Through the ages man has sought orchids not only for their beauty but also for their once fancied value in alleviating suffering and for their supposed restorative and procreative powers.

Mention of the word "orchid" usually brings to mind jungles of far-off lands. But perhaps the small patch of woodland lying within a stone's throw of one's home may harbor several species of these plants. Although the flowers may not, at first glance, resemble those displayed in a florist shop, a close examination may reveal they are just as attractive in their way as any of their cousins that are native to dense tropical forests.

A very fine new book, "Native Orchids of North America North of Mexico," by Donoval Stewart Correll, published by Stanford University Press (400 pages, illustrated, $28.50) brings together for the first time information concerning all of the orchids of North America. The species and some of the varieties are illustrated, many for the first time.

Correll, the author, is taxonomist at Fairchild Tropical Garden, Miami, and the author of 20 botanical works. An effort was made to organize and present the material for popular interest as well as for scientific use-fulness, without unduly detracting from the value of either, he says.

The Orchidaceae, attaining its highest development in the tropics and subtropics of both hem spheres, is one of the largest families of flowering plants in the world, consisting of several hundred genera and 15,000 or more species and varieties.

The number of seeds produced in an orchid capsule is in many cases phenomenal. The astronomers at the Green wich Observatory, England, amde a count of the seed in a capsule of the tropical American orchid, Cyenoches chlorochilon, and found that it contained 3,770,000 seeds.

Microscopic, they apparently contain no endosperm or stored food and thus they are thought to be entirely dependent upon extenal aid for germination and growth of the seedlings. In nature, fungi are considered to furnish this assistance and, if the seed is not destroyed, a compatible relationship is established between the fungus and the orchid.

From an esthetic point of view, orchids are unlversally accorded first place in nature. Their beauty makes them the basis of a multimillion-dollar floral industry in the United States alone.

Minnesota has adopted the queenly Cypripedium reginae as its state flower, and Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras all have issued postage stamps commemorating outstanding species, the author says.

With few exceptions, orchids are pollinated by insects. Each individual species seems to have its own peculiar mechanism to insure its receiving pollen from another plant of the same species. The column is so formed and placed in the flower that, in order to reach the nectar, the visiting insect must first touch the stigmas and deposit there any pollen it may be carrying.

Upon leaving, the insect must first come in contact with another plant and thus become burdened with another load of pollen which it carries to the stigmas of the next flower visited. The pollinating agents in the Orchidaceae include bees, wasps, various flies and ants as well as butterflies, moths, beetles and snails. CAPTION: Picture, no caption