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.
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!
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.
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.
Speaking of cut Cymbidium flowers, my friend has several outdoor Cymbidium and the once-a-year flowering always brought her lots of joy and pride. It’s like an annual EXPLOSION of flowers that fills her whole back yard! Right before the prom, their teenage neighbor forgot to get his date some flowers, and for some reason, he thought it was okay to make a bouquet out of these Cymbidium flowers without any permission. She was so upset about the loss that the thoughtless boy had to make up the mistake by working in her garden for the rest of the year. The moral of the story? If you decide to steal someone’s orchids, you’d better not get caught! Learn more about Cymbidium orchids.
The amount of drainage your pot has will depend on the size of the pot, with larger pots requiring more drainage holes than smaller pots. Since orchids prefer to grow in smaller pots, a good rule of thumb is to make sure the pot has 4-8 holes if it’s 4 inches (10 centimeters) or so, while larger orchid pots (around 6 inches or 15 centimeters) should have 8-12 holes for drainage.
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.
To give you a better feel for how orchid subfamilies, tribes, and genera are interconnected, we created a compendium of popular American orchids. It plots over 100 “local” genera of orchids so you can see just how impressive and expansive this family is. You may be surprised that some of these vibrant, exotic looking orchids exist in your own backyard! Want to learn more about flowers and plants? Check out our other compendiums featuring types of roses and types of desert plants.
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.