The Orchidaceae is renowned for its large number of species (19 500) and its many diverse, even bizarre, specialized pollination systems. One unusual feature of orchids is the high frequency of food deception whereby animal pollination is achieved without providing nectar, pollen or other food rewards. Food-deceptive pollination is estimated to occur in approximately one-third of all orchids. Equally intriguing is pollination by sexual deception whereby pollination is achieved by the sexual attraction of male insects to the orchid flower. Sexual deception is found in several hundred species representing multiple lineages. Given their rich species diversity and extraordinary plant–animal interactions, orchids clearly offer exciting research opportunities in pollination biology, reproductive isolation and speciation, yet surprisingly they remain under-represented in scientific investigations both in these fields and more generally. In this special issue of Molecular Ecology, Moccia et al. provide an exemplar study that combine multiple lines of evidence to illuminate the mechanism of reproductive isolation between two closely related food-deceptive orchids. Their study demonstrates that many of the challenges that confront orchid researchers and impede progress in our understanding of speciation in the Orchidaceae can be overcome by the creative application and integration of both old and new tools in ecology and genetics.