Did you know there are more than 20,000 types of orchids in the world? That’s more than four times the number of mammal species! While most are found in tropical rainforests and grasslands in far off places, a fair amount are also native to the United States. A favorite in homes worldwide, the “Orchidaceae” family features blooms that are vibrant, tropical and fragrant.

The family encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants.[4] 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.


Explore different types of orchids to learn if these graceful, exotic bloomers are plants you’d like to grow. Various orchid types hail from all kinds of diverse environs around the world. Some, like phalaenopsis orchids, are tropical beauties, while others, like cymbidium orchids, are native to cool mountainous regions. Some orchid species are hardy wildflowers, like the enchanting lady slipper orchids.  

Orchids of all types have also often been sought by collectors of both species and hybrids. Many hundreds of societies and clubs worldwide have been established. These can be small, local clubs, or larger, national organisations such as the American Orchid Society. Both serve to encourage cultivation and collection of orchids, but some go further by concentrating on conservation or research. 

Using the molecular clock method, it was possible to determine the age of the major branches of the orchid family. This also confirmed that the subfamily Vanilloideae is a branch at the basal dichotomy of the monandrous orchids, and must have evolved very early in the evolution of the family. Since this subfamily occurs worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions, from tropical America to tropical Asia, New Guinea and West Africa, and the continents began to split about 100 million years ago, significant biotic exchange must have occurred after this split (since the age of Vanilla is estimated at 60 to 70 million years).
The Orchideae tribe is the largest tribe within the Orchidoideae subfamily, and contains a variety of flower forms. Flowers in this tribe dominate the orchid flora in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, though they can also be found in East Asia. These orchids usually have a three-lobed lip without a basal spur, prominent caudicles, and erect anthers.

Also called the Lady’s Slipper orchid, this type of flower is easy to grow and is great for the beginner flower-grower. They come in a wide variety of colors, including cheery colors such as pink, white, and yellow, as well as more somber colors such as brown, burgundy, and near-black tones. In addition, many of the varieties include petals that have bristly hairs, freckles, and even stripes, with an added bonus of specks on some of the varieties’ leaves.
Oncidium, perhaps more accurately the oncidium alliance, are a group of plants from South America that span a wide range of habitats. Inside the oncidium alliance there are a number of genera that hybridize freely to create what we call intergeneric oncidium hybrids. These can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but are generally characterized by large quantities of small to medium flowers borne on a branched stem that generally forms a Christmas-tree shape. The most commonly identified Oncidium are the yellow “dancing lady” type.
Often a stunning two-toned orchid of bright pink-red and white, this flower is a hybrid that can actually have various freckles and specks, and even other colors, such as orange. The Cattleya orchid are very fragrant, and they are very popular for use in corsages. They grow up to eight inches in width and come in a variety of colors and designs. The flower is also very popular among breeders and collectors, and they do well indoors.
Along with the Asteraceae, they are one of the two largest families of flowering plants. The Orchidaceae have about 28,000 currently accepted species, distributed in about 763 genera.[2][3] The determination of which family is larger is still under debate, because verified data on the members of such enormous families are continually in flux. Regardless, the number of orchid species nearly equals the number of bony fishes and is more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species.
Some orchids mainly or totally rely on self-pollination, especially in colder regions where pollinators are particularly rare. The caudicles may dry up if the flower has not been visited by any pollinator, and the pollinia then fall directly on the stigma. Otherwise, the anther may rotate and then enter the stigma cavity of the flower (as in Holcoglossum amesianum).
^ Thomas J. Givnish, Daniel Spalink, Mercedes Ames, Stephanie P. Lyon, Steven J. Hunter, Alejandro Zuluaga, William J.D. Iles, Mark A. Clements, Mary T.K. Arroyo, James Leebens-Mack, Lorena Endara, Ricardo Kriebel, Kurt M. Neubig, W. Mark Whitten, Norris H. Williams, and Kenneth M. Cameron. 2015. "Orchid phylogenomics and multiple drivers of their extraordinary diversification". Proceedings of the Royal Society, series B (biological sciences) 282(1814):pages??. doi:10.1098/rspb.2015.1553.[full citation needed]

Always use a water breaker (a water diffuser that you attach to the front of your hose to soften the flow of water): For only a few orchids, a sprinkling can with a long spout with a rose (a water diffuser placed on the end of the water-can spout) that has many small holes works well. These devices allow thorough watering without washing out the potting material.
I think flying with the plant would be a challenge. Could you purchase one when you get there? Also, you need to check about bringing live plants into Spain because they have different rules for different countries. If you are giving the gift of a keiki or a cutting, that can be really challenging to grow for a beginner as well. So I’m not sure if that’s the best option. Honestly I think your best option is to contact this society and ask them what reputable growers they would recommend. I hope this helps! – Mary Ann
In the wild, Phalaenopsis are epiphytes and grow on trees in a constantly moist environment. They usually have long flower spikes and therefore look very graceful. These types of flowers have the power to add elegance to the home and brighten up a dull atmosphere, even if your boyfriend leaves his socks on the floor. Phalaenopsis are now widely grown as houseplants. Even though they usually bloom only once or twice a year, their flowers can often last for two to three months. Learn more about Phalaenopsis orchids.
With a shape that is similar to a dancing lady, the Oncidium orchid is low-maintenance and easy to grow, and it comes in stunning colors such as bright yellow and gold. The variety called Sharry Baby has a chocolate-like scent, and although simple to grow, the Oncidium orchid does require a lot of moisture and humidity to thrive. If you notice any type of deformities in the leaves of this plant, it is likely because this requirement has not been met. They are truly beautiful bloomers.

Once you develop more than a passing interest in orchids, you will quickly notice how diverse this exotic plant family is. Encompassing genera that yield both the vanilla you love to bake with and fragrances you love to wear, each flower has unique characteristics and care requirements. Compare your plants to some of the most commonly cultivated orchids to help you determine what type of orchid you are growing.
×