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!
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.
One of the most interesting things about growing any type of orchid is how they grow. Most of the houseplant orchids and even lady slipper orchids need good air flow around their roots. With indoor orchids, use an orchid potting mix that features some kind of blend of composted bark, expanded clay pellets, hardwood charcoal and peat moss or sand. The mix should create many air pockets for orchid roots to breathe.
If you are growing your orchid in tree bark or another well-draining medium, you should provide copious amounts of water to soak the roots. After soaking the potting mixture well, allow the excess water to drain out of the pot. This will ensure the return of that all-important airflow to the roots as well as flushing the growing medium to prevent the buildup of mineral salts. Just be sure that you never leave the roots soaking for more than about 15 minutes, as they will start to become waterlogged if you do.
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.
The Bulbophyllum orchid genus is the largest in the Orchidaceae family, with over 1800 species, making it the third largest genus of plants. (Taxonomists will probably eventually split it into several smaller genera, but with so many types of orchids it's a massive undertaking!) They differ widely in appearance, but all have a single leaf emerging from the top of the pseudobulb, flower stems coming from the bottom of the pseudobulb, and a hinged lip designed to tip insects against the column. Many are pollinated by flies, and stink like dung or rotting carcasses, which is a great conversation starter and gives you bragging rights for putting up with it! (They don't all stink, fortunately.) The rhizomes wander all over the place and often branch freely, so it's easy to grow an impressive specimen.