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.
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.
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!
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. Prosthechea cochleata is the national flower of Belize, where it is known as the black orchid. 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.
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.
A study in the scientific journal Nature has hypothesised that the origin of orchids goes back much longer than originally expected. 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 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).
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.
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.
With over 1,000 pure species and many hybrids, this type of orchid is petite and attractive. They need a lot of bright light in order to grow and thrive, and if grown indoors, you may even need artificial lighting of some type. The Epidendrum orchid comes in colors such as pink and dark orange with yellow throats, and if treated right, it will bloom year after year.
The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids [mainly Orchis mascula (early purple orchid)] are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage salep or in the Turkish frozen treat dondurma. The name salep has been claimed to come from the Arabic expression ḥasyu al-tha‘lab, "fox testicles", but it appears more likely the name comes directly from the Arabic name saḥlab. The similarity in appearance to testes naturally accounts for salep being considered an aphrodisiac.
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.
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.
With over 300 species, this type of orchid is well-known but not as common as people think, in part because only a few of the species consist of showy flowers that catch people’s attention. The ones that do, however, come in colors such as yellow with white tips and dark red edges, or dark red with wide white stripes. They contain three separate lobes and beautiful, narrow leaves that perfectly complement the petals.
Also called the Lady’s Slipper orchid, this type of flower is easy to grow and is great for the beginner flower-grower. They come in a wide variety of colors, including cheery colors such as pink, white, and yellow, as well as more somber colors such as brown, burgundy, and near-black tones. In addition, many of the varieties include petals that have bristly hairs, freckles, and even stripes, with an added bonus of specks on some of the varieties’ leaves.
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.
Avoid overwatering which leads to the demise of many more orchids than underwatering. Constant wetness will cause the roots to rot, which leaves the plant without a means for taking up nourishment which then causes the leaves to droop and will eventually kill the plant. The classic advice is to water the day before the plant dries out. If you have to let the plant go dry to figure out what a dry plant weighs, it will not kill the plant and will make you a better grower. Another measure is to use the pencil trick (the point of a sharpened pencil, when inserted into the medium, will darken with moisture if the plant has enough water). And, there's always the old standby - put your finger in the mix. If it feels wet, it is wet. If you aren't sure whether it is time to water, wait one more day.
The quality of water used, whether for spraying or watering, is of great importance. Since tap water has often been chemically treated, generally with chlorine, it should be used with caution. The best water for orchids is undoubtedly rainwater. Rainwater, as it passes through the air, dissolves and absorbs many substances such as dust, pollen and other organic matter. This enriched rainwater contributes to the nourishment of the plant.
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 Sobralia orchid genus grows ubiquitously in much of South and Central America; I've heard them called "ditchweed"! They have beautiful, short-lived flowers whose appearance is somewhat similar to a large Cattleya orchid. Flowers can be more than 6 inches (15cm) across in some species. The plants can get quite large, however, so you need to have enough space for them!
Water thoroughly. When you do water, do it like you mean it. Different growers have different rules, but many professional growers turn on their sprinklers for 8 or more minutes. Successful home-growers sometimes dunk their plants, pots and all, into a bucket or sink of water. Some varieties, such as vandas, can be left floating in water for a surprisingly long time. The idea is to make sure the velamen is completely saturated. You want tiny droplets hanging on the roots after watering. This means the plant is completely hydrated.