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.
The orchid family is an incredibly large and diverse plant family, with more than 25,000 different species and more than 150,000 registered hybrids. The variation within a single species can be significant, let alone across the entire family. But with a little practice, knowledge, and observation, almost anyone can identify the most common types of orchids. Identifying one orchid from the next will be helpful in understanding what conditions they prefer and how to grow and flower them well. Happy growing!
The medial petal, called the labellum or lip (6), which is always modified and enlarged, is actually the upper medial petal; however, as the flower develops, the inferior ovary (7) or the pedicel usually rotates 180°, so that the labellum arrives at the lower part of the flower, thus becoming suitable to form a platform for pollinators. This characteristic, called resupination, occurs primitively in the family and is considered apomorphic, a derived characteristic all Orchidaceae share. The torsion of the ovary is very evident from the longitudinal section shown (below right). Some orchids have secondarily lost this resupination, e.g. Epidendrum secundum.
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.
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.
Most orchids are not heavy feeders. Many orchids bloom year after year with no fertilizer at all. During active growth, when new leaves are being produced, you may fertilize every other time you water at half the strength recommended on the fertilizer package. However, it's important to deliver water without fertilizer at least once a month to flush excess fertilizer salts from the bark mix and avoid fertilizer burn to the roots.