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!
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.

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.

This site is compiled from photos collected from growers or photo collectors around the world and I rely on them to try to be sure of their identification. As we all know, however, many plants are mislabeled and growers and collectors can't know all species in every genera, so please be advised that to the best of our knowledge the following ID's are correct. I have hundreds of references, thanks to you all, but often many species are not well represented. I try to the best of my capabilities to be correct but as the adage goes, "To err is human". Many species herewith have been scrutinized by taxonomic experts and will be correct, but this may not be true of all the species described. If you have any questions as to the veracity of any species described in this encyclopedia please e-mail me, Jay Pfahl, at jfal@sprynet.com and we will work at correcting the mistake. As to the text it is compiled by culling notes from hundreds of books and publications [See Bibliography and source books] but it too can be wrong in part due to my mistake or in the often conflicting reports on various orchids.
Orchids have many associations with symbolic values. For example, the orchid is the City Flower of Shaoxing, China. Cattleya mossiae is the national Venezuelan flower, while Cattleya trianae is the national flower of Colombia. Vanda 'Miss Joaquim' is the national flower of Singapore, Guarianthe skinneri is the national flower of Costa Rica and Rhyncholaelia digbyana is the national flower of Honduras.[29] Prosthechea cochleata is the national flower of Belize, where it is known as the black orchid.[30] Lycaste skinneri has a white variety (alba) that is the national flower of Guatemala, commonly known as Monja Blanca (White Nun). Panama's national flower is the Holy Ghost orchid (Peristeria elata), or 'the flor del Espiritu Santo'. Rhynchostylis retusa is the state flower of the Indian state of Assam where it is known as Kopou Phul.[31]

Sympodial: Sympodial orchids have a front (the newest growth) and a back (the oldest growth).[5] The plant produces a series of adjacent shoots, which grow to a certain size, bloom and then stop growing and are replaced. Sympodial orchids grow laterally rather than vertically, following the surface of their support. The growth continues by development of new leads, with their own leaves and roots, sprouting from or next to those of the previous year, as in Cattleya. While a new lead is developing, the rhizome may start its growth again from a so-called 'eye', an undeveloped bud, thereby branching. Sympodial orchids may have visible pseudobulbs joined by a rhizome, which creeps along the top or just beneath the soil.
Orchid flowers are all bilaterally symmetrical with three petals and three sepals. Their seeds develop in capsules and are extremely tiny, sometimes mistaken for dust or spores. Because the seeds are so small, they don’t contain enough nutrition to grow a new plant themselves, so they develop a symbiotic relationship with fungus, which provides the nutrients for them to grow.
The type of potting medium being used can also affect your plant's water requirements. Bark has a tendency to dry out more rapidly than sphagnum moss, for instance. It is important to remember, however, that even when the surface of your pot is dry, the root area may remain moist. Poke your finger or a regular wooden pencil an inch into the pot; if it feels moist to the touch or if the pencil looks moist, do not add additional water. The potting medium should always be damp, but not soggy—neither should it be allowed to get extremely dry.
^ 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]

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.


The seeds are generally almost microscopic and very numerous, in some species over a million per capsule. After ripening, they blow off like dust particles or spores. They lack endosperm and must enter symbiotic relationships with various mycorrhizal basidiomyceteous fungi that provide them the necessary nutrients to germinate, so all orchid species are mycoheterotrophic during germination and reliant upon fungi to complete their lifecycles.


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).
This is not a type of orchid you’ll want to place on your windowsill, because the stems grow up to four feet high. Phaius orchids have large, strappy leaves, and they usually produce petals that are yellow, purple, or white. Also known as the Nun’s Cap orchid, it is a winter bloomer and makes a great addition to anyone’s garden, regardless of what else is planted there.

The medial petal, called the labellum or lip (6), which is always modified and enlarged, is actually the upper medial petal; however, as the flower develops, the inferior ovary (7) or the pedicel usually rotates 180°, so that the labellum arrives at the lower part of the flower, thus becoming suitable to form a platform for pollinators. This characteristic, called resupination, occurs primitively in the family and is considered apomorphic, a derived characteristic all Orchidaceae share. The torsion of the ovary is very evident from the longitudinal section shown (below right). Some orchids have secondarily lost this resupination, e.g. Epidendrum secundum.
Disa is a genus of beautiful plants with rather triangular flowers, often red. They require VERY different care than other types of orchids, so it's easy to kill them if you don't know what you're doing. In particular, they like it wet and should never dry out. The best-known Disa is Disa uniflora, which in South Africa is known as the Pride of Table Mountain.
The medial petal, called the labellum or lip (6), which is always modified and enlarged, is actually the upper medial petal; however, as the flower develops, the inferior ovary (7) or the pedicel usually rotates 180°, so that the labellum arrives at the lower part of the flower, thus becoming suitable to form a platform for pollinators. This characteristic, called resupination, occurs primitively in the family and is considered apomorphic, a derived characteristic all Orchidaceae share. The torsion of the ovary is very evident from the longitudinal section shown (below right). Some orchids have secondarily lost this resupination, e.g. Epidendrum secundum.

The characteristic that makes these different than many other orchids is their shape, which is triangular, blocky and compact, or thin, whiskery, and elongated. They bloom in the summer and require certain temperatures and humidity levels, so you should research them before you decide to purchase them. They can be tricky to grow and therefore, they are better for people who are more experienced in the garden, and they come in colors such as yellow-orange and have leaves that are a beautiful shade of green.


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 

Cattelya – This orchid is probably best known as the corsage flower, since that is where most people first see it. Of the different varieties of orchid, this is the standard that most growers refer to. Cattleya is a native of South America and loves heat and light. Grow them in rooms that feel almost stuffy and place them where they can get as much sunlight as possible without burning them.
Cycnoches orchids have unisexual flowers, meaning they have separate male and female flowers which look different (usually just one of the two types of orchid flowers each time it blooms). The flowers are usually make a very dramatic display. After flowering, the leaves drop off and it enters a dry rest; don't water until it starts to grow again or it will rot.
The most common type of orchid is probably the moth orchid, or the Phalaenopsis orchids. These are the plants that you can buy from a standard grocery store. Or if you happen to live close by an Asian supermarket, you will find truck-loads of the white or purplish-pink variety. Some fashion/interior designers even dubbed this purplish-pink color as “orchid.” (This is ultra confusing for an orchid grower, as orchids come in a million different shades and colors, but well, these are the same people who invented colors like sour lemon and spiced mustard. It’s just all marketing!)
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.
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
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