The term "botanical orchid" loosely denotes those small-flowered, tropical orchids belonging to several genera that do not fit into the "florist" orchid category. A few of these genera contain enormous numbers of species. Some, such as Pleurothallis and Bulbophyllum, contain approximately 1700 and 2000 species, respectively, and are often extremely vegetatively diverse. The primary use of the term is among orchid hobbyists wishing to describe unusual species they grow, though it is also used to distinguish naturally occurring orchid species from horticulturally created hybrids.
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.
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.
This type of orchid has over 200 species and has a star-shaped appearance. Most of them have small- to medium-sized blooms and come in colors such as yellow, white, or light green, although most of them are white. The flower has a wonderful fragrance, needs even amounts of water, and prefers temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, mainly because they are not a bulb plant and therefore cannot store water. They also look beautiful in hanging baskets and pots.

If your orchid is potted in plastic, place it in an empty bowl, then add water. If you place the plastic pot in an already full bowl of water, the water will push the bark up and out, floating it away from the orchid roots. In this case, add water to just below the lip of the pot and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain and return the orchid pot to its place.


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.[29] Prosthechea cochleata is the national flower of Belize, where it is known as the black orchid.[30] 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.[31]
The Orchideae tribe is the largest tribe within the Orchidoideae subfamily, and contains a variety of flower forms. Flowers in this tribe dominate the orchid flora in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, though they can also be found in East Asia. These orchids usually have a three-lobed lip without a basal spur, prominent caudicles, and erect anthers.

Some saprophytic orchid species of the group Gastrodia produce potato-like tubers and were consumed as food by native peoples in Australia and can be successfully cultivated, notably Gastrodia sesamoides. Wild stands of these plants can still be found in the same areas as early aboriginal settlements, such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Australia. Aboriginal peoples located the plants in habitat by observing where bandicoots had scratched in search of the tubers after detecting the plants underground by scent.[Note 1]


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.
The Neottieae tribe consists of 3 genera. It is distributed throughout the world including Europe, tropical Africa, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, New Guinea, and Australia. In the Western Hemisphere, it is found in the western United States, Central America, and South America. They have fleshy, but slender roots, and thrive in temperate habitats.
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.
Some saprophytic orchid species of the group Gastrodia produce potato-like tubers and were consumed as food by native peoples in Australia and can be successfully cultivated, notably Gastrodia sesamoides. Wild stands of these plants can still be found in the same areas as early aboriginal settlements, such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Australia. Aboriginal peoples located the plants in habitat by observing where bandicoots had scratched in search of the tubers after detecting the plants underground by scent.[Note 1]
Explore different types of orchids to learn if these graceful, exotic bloomers are plants you’d like to grow. Various orchid types hail from all kinds of diverse environs around the world. Some, like phalaenopsis orchids, are tropical beauties, while others, like cymbidium orchids, are native to cool mountainous regions. Some orchid species are hardy wildflowers, like the enchanting lady slipper orchids.  
A majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes, which grow anchored to trees or shrubs in the tropics and subtropics. Species such as Angraecum sororium are lithophytes,[24] growing on rocks or very rocky soil. Other orchids (including the majority of temperate Orchidaceae) are terrestrial and can be found in habitat areas such as grasslands or forest.
Brassia, Comparettia, Odontoglossum, Polystachya, Cochleanthes, Tolumnia, Trichocentrum, Brassavola, Psychilis CC Image courtesy of Arne and Bent Larsen on Wikimedia Commons  |  Catasetum, Cymbidium CC Image courtesy of http://www.larsen-twins.dk on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cephalanthera CC Image courtesy of Sramey on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dichaea, Eulophia, Galeandra, Trichoglottis, Lycaste, Stanhopea, Caularthron, Domingoa, Prosthechea, Dendrobium, Goodyera, Stenorrhynchos, Pogonia, Gymnadenia CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dipodium CC Image courtesy of David Lochlin on Flickr  |  Ionopsis, Campylocentrum CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr  |  Macradenia CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr  |  Koellensteinia CC Image courtesy of Alex Popovkin on Flickr  |  Leochilus CC Image courtesy of Marcos Antonio Campacci on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oeceoclades, Bletia, Chiloschista, Renanthera, Miltonia, Brachionidium, Cattleya, Lepanthopsis, Nidema, Scaphyglottis, Trichosalpinx, Eria, Coelogyne, Cyclopogon, Eltroplectris, Eurystyles, Platythelys, Prescottia, Psilochilus, Triphora, Paphiopedilum CC Image courtesy of Dalton Holland Baptista on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oncidium CC Image courtesy of Calyponte on Wikimedia Commons  |  Arethusa CC Image courtesy of Chris Meloche on Wikimedia Commons  |  Arundina CC Image courtesy of Kevin Gepford on Wikimedia Commons  |  Calopogon CC Image courtesy of Bob Peterson on Flickr  |  Cleisostoma CC Image courtesy of Earth100 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dendrophylax CC Image courtesy of Mick Fournier on Wikimedia Commons and CC Image courtesy of Big Cypress National Preserve on Flickr  |  Micropera, Crepidium CC Image courtesy of Raabbustamante on Wikimedia Commons  |  Taeniophyllum CC Image courtesy of Airborne Pilot on Flickr  |  Corallorhiza CC Image courtesy of Wsiegmund on Wikimedia Commons  |  Maxillaria CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr  |  Govenia CC Image courtesy of Sanfelipe on Wikimedia Commons  |  Isochilus CC Image courtesy of Patricia Harding on Wikimedia Commons  |  Lepanthes CC Image courtesy of Quimbaya on Flickr  |  Elleanthus CC Image courtesy of Philipp Weigell on Wikimedia Commons  |  Pleurothallis CC Image courtesy of KENPEI on Wikimedia Commons  |  Restrepiella CC Image courtesy of Moises Béhar on Wikimedia Commons  |  Bulbophyllum CC Image courtesy of Montrealais on Wikimedia Commons Calanthe CC Image courtesy of Qwert1234 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Phaius CC Image courtesy of Hectonichus on Wikimedia Commons  |  Spathoglottis CC Image courtesy of Vaikoovery on Wikimedia Commons  |  Calypso CC Image courtesy of Walter Siegmund on Wikimedia Commons  |  Tipularia CC Image courtesy of TheAlphaWolf on Wikimedia Commons  |  Malaxis CC Image courtesy of Bernd Haynold on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oberonia CC Image courtesy of Ramesh Meda on Flickr  |  Anoectochilus CC Image courtesy of Badlydrawnboy22 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cranichis CC Image courtesy of Americo Docha Neto on Wikimedia Commons  |  Mesadenus, Pteroglossaspis CC Image courtesy of NC Orchid on Flickr  |  Pelexia CC Image courtesy of Elena Gaillard on Wikimedia Commons Ponthieva CC Image courtesy of Jose Lacruz on Wikimedia Commons  |  Spiranthes CC Image courtesy of Eric in SF on Wikimedia Commons  |  Zeuxine CC Image courtesy of Panoso on Wikimedia Commons Dactylorhiza CC Image courtesy of Uoaei1 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Habenaria CC Image courtesy of J.M.Garg on Wikimedia Commons  |  Ophrys, Pseudorchis CC Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons  |  Orchis CC Image courtesy of Algirdas on Wikimedia Commons  |  Platanthera CC Image courtesy of Enrico Blasutto on Wikimedia Commons  |  Epipactis CC Image courtesy of Dcrjsr on Wikimedia Commons  |  Listera CC Image courtesy of Superior National Forest on Flickr  |  Sobralia CC Image courtesy of João Medeiros on Flickr  |  Broughtonia CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr Masdevallia CC Image courtesy of trixty on Flickr  |  Isotria CC Image courtesy of Jason Hollinger on Flickr  |  Flickingeria CC Image courtesy of Averater on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cleistesiopsis CC Image courtesy of Charly Lewisw on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cypripedium montanum CC Image courtesy of Bill Bouton on Flickr  |  Cypripedium reginae CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons  |  Disperis, Encyclia, Epidendrum, Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla barbellata CC Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners on Flickr  |  Govenia CC Image courtesy of Bosque Village on Flickr  |  Psychopsis CC Image courtesy of LadyDragonflyCC – >;< on Flickr  |  Aplectrum CC Image courtesy of Fritz Flohr Reynolds on Flickr
This tribe is fairly large and consists of four genera — Dendrochilum, Pholidota, Chelonistele, and Coelogyne — and over 300 species. They are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Old World. Coelogyne is the most popular genus. Its orchids are characterized by a three-lobed lip that is concave at the base, and a hooded or winged column.
Phragmipedium: Phragmipedium orchids are interesting in that they are one of the few orchids to produce vibrant flowers in an intermediate environment. You see, normally it is the extremes of climate that produce the most interesting colors. But this type of orchid is great for you if you have a temperate and mild climate but desire bright blossoms.
Always use a water breaker (a water diffuser that you attach to the front of your hose to soften the flow of water): For only a few orchids, a sprinkling can with a long spout with a rose (a water diffuser placed on the end of the water-can spout) that has many small holes works well. These devices allow thorough watering without washing out the potting material.

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.


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.
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.
Orchids of all types have also often been sought by collectors of both species and hybrids. Many hundreds of societies and clubs worldwide have been established. These can be small, local clubs, or larger, national organisations such as the American Orchid Society. Both serve to encourage cultivation and collection of orchids, but some go further by concentrating on conservation or research.
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