The Bulbophyllum orchid genus is the largest in the Orchidaceae family, with over 1800 species, making it the third largest genus of plants. (Taxonomists will probably eventually split it into several smaller genera, but with so many types of orchids it's a massive undertaking!) They differ widely in appearance, but all have a single leaf emerging from the top of the pseudobulb, flower stems coming from the bottom of the pseudobulb, and a hinged lip designed to tip insects against the column. Many are pollinated by flies, and stink like dung or rotting carcasses, which is a great conversation starter and gives you bragging rights for putting up with it! (They don't all stink, fortunately.) The rhizomes wander all over the place and often branch freely, so it's easy to grow an impressive specimen.
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.
A very showy flower, this type of orchid comes in colors that include white, yellow, brown, purple, red, and a few varieties that are multicolored. They can be a challenge to grow, but they grow well if the temperature is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit because they are used to cool or cold climates. The Odontoglossum orchid has stems that can grow up to four feet high and blossoms that can reach up to six inches in width. Between 20 to 150 blossoms grow on each stem, and their petals are ruffled and very fragrant.
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.
The indoor types of orchids, including cattleya and phalaenopsis orchids, produce flowers that last months at a time. When these houseplants start blooming, the flower show continues for a long window—from four to 16 weeks. Cymbidium orchids produce up to 35 flowers per blossom spike, and each spike lasts up to eight weeks. Phalaenopsis orchid flowers can linger from 80 to 120 days.
Some orchids mainly or totally rely on self-pollination, especially in colder regions where pollinators are particularly rare. The caudicles may dry up if the flower has not been visited by any pollinator, and the pollinia then fall directly on the stigma. Otherwise, the anther may rotate and then enter the stigma cavity of the flower (as in Holcoglossum amesianum).
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.
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.
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.