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.

^ 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 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.

Another type of orchid you can grow at home is what I call the “Thai restaurant orchids.” These types of orchids are Dendrobium hybrids and can be found at Thai restaurants that decorate their tables with freshly-cut flowers. They come in many colors (white, green, purple, pink, yellow and more) and require a fairly warm environment. In fact, they could loose their leaves in the winter when the ambient temperature drops below 60°F (15°C) or so. But the “Thai restaurant orchid” is really just one small group of hybrids within the Dendrobium genus. Dendrobium is actually one of the largest orchid genera.


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.

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.
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.
A pollinium is a waxy mass of pollen grains held together by the glue-like alkaloid viscin, containing both cellulosic strands and mucopolysaccharides. Each pollinium is connected to a filament which can take the form of a caudicle, as in Dactylorhiza or Habenaria, or a stipe, as in Vanda. Caudicles or stipes hold the pollinia to the viscidium, a sticky pad which sticks the pollinia to the body of pollinators.
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.
Asking me what types of orchids there are is like asking me what types of people there are. Well, there are tall and short people, smart people and not-so-smart people, introverts and extroverts, people with different skin colors, and people from different parts of the world. Likewise, you will find many different types of orchids—different colors, species and hybrids, miniature and standard-sized, all different genera from different parts of the world. So I will narrow the question a bit, and look at it in terms of the orchids you will likely to buy and grow.
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.

My favorite type of orchid is the lady slipper orchid because of their strange appearance. They are like no other types of flowers and have pouch-shaped lips. The mostly terrestrial and lithophytic slipper orchids include four genera—Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, Cypripedium and Selenipedium. But most Cypripedium and Selenipedium are not plants for the beginner because they can be quite difficult to grow under cultivation unless you live in temperate regions with Cypripedium growing wildly in your back yard!
Dendrobium is a massive genus containing more than (conservatively) 900 species. These range from cool-growing miniatures to huge specimen plants growing in hot conditions year round. The most commonly found types of Dendrobium are the phalaenopsis type (commonly known as den-phals, and named for the species most used in their breeding, which used to be known as Dendrobium phalaenopsis, but which is now known as Dendrobium bigibbum), and the nobile type (named for the species most used in their breeding, which is known as Dendrobium nobile).
The structure of the leaves corresponds to the specific habitat of the plant. Species that typically bask in sunlight, or grow on sites which can be occasionally very dry, have thick, leathery leaves and the laminae are covered by a waxy cuticle to retain their necessary water supply. Shade-loving species, on the other hand, have long, thin leaves.
^ Guillaume Chomicki; Luc P.R. Bidel; Feng Ming; Mario Coiro; Xuan Zhang; Yaofeng Wang; Yves Baissac; Christian Jay-Allemand & Susanne S. Renner (2015). "The velamen protects photosynthetic orchid roots against UV‐B damage, and a large dated phylogeny implies multiple gains and losses of this function during the Cenozoic". New Phytologist. 205 (3): 1330–1341. doi:10.1111/nph.13106.

Also called the Butterfly orchid, this flower comes in striking colors such as burgundy and bright gold, and it can even have foliage that is green and speckled. It blooms for several months, needs only moderate light conditions, and it is very easy to grow and maintain. It is a truly stunning plant that can complement your garden regardless of what else is planted there.


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.
Here in Southern California, one orchid that grows extremely well is the boat orchid, Cymbidium. These types of orchids have been grown and depicted in drawings and poetry for more than two thousand years since the time of Confucius. They are still popular plants today because of the big, showy and long-lasting flowers. The pink, yellow, green, red, brown, peach or combination colored flowers also last superbly as cut flowers—if you change water daily and cut back the bottom of the spike, they can look pristine for a month or two in the vase.
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 Gongora orchid genus is a really neat type of orchids, related to Stanhopea. They have nice, strong fragrances, often of cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg. The flower stems hang over the pot's edge and the flowers point downwards. They can adapt to a wide variety of lighting conditions and a relatively large temperature range, but like a lot of water.
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.
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