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.

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.
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.
About 30,000 species of orchids come from all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica. As you can imagine, they come from a wide range of habitats and each type of orchid has different care requirements. Their incredible diversity also means you can always find another interesting orchid type to grow, which is one of the principal reasons the orchid hobby is so addictive!

The pseudobulb has a smooth surface with lengthwise grooves, and can have different shapes, often conical or oblong. Its size is very variable; in some small species of Bulbophyllum, it is no longer than two millimeters, while in the largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum (giant orchid), it can reach three meters. Some Dendrobium species have long, canelike pseudobulbs with short, rounded leaves over the whole length; some other orchids have hidden or extremely small pseudobulbs, completely included inside the leaves.
My favorite type of orchid is the lady slipper orchid because of their strange appearance. They are like no other types of flowers and have pouch-shaped lips. The mostly terrestrial and lithophytic slipper orchids include four genera—Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, Cypripedium and Selenipedium. But most Cypripedium and Selenipedium are not plants for the beginner because they can be quite difficult to grow under cultivation unless you live in temperate regions with Cypripedium growing wildly in your back yard!
If your Catasetum orchid leaves begin to yellow and drop off, do not despair; this deciduous orchid loses its leaves naturally during winter dormancy. There is much variation in appearance between Catasetum species, but one feature they all have in common is the trait of producing male or female flowers, which bear little resemblance to each other. The male flowers have an anatomical trigger that forcefully ejects pollen onto visiting bees.
Most orchids we grow indoors come from the tropics, and most parts of the tropics are much more humid than the average living room. Orchids grow better if you can boost the humidity in their immediate growing area by grouping your plants together, or placing them on a dry well. Create a dry well by placing plastic lattice or pebbles on a tray, then adding water to just below the lattice or top of the pebbles. Place your potted plants on top of the lattice or pebbles. Learn even more tips for keeping your orchids healthy.

The Epidendroideae subfamily is the most widespread subfamily. It represents more than eighty percent of orchid species, and includes over 10,000 types of orchids. Although members of the Epidendroideae subfamily are present in temperate regions, they are most prevalent in the tropics of the Eastern and Western hemispheres. There orchids typically have single anthers with sub-erect structures.
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.
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 second type, the nobile Dendrobium, grow warm in the summer but require a cool winter period to induce flowering. They need to experience temperatures in the 40s to low 50s (preferably) in order to flower well. They are distinguished by bearing fuzzy, flat, round, colorful flowers close to stem, which cover most of the stem on a well-flowered plant.
The structure of the leaves corresponds to the specific habitat of the plant. Species that typically bask in sunlight, or grow on sites which can be occasionally very dry, have thick, leathery leaves and the laminae are covered by a waxy cuticle to retain their necessary water supply. Shade-loving species, on the other hand, have long, thin leaves.

Often a stunning two-toned orchid of bright pink-red and white, this flower is a hybrid that can actually have various freckles and specks, and even other colors, such as orange. The Cattleya orchid are very fragrant, and they are very popular for use in corsages. They grow up to eight inches in width and come in a variety of colors and designs. The flower is also very popular among breeders and collectors, and they do well indoors.
Avoid overwatering which leads to the demise of many more orchids than underwatering. Constant wetness will cause the roots to rot, which leaves the plant without a means for taking up nourishment which then causes the leaves to droop and will eventually kill the plant. The classic advice is to water the day before the plant dries out. If you have to let the plant go dry to figure out what a dry plant weighs, it will not kill the plant and will make you a better grower. Another measure is to use the pencil trick (the point of a sharpened pencil, when inserted into the medium, will darken with moisture if the plant has enough water). And, there's always the old standby - put your finger in the mix. If it feels wet, it is wet. If you aren't sure whether it is time to water, wait one more day.
Speaking of cut Cymbidium flowers, my friend has several outdoor Cymbidium and the once-a-year flowering always brought her lots of joy and pride. It’s like an annual EXPLOSION of flowers that fills her whole back yard! Right before the prom, their teenage neighbor forgot to get his date some flowers, and for some reason, he thought it was okay to make a bouquet out of these Cymbidium flowers without any permission. She was so upset about the loss that the thoughtless boy had to make up the mistake by working in her garden for the rest of the year. The moral of the story? If you decide to steal someone’s orchids, you’d better not get caught! Learn more about Cymbidium orchids.
The most common type of orchid is probably the moth orchid, or the Phalaenopsis orchids. These are the plants that you can buy from a standard grocery store. Or if you happen to live close by an Asian supermarket, you will find truck-loads of the white or purplish-pink variety. Some fashion/interior designers even dubbed this purplish-pink color as “orchid.” (This is ultra confusing for an orchid grower, as orchids come in a million different shades and colors, but well, these are the same people who invented colors like sour lemon and spiced mustard. It’s just all marketing!)
Epidendrum orchids are among the oldest genera in the orchid taxonomy. Originally, this genus included all epiphytic orchids. As knowledge of the different types of orchids expanded, the classification became much more refined; for example, there are now some terrestrial species in the Epidendrum genus, and a great many other species have been moved to other genera. Still, over 1000 Epidendrum species exist. They are usually easy to grow, and most have tall canelike pseudobulbs that lean all over the place and frequently produce keikis. Fun orchids!

Cattelya – This orchid is probably best known as the corsage flower, since that is where most people first see it. Of the different varieties of orchid, this is the standard that most growers refer to. Cattleya is a native of South America and loves heat and light. Grow them in rooms that feel almost stuffy and place them where they can get as much sunlight as possible without burning them.
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.
The type of potting medium being used can also affect your plant's water requirements. Bark has a tendency to dry out more rapidly than sphagnum moss, for instance. It is important to remember, however, that even when the surface of your pot is dry, the root area may remain moist. Poke your finger or a regular wooden pencil an inch into the pot; if it feels moist to the touch or if the pencil looks moist, do not add additional water. The potting medium should always be damp, but not soggy—neither should it be allowed to get extremely dry.

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.
The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids [mainly Orchis mascula (early purple orchid)] are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage salep or in the Turkish frozen treat dondurma. The name salep has been claimed to come from the Arabic expression ḥasyu al-tha‘lab, "fox testicles", but it appears more likely the name comes directly from the Arabic name saḥlab. The similarity in appearance to testes naturally accounts for salep being considered an aphrodisiac.
The Cypripedioideae subfamily is known for its lady slipper orchids, which are named after their slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects and help the flowers get pollinated. There are 5 genera in this subfamily: Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, and Selenipedium. Cypripedioideae orchids have two lateral, fertile anthers, which is unusual in most other orchids.

Most orchids we grow indoors come from the tropics, and most parts of the tropics are much more humid than the average living room. Orchids grow better if you can boost the humidity in their immediate growing area by grouping your plants together, or placing them on a dry well. Create a dry well by placing plastic lattice or pebbles on a tray, then adding water to just below the lattice or top of the pebbles. Place your potted plants on top of the lattice or pebbles. Learn even more tips for keeping your orchids healthy.


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.
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