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.

Because these orchids are top-heavy with lots of blooms on each stem, this type of orchid often requires staking. There are over 1,000 species in this category, and they usually come in colors such as white, lavender, or yellow. One of its biggest advantages is the fact that it can grow almost anywhere, regardless of the zone you live in, and some of them keep their leaves all year long. They can also come in more than one color per bloom, which makes them especially attractive.

You can readily buy Paphiopedilum at fancy grocery stores, and if you can’t find them, find a fancier store where women shop with little dogs in their bag! While these types of flowers come in girlie soft pink, eye-catching yellow, innocent white and other soft colors, many of them are dark red, brown and green with hairy and warty petals. The infamous Paphiopedilum sanderianum from Borneo has lateral sepals (the side petals) that can hang down 3 feet (1 meter) long! This highly sought-after plant can cost hundreds of dollars. But there are plenty of wonderful Paphiopedilum plants out there that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Learn more about Paphiopedilum 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.

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.
Sympodial: Sympodial orchids have a front (the newest growth) and a back (the oldest growth).[5] The plant produces a series of adjacent shoots, which grow to a certain size, bloom and then stop growing and are replaced. Sympodial orchids grow laterally rather than vertically, following the surface of their support. The growth continues by development of new leads, with their own leaves and roots, sprouting from or next to those of the previous year, as in Cattleya. While a new lead is developing, the rhizome may start its growth again from a so-called 'eye', an undeveloped bud, thereby branching. Sympodial orchids may have visible pseudobulbs joined by a rhizome, which creeps along the top or just beneath the soil.
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.

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 orchid plant is also unique in its morphology (form or structure). We can begin with the leaves and work our way down to the roots. The leaves of many orchids in cultivation are unique in that they are specifically designed for water conservation (as is true for almost every orchid structure). They have a heavy waxy leaf coating and specialized stomata (openings through which the leaf “breathes”) that help to prevent water loss during transpiration (the act of the plant “breathing”). Many orchids utilize CAM photosynthesis as well, which in essence means that the plants collect materials during the day and then process them at night.
Orchids come in different sizes. I have a miniature phal in a 3-inch pot. This orchid needs watering more often than the larger ones in 6″ deep pots. An orchid in a larger pot will need watering less often, but will need more water quantity wise. The material of the pot will also make a difference. Those in plastic will dry out a bit slower than those planted in porous terra cotta.

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.

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!

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). 

If only there was an easy guide or a little water fairy that hovered over your plants and told you exactly when and how much to water. Unfortunately, there isn't. But I think this is one of the satisfying reasons we grow orchids. It's all about balance and instinct—and plenty of patience. Here are some of the factors you need to consider when developing a watering schedule:
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.

Cycnoches orchids have unisexual flowers, meaning they have separate male and female flowers which look different (usually just one of the two types of orchid flowers each time it blooms). The flowers are usually make a very dramatic display. After flowering, the leaves drop off and it enters a dry rest; don't water until it starts to grow again or it will rot.


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.
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. 

The main characteristic of this type of orchid is its very pleasant aroma, which means you will likely smell it even before you see it. The pure white flowers release their scent at night, are frequent bloomers, and can bloom all year long in many places. They are a small but showy type of orchid, and their leaves are long, reed-like in shape, and light green in color. They are also easy to grow and are low-maintenance flowers. 

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.
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