Zhou et al. [21] showed that inflorescence height, inflorescence ratio, and petal spacing of Cymbidium spp. increased significantly by 7.892 cm, 13.125 cm, and 0.484 cm, respectively, after shading [21].
The flowering of adult plants was influenced by several factors, such as fertilizer, light duration and quality, temperature, and plant growth regulators (PGRs), which affect flower induction, development, and flower characteristics. Flower diameter as well as the inflorescence length increased in response to increasing nitrogen and potassium fertilization during the adult vegetative stage in Cymbidiums grown at low light intensity and artificially induced inflorescence, while flower quality decreased in those grown at high light intensity [22]. Barman et al. [23] maintain that water-soluble fertilizers significantly affected the growth and reproductive stages of Cymbidiums. Their results showed that a maximum number of shoots (4.54), length of spikes (54.59 cm) and number of flowers per spike (10.19) were obtained when water-soluble fertilizer (N19P19K19 at 1 g/L concentration) was sprayed fortnightly. Day/night temperatures of 30/25 °C and 25/20 °C are best for vegetative shoot growth and flower bud formation in Cymbidiums, and intermediate flowers form most frequently in the just-growing young pseudobulbs and in the 1 to 2-year-old pseudobulbs [24]. Shoot growth rates and inflorescence numbers were lower at lower temperatures, such as 20/15 °C.
The molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of the reproductive stage have been extensively studied in the long-day plant models such as Arabidopsis and the short-day plant such as Rice, and many processes of gene regulation during development, especially the reproductive biology of flowering, have been elucidated [25]. However, in orchids such as Cymbidiums, the understanding of the molecular mechanisms controlling flowering is just emerging [26]. Many genes are involved in the transition from the vegetative to the reproductive stage, so inducing these genes may be the best method for inducing the reproductive stage and flowering. In this sequence, researchers discovered some miRNAs, for example, the differential expression of two miRNAs, miR160 and miR396, targeting ARFs and the growth-regulatory factor (GRF), respectively [27]. Thus, genetic engineering is another approach to manipulate the switch from the vegetative to the reproductive stage of Cymbidiums.
The knowledge of reproductive biology is also limited in Cymbidiums. Four types of pollination are known: autonomous self-pollination, reward-based pollination, generalized food deception, and Batesian mimicry of the food source [28].
To date, autonomous self-pollination has been described in C. macrorhizon, C. nipponicum, and C. nagifolium Masam, all of which lack a rostellum that acts as a physical barrier between the anthers and the stigma [29]. In Cym. mandidum, pollination occurs by reward. The flowers are pollinated by the stingless bee Trigona kockingsi Cockerell., which collects viscous substance on the labellar surface [30]. The substance is probably used as nest- building material. A similar method is also thought to occur in C. lowianum, in which the labellar surface has proteinaceous papillae that may function as food hairs [31]. In some species, including C. lancifolium [32], C. goeringii Reichenbach Ill. [33], and C. kanran [33], a general feeding illusion has been observed. The nectarless flowers attract pollinating bees by visual and olfactory stimuli. Finally, a Batesian imitation of the food source occurs in C. insigne. The plant depends exclusively on the bumblebee (Bombus eximius Smith.), which also pollinates the nectar-producing flowers of Rhododendron ciliicalyx [34].
Pollination experiments were conducted on C. macrorhizon, C. aberrans, and C. lancifolium to study the breeding system. It was found that some rewarding myco-heterotrophic plants depend (at least in part) on an insect-mediated pollination system, and some myco-heterotrophic plants can attract pollinators without attractive materials [29].

5. Seed Biology of Cymbidiums

Orchid seeds are very small, extremely light, and produced in large numbers with the length range of from 0.05 to 6.0 mm, the range of longest and shortest known seeds in the family being 120 times. Known 1000-seed weights range from 310 μg to 24 mg (a 78-fold difference). The number of known seeds ranges from 20–50 to 4 million per fruit. The Testa are usually transparent, with outer cell walls that may be smooth or reticulate (Figure 2A). Embryos consist of 100–400 disorganized parenchymatous cells and seeds have no endosperm. The volume of the embryo is much smaller compared to the size of the seed. Orchid seeds are balloon-like with large internal air spaces and difficult to moisten so they can float in the air and on water for long periods of time, a characteristic that facilitates dispersal over long distances [35]. Orchid seeds can also be transported in and on terrestrial animals and birds (in fur, feathers or hair, mud on feet, and perhaps after ingestion) [2].
Figure 2. Embryo morphogenesis and seedling development in C. aloifolium: (A) seed with transparent and reticulate testa and small embryo, (B) embryos swell by uptake of nutrients and water, (C) cell number increases by repeated anticlinal and periclinal cell divisions, producing a parenchymatous cell mass called spherulite, (D,E) spherulites accumulated dense chloroplasts and formed a compact structure with bipolar character, (F) spherulites developed into protocorm, (G) germinated seeds, (H) young seedlings, (I) in vitro seedlings acclimatized in the outside environment. [Bar = 1 mm].
Cymbidiums produce large capsules that carry thousands to millions of long and fuzzy seeds with pointed ends [2][36].
The germination of orchid seeds under in vitro conditions depends mainly on their viability, which is determined by the pollination and fertilization process and the culture media used for germination. Direct and indirect methods are applicated for testing seed viability [6]. In the direct methods, the germinated orchid seeds on artificial media are counted [37], while in the indirect method, the metabolic activity of embryos is examined using chemicals such as fluorescein diacetate (FDA) ortetrazolium salts. To determine seed quality, germination tests are most commonly adopted to assess seed viability in plant production [38].
The seeds of orchids are orthodox, meaning they must be air dried to extend their longevity. The shelf life of the seeds can be extended by reducing the water content, temperature, and oxygen level in the storage room. Reducing the water content by up to 5 percent and then storing the seeds at a freezing temperature (−20 °C) is used in seed banks of orchids [39][40]. Orchid seeds stored at a low humidity and low temperature can survive for decades. On the other hand, they are resistant to sterilizing agents such as sulfuric acid or hypochlorite, which are used in the sterilization of seeds for in vitro germination [41].
Seed banks are recognized as the most efficient way to store large quantities of living plants in one location [42]. Orchid seed banks have the potential to make an invaluable contribution to orchid conservation [36]. According to studies, storing orchid seeds under cold conditions was the best conventional method to prolong seed viability.


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