Yes, everything will grow faster than orchids, especially aquatic weeds. Once coryanthes hit their log growth phase, they're pretty strong, and then larger Cyrtopodium punctatums- those can really grow fast. Still nothing in comparison to pretty much anything else you'd ever grow in vitro.
There is no reason that hormones would have kept your plants alive; they inspire certain types of growth- proliferation of shoots, production of roots, generation of undifferentiated callus material- but otherwise the axenic culture box is same as an aquarium or a greenhouse or a potted plant or whatever. In fact, if you take away the sugars (which we use to provide "liquid carbon" to the plants), you can go with heteroautotrophic culture (I think it is) by feeding them carbon dioxide, and the problems with sterility pretty much go away. Then it's just nutrients + water + hormones + CO2.
Water is undoubtedly needed as a "structural" support for just about anything that can't be grown emersed- Madagascar lace, for example, or perhaps vallisneria. The little eriocaulons did brilliantly on agar with no aquatic overlay. Just adorable little green urchins.
What happened to the "baby plants" you describe? I suspect because the species throws a lot of pups naturally, it tried to do so as a last-ditch effort to propagate before expiring.