Do a finger test. This is the best way to determine whether an orchid needs more water. Stick your pinky finger into the potting mix, taking care not to disturb the orchid's roots. If you don't feel any moisture, or you feel just a little, it's time to water the orchid. If you feel moist potting mix right away, give it more time. When in doubt, you should wait an extra day.
^ Zhang, Guo-Qiang; Liu, Ke-Wei; Li, Zhen; Lohaus, Rolf; Hsiao, Yu-Yun; Niu, Shan-Ce; Wang, Jie-Yu; Lin, Yao-Cheng; Xu, Qing; Chen, Li-Jun; Yoshida, Kouki; Fujiwara, Sumire; Wang, Zhi-Wen; Zhang, Yong-Qiang; Mitsuda, Nobutaka; Wang, Meina; Liu, Guo-Hui; Pecoraro, Lorenzo; Huang, Hui-Xia; Xiao, Xin-Ju; Lin, Min; Wu, Xin-Yi; Wu, Wan-Lin; Chen, You-Yi; Chang, Song-Bin; Sakamoto, Shingo; Ohme-Takagi, Masaru; Yagi, Masafumi; Zeng, Si-Jin; et al. (2017). "The Apostasia genome and the evolution of orchids" (PDF). Nature. 549 (7672): 379–383. doi:10.1038/nature23897. PMID 28902843.

To give you a better feel for how orchid subfamilies, tribes, and genera are interconnected, we created a compendium of popular American orchids. It plots over 100 “local” genera of orchids so you can see just how impressive and expansive this family is. You may be surprised that some of these vibrant, exotic looking orchids exist in your own backyard!  Want to learn more about flowers and plants? Check out our other compendiums featuring types of roses and types of desert plants.


The orchid family is an incredibly large and diverse plant family, with more than 25,000 different species and more than 150,000 registered hybrids. The variation within a single species can be significant, let alone across the entire family. But with a little practice, knowledge, and observation, almost anyone can identify the most common types of orchids. Identifying one orchid from the next will be helpful in understanding what conditions they prefer and how to grow and flower them well. Happy growing!
Most orchids are not heavy feeders. Many orchids bloom year after year with no fertilizer at all. During active growth, when new leaves are being produced, you may fertilize every other time you water at half the strength recommended on the fertilizer package. However, it's important to deliver water without fertilizer at least once a month to flush excess fertilizer salts from the bark mix and avoid fertilizer burn to the roots.
A study in the scientific journal Nature has hypothesised that the origin of orchids goes back much longer than originally expected.[14] An extinct species of stingless bee, Proplebeia dominicana, was found trapped in Miocene amber from about 15-20 million years ago. The bee was carrying pollen of a previously unknown orchid taxon, Meliorchis caribea, on its wings. This find is the first evidence of fossilised orchids to date[14] and shows insects were active pollinators of orchids then. This extinct orchid, M. caribea, has been placed within the extant tribe Cranichideae, subtribe Goodyerinae (subfamily Orchidoideae). An even older orchid species, Succinanthera baltica, was described from the Eocene Baltic amber by Poinar & Rasmussen (2017).[15]
The den-phal type are warm growing year round and do, just by happenstance, bear flowers similar in appearance to the genus Phalaenopsis. They can be distinguished by plant habit (most Dendrobium have pseudobulbs that resemble tall canes) and flower shape. Den-phals have a spur at the back of the lip; some are more pronounced, others less. They are also borne on very strong upright to barely arching stems. Interesting to note, den-phals can rebloom on old canes.

Brassia, Comparettia, Odontoglossum, Polystachya, Cochleanthes, Tolumnia, Trichocentrum, Brassavola, Psychilis CC Image courtesy of Arne and Bent Larsen on Wikimedia Commons  |  Catasetum, Cymbidium CC Image courtesy of http://www.larsen-twins.dk on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cephalanthera CC Image courtesy of Sramey on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dichaea, Eulophia, Galeandra, Trichoglottis, Lycaste, Stanhopea, Caularthron, Domingoa, Prosthechea, Dendrobium, Goodyera, Stenorrhynchos, Pogonia, Gymnadenia CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dipodium CC Image courtesy of David Lochlin on Flickr  |  Ionopsis, Campylocentrum CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr  |  Macradenia CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr  |  Koellensteinia CC Image courtesy of Alex Popovkin on Flickr  |  Leochilus CC Image courtesy of Marcos Antonio Campacci on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oeceoclades, Bletia, Chiloschista, Renanthera, Miltonia, Brachionidium, Cattleya, Lepanthopsis, Nidema, Scaphyglottis, Trichosalpinx, Eria, Coelogyne, Cyclopogon, Eltroplectris, Eurystyles, Platythelys, Prescottia, Psilochilus, Triphora, Paphiopedilum CC Image courtesy of Dalton Holland Baptista on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oncidium CC Image courtesy of Calyponte on Wikimedia Commons  |  Arethusa CC Image courtesy of Chris Meloche on Wikimedia Commons  |  Arundina CC Image courtesy of Kevin Gepford on Wikimedia Commons  |  Calopogon CC Image courtesy of Bob Peterson on Flickr  |  Cleisostoma CC Image courtesy of Earth100 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dendrophylax CC Image courtesy of Mick Fournier on Wikimedia Commons and CC Image courtesy of Big Cypress National Preserve on Flickr  |  Micropera, Crepidium CC Image courtesy of Raabbustamante on Wikimedia Commons  |  Taeniophyllum CC Image courtesy of Airborne Pilot on Flickr  |  Corallorhiza CC Image courtesy of Wsiegmund on Wikimedia Commons  |  Maxillaria CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr  |  Govenia CC Image courtesy of Sanfelipe on Wikimedia Commons  |  Isochilus CC Image courtesy of Patricia Harding on Wikimedia Commons  |  Lepanthes CC Image courtesy of Quimbaya on Flickr  |  Elleanthus CC Image courtesy of Philipp Weigell on Wikimedia Commons  |  Pleurothallis CC Image courtesy of KENPEI on Wikimedia Commons  |  Restrepiella CC Image courtesy of Moises Béhar on Wikimedia Commons  |  Bulbophyllum CC Image courtesy of Montrealais on Wikimedia Commons Calanthe CC Image courtesy of Qwert1234 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Phaius CC Image courtesy of Hectonichus on Wikimedia Commons  |  Spathoglottis CC Image courtesy of Vaikoovery on Wikimedia Commons  |  Calypso CC Image courtesy of Walter Siegmund on Wikimedia Commons  |  Tipularia CC Image courtesy of TheAlphaWolf on Wikimedia Commons  |  Malaxis CC Image courtesy of Bernd Haynold on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oberonia CC Image courtesy of Ramesh Meda on Flickr  |  Anoectochilus CC Image courtesy of Badlydrawnboy22 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cranichis CC Image courtesy of Americo Docha Neto on Wikimedia Commons  |  Mesadenus, Pteroglossaspis CC Image courtesy of NC Orchid on Flickr  |  Pelexia CC Image courtesy of Elena Gaillard on Wikimedia Commons Ponthieva CC Image courtesy of Jose Lacruz on Wikimedia Commons  |  Spiranthes CC Image courtesy of Eric in SF on Wikimedia Commons  |  Zeuxine CC Image courtesy of Panoso on Wikimedia Commons Dactylorhiza CC Image courtesy of Uoaei1 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Habenaria CC Image courtesy of J.M.Garg on Wikimedia Commons  |  Ophrys, Pseudorchis CC Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons  |  Orchis CC Image courtesy of Algirdas on Wikimedia Commons  |  Platanthera CC Image courtesy of Enrico Blasutto on Wikimedia Commons  |  Epipactis CC Image courtesy of Dcrjsr on Wikimedia Commons  |  Listera CC Image courtesy of Superior National Forest on Flickr  |  Sobralia CC Image courtesy of João Medeiros on Flickr  |  Broughtonia CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr Masdevallia CC Image courtesy of trixty on Flickr  |  Isotria CC Image courtesy of Jason Hollinger on Flickr  |  Flickingeria CC Image courtesy of Averater on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cleistesiopsis CC Image courtesy of Charly Lewisw on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cypripedium montanum CC Image courtesy of Bill Bouton on Flickr  |  Cypripedium reginae CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons  |  Disperis, Encyclia, Epidendrum, Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla barbellata CC Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners on Flickr  |  Govenia CC Image courtesy of Bosque Village on Flickr  |  Psychopsis CC Image courtesy of LadyDragonflyCC – >;< on Flickr  |  Aplectrum CC Image courtesy of Fritz Flohr Reynolds on Flickr
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.
^ Zhang, Guo-Qiang; Liu, Ke-Wei; Li, Zhen; Lohaus, Rolf; Hsiao, Yu-Yun; Niu, Shan-Ce; Wang, Jie-Yu; Lin, Yao-Cheng; Xu, Qing; Chen, Li-Jun; Yoshida, Kouki; Fujiwara, Sumire; Wang, Zhi-Wen; Zhang, Yong-Qiang; Mitsuda, Nobutaka; Wang, Meina; Liu, Guo-Hui; Pecoraro, Lorenzo; Huang, Hui-Xia; Xiao, Xin-Ju; Lin, Min; Wu, Xin-Yi; Wu, Wan-Lin; Chen, You-Yi; Chang, Song-Bin; Sakamoto, Shingo; Ohme-Takagi, Masaru; Yagi, Masafumi; Zeng, Si-Jin; et al. (2017). "The Apostasia genome and the evolution of orchids" (PDF). Nature. 549 (7672): 379–383. doi:10.1038/nature23897. PMID 28902843.
Orchid flowers primitively had three stamens, but this situation is now limited to the genus Neuwiedia. Apostasia and the Cypripedioideae have two stamens, the central one being sterile and reduced to a staminode. All of the other orchids, the clade called Monandria, retain only the central stamen, the others being reduced to staminodes (4). The filaments of the stamens are always adnate (fused) to the style to form cylindrical structure called the gynostemium or column (2). In the primitive Apostasioideae, this fusion is only partial; in the Vanilloideae, it is more deep; in Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae, it is total. The stigma (9) is very asymmetrical, as all of its lobes are bent towards the centre of the flower and lie on the bottom of the column.
So you want to grow an orchid? There are tens of thousands of orchid varieties to choose from, in almost every color of the rainbow. Some exotic versions are rarely seen outside specialty shows, while others are readily available to the novice grower. Unlike the common stereotype, many types of orchids will thrive as houseplants, and don’t need to be kept in a greenhouse. The orchid you’ll choose to grow will depend on the environment in your home, as well as the way the plant looks.
Run the orchid under water. The easiest way to water an orchid is to hold it under a faucet and run it under room temperature water. If you have an attachment that allows you to diffuse the water, rather than just running it in one strong stream, that's better for the orchid. Water the orchid this way for a full minute, allowing the water to seep through the pot and come out the holes in the bottom.[3]
These orchids can be planted in orchid bark, moss or a mix (mixes might include bark, small rocks, moss, sponge rock, and even cork). Don’t even think about planting them in the soil. If your orchid is planted in bark you’ll need to water it more often than if it’s planted in moss. The bark will help the water drain with ease where the moss will hold the moisture longer. I prefer the bark or mixes which are predominantly bark because the watering is much easier for me to get right.
Phalaenopsis, the Moth Orchid, is one of the most commonly available and easiest to grow orchid genera. It is an especially good choice for beginners to orchid growing. They have large, showy flowers that come in a wide variety of colors. Most species have several flowers per stem, but some have more, and others have as few as one or two. There are a great many hybrid varieties on the market.
Special thanks to David Banks of Australia, Christian Kirsch; Dr. Rudolph Jenny, Peter O'Byrne***, Eric Hagsater***, Lisa Thoerle***, Mario Blanco***, Mark Whitten***, Adam Karremans, Hakan Halander****; Daniel Jimenez***, André Schuiteman***, Dr. E.F. de Vogel, Jaap Vermeulen, Rick Barry, Dr. Guido Braeme, Rogier Van Vugt; Rene Dishong, Tom Ballinger, Mac & Helen Rivenback; Dr Rubin Salueda; Rafael Govaerts***, Padre Pedro Ortiz, Dr Leslie Garay, Vena Read, Charles Lamb, Donald Tan of Malaysia, Joseph Dougherty, Dalton Holland Baptista, Rick Cirino; Prem Subrahmanyam, ROMAN MARUSKA Czech Republic, Michael Coronado, Alejandro Taborda, Greg Butler and Oak Hill Gardens, Bill Bergstrom and Bergstrom Orchids, Donna Nash, Oliver Lenhard, D. E Vermeullen, Americo Docha Neto, Richard Korber, Carl Withner, Mark Nir, Ekkehard Schwadtke; Dr Eric Christenson, Dave Alford, Igor Zhuravlev, Tony Watkinson, David Hunt, Jean Marie Vanderwinden, Glen Ladnier, Jeffrey W. Tucker, Jorge Alejandro Paulete Scaglia, Scott McGregor, Wilella Stimmell, Eric Thiessen, Geert Volckaert, George and Kathy Norris***, David Alford, Eric Hunt, Peter O'Byrne, Allen Black, Helen Milner, Al Pickrel, Greg Riemer, Marcia Whitmore, Phillipe Musschoot, Wilford Neptune, Jean-Claude George, Tony Walsh, Greg and Kerri Steenbeeke and their Orkology Kreations Website, Jim Hamilton, Robert Fuchs and RF Orchids, Gene Monier and JEM Orchids, Jerry Bolce, Andy's Orchids, Stephen Jones, First Ray Orchids, Robert Weyman Bussey, JEM Orchids, Carlos Hajek and his Peruvian Orchid Page, Bill Morden, David Morris, Noble Bashor, Patricia Harding, Nina Rach, David Haelterman; Craig Cooper, Rocky Giovinazzo, David Friedman, Bill Pinnix, Troy C. Meyers, Linda's Orchid Page, Pierre-Alain Darlet*, Guy Cantor, Tropical Orchid Farm in Maui, H&R Nursuries, Lois Greer, Ichiro "Haru" Ohsaka and his Bulbophyllum Page, Mauro Rosim from Brazil, A World Of Orchids, Bruce Norris of Canada, Nick Doe, Neville De La Rue, Nelson Barbosa Machado Neto, Jeff Aguillon, Dale and Deni Borders, Eka Mulja Tjipta, Rick Barry, Manfred Schmucker, Uri Baruk, Mike and Candy Joehrendt, Dan and Marla Nikirk, Walter Orchard, Christer Carlson; Guillerrmo Angulo, M. Max, Paula Vagner, Tennis Maynard, Greg Allikas, Malcolm Thomas, David Morris, Jacques Deschenes, Lourens Grobler; Gary Yong Gee; José Castaño Hernández; Judd and David Janvrin* for their photo and text contributions.
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.
In orchids that produce pollinia, pollination happens as some variant of the following sequence: when the pollinator enters into the flower, it touches a viscidium, which promptly sticks to its body, generally on the head or abdomen. While leaving the flower, it pulls the pollinium out of the anther, as it is connected to the viscidium by the caudicle or stipe. The caudicle then bends and the pollinium is moved forwards and downwards. When the pollinator enters another flower of the same species, the pollinium has taken such position that it will stick to the stigma of the second flower, just below the rostellum, pollinating it. The possessors of orchids may be able to reproduce the process with a pencil, small paintbrush, or other similar device.

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.
Orchid stems are also specialized into what are called pseudobulbs. These are basically expanded stems that allow the plant to store excess water and food. The roots of epiphytic (tree-dwelling) orchids have a special outer layer of dead cells called velamen. Because orchids metabolize slowly in order to not outpace their resources, the roots also absorb slowly, meaning that they need help catching water as it passes by. The velamen cells catch and fill with water as it passes by so that the true root (the core of the root structure) has ample time to access as much water as it can. Velamen is silver-white in color, but becomes transparent when wet, so that when the root is wet it turns green as you are able to see through to the inner structures of the root that contain chlorophyll.
^ Zhang, Guo-Qiang; Liu, Ke-Wei; Li, Zhen; Lohaus, Rolf; Hsiao, Yu-Yun; Niu, Shan-Ce; Wang, Jie-Yu; Lin, Yao-Cheng; Xu, Qing; Chen, Li-Jun; Yoshida, Kouki; Fujiwara, Sumire; Wang, Zhi-Wen; Zhang, Yong-Qiang; Mitsuda, Nobutaka; Wang, Meina; Liu, Guo-Hui; Pecoraro, Lorenzo; Huang, Hui-Xia; Xiao, Xin-Ju; Lin, Min; Wu, Xin-Yi; Wu, Wan-Lin; Chen, You-Yi; Chang, Song-Bin; Sakamoto, Shingo; Ohme-Takagi, Masaru; Yagi, Masafumi; Zeng, Si-Jin; et al. (2017). "The Apostasia genome and the evolution of orchids" (PDF). Nature. 549 (7672): 379–383. doi:10.1038/nature23897. PMID 28902843.
The potting mixture, or growing medium, for a phalaenopsis orchid should be good at both absorbing water and providing airflow to the roots of the plant. Therefore, consider using media such as tree bark, coconut coir, clay pellets, perlite, pumice pebbles, and sphagnum moss, either on their own or blended together. If you live in a humid climate, choose a courser potting mixture that dries quickly and provides the best drainage. On the other hand, those who live in a dry climate should use a finer medium that will dry more slowly and hold more moisture.
^ 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]

Mist your orchid. Since orchids thrive in humidity, misting your orchid is a great way to keep it healthy, especially since it prevents the roots from drying out. Fill a spray bottle with water, then spritz the plant a few times a day. How often you mist the orchid depends on the environment where you live. Drier environments will require more misting, while damp climates may require misting daily.[4]
There are lots of orchid photos. I spent 16 days in country and managed to visit Sao Paulo state beaches, littoral plain and littoral mountains as well as the Mantiquera Mountains and up to Diamantina in northern Minas Gerais all by car with the well known Brazilian orchid expert, Marcos Campacci. The name may ring a bell as he is the describer of many new Brazilian orchid species such as Cattleya tenuis. He is also the editor of Boletim CAOB and Brasil Orqueideas, 2 major orchid publications in Brazil.

The potting mixture, or growing medium, for a phalaenopsis orchid should be good at both absorbing water and providing airflow to the roots of the plant. Therefore, consider using media such as tree bark, coconut coir, clay pellets, perlite, pumice pebbles, and sphagnum moss, either on their own or blended together. If you live in a humid climate, choose a courser potting mixture that dries quickly and provides the best drainage. On the other hand, those who live in a dry climate should use a finer medium that will dry more slowly and hold more moisture.
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