Orchids are an incredibly unique and fascinating group of plants. Many people can identify a Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) or Cattleya (the old corsage orchids), but the question often is asked, “What makes an orchid an orchid?” Orchids have some morphological (physical) traits that make them stand out from other plant families. In orchids, many of their floral parts come in groups of three. There are three sepals, which are the outer petals; these are what you see when you look at an unopened bud. There are also three petals, but in orchids one of the petals has been specialized into a labellum, or lip. This is usually the bottommost petal, and it helps to attract the pollinator to the reproductive organ. In orchids the reproductive organ, known as the column, combines both the male and female parts in one structure.
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.
The Cypripedioideae subfamily is known for its lady slipper orchids, which are named after their slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects and help the flowers get pollinated. There are 5 genera in this subfamily: Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, and Selenipedium. Cypripedioideae orchids have two lateral, fertile anthers, which is unusual in most other orchids.
Cymbidium carry tall stems with many flowers that have a more typical orchid shape. They are easily identified by their grassy leaves, and they readily form large clumps. Most common are the cool-flowering types, which need to experience a cooler winter (nights in the 40s for some time in the fall) in order to initiate flowering. Once the flowers open, they can last for up to two months or more, especially in a cool environment. These are very showy and rewarding plants, and a plant in a six-inch pot can carry three stems with 15 or more flowers each, depending on the type.
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.

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]


Check your water. For a long time, serious growers insisted that orchids could only be watered with rainwater. Nowadays, most people just use tap water, and this is fine. However, be aware that treated water may have higher salt content, and some water is high in calcium. If you see deposits forming on your plants, you should seek out a new water source.

The term "botanical orchid" loosely denotes those small-flowered, tropical orchids belonging to several genera that do not fit into the "florist" orchid category. A few of these genera contain enormous numbers of species. Some, such as Pleurothallis and Bulbophyllum, contain approximately 1700 and 2000 species, respectively, and are often extremely vegetatively diverse. The primary use of the term is among orchid hobbyists wishing to describe unusual species they grow, though it is also used to distinguish naturally occurring orchid species from horticulturally created hybrids.


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.
With the different orchid types, it’s important to master the watering schedule. If orchids have pseudobulbs, enlarged stem structures that store water, the orchid potting mix can dry out a little between waterings. Orchid species that are epiphytes and grow on tree branches in tropical rainforests are adapted to receiving water from daily rain, so they need more frequent watering.  
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.
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.
Check your water. For a long time, serious growers insisted that orchids could only be watered with rainwater. Nowadays, most people just use tap water, and this is fine. However, be aware that treated water may have higher salt content, and some water is high in calcium. If you see deposits forming on your plants, you should seek out a new water source.
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).
I wish I could tell you exactly how often to water your phalaenopsis orchids and how much water to give them and be done with this post. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all answer. When it comes to watering any plants there are lots of factors to consider that’ll make the amounts and regularity vary. I’ll go over all those factors so you can see what will be the best for your own situation.

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
Great article. I’ve been trying out using hydroponics for my Phals. Doing great so far. One has two new leaves. Apparently Phals are the only orchid hydroponics works with. Found the info on Pinterest. Something different and fun. Note you only leave them in water for three days and then let them dry for a couple of days. Then you put them back in water for three etc. First you clean off all the potting medium then put the bare roots in a jar or other container just large enough for the roots. Then add water.

Horticultural techniques have been devised for germinating orchid seeds on an artificial nutrient medium, eliminating the requirement of the fungus for germination and greatly aiding the propagation of ornamental orchids. The usual medium for the sowing of orchids in artificial conditions is agar agar gel combined with a carbohydrate energy source. The carbohydrate source can be combinations of discrete sugars or can be derived from other sources such as banana, pineapple, peach, or even tomato puree or coconut water. After the preparation of the agar agar medium, it is poured into test tubes or jars which are then autoclaved (or cooked in a pressure cooker) to sterilize the medium. After cooking, the medium begins to gel as it cools.
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.
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
^ 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 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.
^ 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]
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.
For some of you your 1 year subscription has run out. Please check the subscribers list to see where you stand. I hope to hear from you soon! Thanks to all for making this so much easier! The subscription system of $10 per year has been a great idea and has helped quite a bit as I have been able to obtain a lot of new books and reference materiasl. New references though, are now becoming available and I need to have more funds to purchase them. I only use any income from this site to purchase books or pay internet costs. Not a penny goes into my pocket. If you want to keep this site with the most up to date references then please send in your subscription!!! Today is the day! We need your help! All you in other countries than the US please help as well. You are about two-thirds of the users but send in only 5% of the total subscriptions. Please send a check or international money order to
Also known as the Moth orchid – which is much easier and less cumbersome to pronounce – this orchid is great for beginners because it is easy to grow and maintain. Appearing in lovely colors such as yellow, light pink, and spotted with burgundy, the Moth orchid blooms on and off throughout the year and can tolerate repotting efforts – again, making them a great plant for those who are new to planting flowers in their garden. They have long-lasting flowers and look great as an indoor plant, which are a few of the reasons why they are one of the most popular types of orchids.
A majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes, which grow anchored to trees or shrubs in the tropics and subtropics. Species such as Angraecum sororium are lithophytes,[24] growing on rocks or very rocky soil. Other orchids (including the majority of temperate Orchidaceae) are terrestrial and can be found in habitat areas such as grasslands or forest.
The Cypripedioideae subfamily is known for its lady slipper orchids, which are named after their slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects and help the flowers get pollinated. There are 5 genera in this subfamily: Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, and Selenipedium. Cypripedioideae orchids have two lateral, fertile anthers, which is unusual in most other orchids.
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!
Some orchids have water-storing organs, and some do not. If you have a type of orchid that has the ability to store water, such as cattleyas or oncidiums, you should allow the orchid to completely dry out before watering. If you have a type of orchid that does not have water-storing organs, such as phalaenopsis or paphiopedilums, you should water the orchid before it is entirely dry.
×