Orchid roots are surrounded by a tissue-paper thin membrane called velamen. This multi-purpose membrane soaks up large amounts of water quickly, adheres to rough surfaces, and promotes the exchange of minerals and salts. Like an expensive water meter, orchid velamen is an excellent indicator of your plant's water needs. Dry velamen is white or silvery, and freshly watered velamen is green or mottled (depending on the species).
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.
Anguloa, the Tulip Orchid, is well described by its common name! They have substantial, tulip-shaped flowers in shades of white, green, yellow, and red. They like a lot of humidity, intermediate-to-bright light, and cool-to-intermediate temperatures. They really like humidity and hate drying out during the growing season, but most need a dry rest after flowering.
Orchid flowers are all bilaterally symmetrical with three petals and three sepals. Their seeds develop in capsules and are extremely tiny, sometimes mistaken for dust or spores. Because the seeds are so small, they don’t contain enough nutrition to grow a new plant themselves, so they develop a symbiotic relationship with fungus, which provides the nutrients for them to grow.
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.
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.
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.
Pollinators are often visually attracted by the shape and colours of the labellum. However, some Bulbophyllum species attract male fruit flies (Bactrocera spp.) solely via a floral chemical which simultaneously acts as a floral reward (e.g. methyl eugenol, raspberry ketone, or zingerone) to perform pollination. The flowers may produce attractive odours. Although absent in most species, nectar may be produced in a spur of the labellum (8 in the illustration above), or on the point of the sepals, or in the septa of the ovary, the most typical position amongst the Asparagales.
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.
The seeds are generally almost microscopic and very numerous, in some species over a million per capsule. After ripening, they blow off like dust particles or spores. They lack endosperm and must enter symbiotic relationships with various mycorrhizal basidiomyceteous fungi that provide them the necessary nutrients to germinate, so all orchid species are mycoheterotrophic during germination and reliant upon fungi to complete their lifecycles.
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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.
Many neotropical orchids are pollinated by male orchid bees, which visit the flowers to gather volatile chemicals they require to synthesize pheromonal attractants. Males of such species as Euglossa imperialis or Eulaema meriana have been observed to leave their territories periodically to forage for aromatic compounds, such as cineole, to synthesize pheromone for attracting and mating with females. Each type of orchid places the pollinia on a different body part of a different species of bee, so as to enforce proper cross-pollination.
Also called Cockleshell orchids, they have no fragrance, but they do bloom for several consecutive months, making them appealing for people who want color in their garden for long periods of time. The Encyclia orchid has dangling petals and sepals, which is why some people say it resembles an octopus. It thrives when planted on an orchid mount because this simulates the epiphytic growing conditions found in the wild, and it comes in colors such as yellow-white with purple throats at the top.
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.
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.
Do a finger test. This is the best way to determine whether an orchid needs more water. Stick your pinky finger into the potting mix, taking care not to disturb the orchid's roots. If you don't feel any moisture, or you feel just a little, it's time to water the orchid. If you feel moist potting mix right away, give it more time. When in doubt, you should wait an extra day.
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.