Epiphytic orchids, those that grow upon a support, have modified aerial roots that can sometimes be a few meters long. In the older parts of the roots, a modified spongy epidermis, called a velamen, has the function of absorbing humidity. It is made of dead cells and can have a silvery-grey, white or brown appearance. In some orchids, the velamen includes spongy and fibrous bodies near the passage cells, called tilosomes.
The orchid plant is also unique in its morphology (form or structure). We can begin with the leaves and work our way down to the roots. The leaves of many orchids in cultivation are unique in that they are specifically designed for water conservation (as is true for almost every orchid structure). They have a heavy waxy leaf coating and specialized stomata (openings through which the leaf “breathes”) that help to prevent water loss during transpiration (the act of the plant “breathing”). Many orchids utilize CAM photosynthesis as well, which in essence means that the plants collect materials during the day and then process them at night.
The family encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species). It also includes Vanilla–the genus of the vanilla plant, the type genus Orchis, and many commonly cultivated plants such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
The indoor types of orchids, including cattleya and phalaenopsis orchids, produce flowers that last months at a time. When these houseplants start blooming, the flower show continues for a long window—from four to 16 weeks. Cymbidium orchids produce up to 35 flowers per blossom spike, and each spike lasts up to eight weeks. Phalaenopsis orchid flowers can linger from 80 to 120 days.
If you just want a quick way to water your orchid without having to transplant the orchid, you can use the ice cube method. Put the equivalent of 1/4 cup (59 ml) of frozen water (usually about three medium ice cubes) on top of the potting mix. Make sure that the ice never comes in contact with the orchid itself - it should only touch the soil. Let the ice cubes melt into the pot. Wait about a week before you do it again. This method is not optimal for the long-term health of the orchid, so only use it as a temporary solution.
Water thoroughly. When you do water, do it like you mean it. Different growers have different rules, but many professional growers turn on their sprinklers for 8 or more minutes. Successful home-growers sometimes dunk their plants, pots and all, into a bucket or sink of water. Some varieties, such as vandas, can be left floating in water for a surprisingly long time. The idea is to make sure the velamen is completely saturated. You want tiny droplets hanging on the roots after watering. This means the plant is completely hydrated.