The family encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species). It also includes Vanilla–the genus of the vanilla plant, the type genus Orchis, and many commonly cultivated plants such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
The leaves of some orchids are considered ornamental. The leaves of the Macodes sanderiana, a semiterrestrial or rock-hugging ("lithophyte") orchid, show a sparkling silver and gold veining on a light green background. The cordate leaves of Psychopsis limminghei are light brownish-green with maroon-puce markings, created by flower pigments. The attractive mottle of the leaves of lady's slippers from tropical and subtropical Asia (Paphiopedilum), is caused by uneven distribution of chlorophyll. Also, Phalaenopsis schilleriana is a pastel pink orchid with leaves spotted dark green and light green. The jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor) is grown more for its colorful leaves than its white flowers.
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.
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.
If your Catasetum orchid leaves begin to yellow and drop off, do not despair; this deciduous orchid loses its leaves naturally during winter dormancy. There is much variation in appearance between Catasetum species, but one feature they all have in common is the trait of producing male or female flowers, which bear little resemblance to each other. The male flowers have an anatomical trigger that forcefully ejects pollen onto visiting bees.
The den-phal type are warm growing year round and do, just by happenstance, bear flowers similar in appearance to the genus Phalaenopsis. They can be distinguished by plant habit (most Dendrobium have pseudobulbs that resemble tall canes) and flower shape. Den-phals have a spur at the back of the lip; some are more pronounced, others less. They are also borne on very strong upright to barely arching stems. Interesting to note, den-phals can rebloom on old canes.
It sounds like it is not getting enough light. Repotting once per year after blooms have dropped is a good thing. Use a high quality bark mix for orchids or high quality sphagnum moss. If the flower spike dried out you did exactly the right thing by removing it. So try more light without direct sun and be sure to water only if the mix is dry. No wet feet for most orchids. Good luck
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.
Water your orchid early in the morning. This insures complete water evaporation on the foliage as well as the crown by nightfall. If your home is very warm or has low humidity you will most likely need to water more often. The best place to water your plant is in the kitchen sink. Use lukewarm water (do not use salt softened or distilled water) and water your plant for about 15 seconds and be sure to thoroughly wet the media. Then allow the plant to drain for about 15 minutes. It may appear dry but it has had enough water. After the plants are watered, they should be placed so that the pots do not stand in water. Some people like to place the pots on "humidity trays" or in trays or saucers of gravel or pebbles and water. The pot is placed on the pebbles above the water line. This helps to insure that the base of the pot is not immersed in water, increases humidity for the plant, and provides some air circulation under the pot.
Here again, the type of potting mixture will be a major factor in determining how often you should water your orchid. You should also pay attention to the condition of the potting mixture, as aged growing medium that has broken down into finer particles will hold more water and take longer to drain than fresh medium, thus requiring less frequent watering.
Once you develop more than a passing interest in orchids, you will quickly notice how diverse this exotic plant family is. Encompassing genera that yield both the vanilla you love to bake with and fragrances you love to wear, each flower has unique characteristics and care requirements. Compare your plants to some of the most commonly cultivated orchids to help you determine what type of orchid you are growing.