So you want to grow an orchid? There are tens of thousands of orchid varieties to choose from, in almost every color of the rainbow. Some exotic versions are rarely seen outside specialty shows, while others are readily available to the novice grower. Unlike the common stereotype, many types of orchids will thrive as houseplants, and don’t need to be kept in a greenhouse. The orchid you’ll choose to grow will depend on the environment in your home, as well as the way the plant looks.
The type genus (i.e. the genus after which the family is named) is Orchis. The genus name comes from the Ancient Greek ὄρχις (órkhis), literally meaning "testicle", because of the shape of the twin tubers in some species of Orchis. The term "orchid" was introduced in 1845 by John Lindley in School Botany, as a shortened form of Orchidaceae.
Always water early in the day so that your orchids dry out by nighttime. The proper frequency of watering will depend on the climatic conditions where you live. In general, water once a week during the winter and twice a week when the weather turns warm and dry. The size of your orchid container also helps determine how often you need to water, regardless of climate conditions. Typically, a 6-inch pot needs water every 7 days and a 4-inch pot needs water every 5 to 6 days.
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.
The potting mixture, or growing medium, for a phalaenopsis orchid should be good at both absorbing water and providing airflow to the roots of the plant. Therefore, consider using media such as tree bark, coconut coir, clay pellets, perlite, pumice pebbles, and sphagnum moss, either on their own or blended together. If you live in a humid climate, choose a courser potting mixture that dries quickly and provides the best drainage. On the other hand, those who live in a dry climate should use a finer medium that will dry more slowly and hold more moisture.
The Lycaste orchid genus, similarly to its relative Anguloa, likes intermediate-to-bright light, intermediate-to-cool temperatures, and high humidity. The flowers look rather different, though; they are more-or-less triangular in shape because the sepals point outward while the petals point forward. These orchids are very fun to grow, and will thrive if you get their care right.
Disa is a genus of beautiful plants with rather triangular flowers, often red. They require VERY different care than other types of orchids, so it's easy to kill them if you don't know what you're doing. In particular, they like it wet and should never dry out. The best-known Disa is Disa uniflora, which in South Africa is known as the Pride of Table Mountain.
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.
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 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 orchids have water-storing organs, and some do not. If you have a type of orchid that has the ability to store water, such as cattleyas or oncidiums, you should allow the orchid to completely dry out before watering. If you have a type of orchid that does not have water-storing organs, such as phalaenopsis or paphiopedilums, you should water the orchid before it is entirely dry.
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]
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.