The family encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species). It also includes Vanilla–the genus of the vanilla plant, the type genus Orchis, and many commonly cultivated plants such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
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.
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.
^ Thomas J. Givnish, Daniel Spalink, Mercedes Ames, Stephanie P. Lyon, Steven J. Hunter, Alejandro Zuluaga, William J.D. Iles, Mark A. Clements, Mary T.K. Arroyo, James Leebens-Mack, Lorena Endara, Ricardo Kriebel, Kurt M. Neubig, W. Mark Whitten, Norris H. Williams, and Kenneth M. Cameron. 2015. "Orchid phylogenomics and multiple drivers of their extraordinary diversification". Proceedings of the Royal Society, series B (biological sciences) 282(1814):pages??. doi:10.1098/rspb.2015.1553.[full citation needed]
Phragmipedium: Phragmipedium orchids are interesting in that they are one of the few orchids to produce vibrant flowers in an intermediate environment. You see, normally it is the extremes of climate that produce the most interesting colors. But this type of orchid is great for you if you have a temperate and mild climate but desire bright blossoms.
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 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.
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.
With ageing, the pseudobulb sheds its leaves and becomes dormant. At this stage, it is often called a backbulb. Backbulbs still hold nutrition for the plant, but then a pseudobulb usually takes over, exploiting the last reserves accumulated in the backbulb, which eventually dies off, too. A pseudobulb typically lives for about five years. Orchids without noticeable pseudobulbs are also said to have growths, an individual component of a sympodial plant.
Brassia, Comparettia, Odontoglossum, Polystachya, Cochleanthes, Tolumnia, Trichocentrum, Brassavola, Psychilis CC Image courtesy of Arne and Bent Larsen on Wikimedia Commons | Catasetum, Cymbidium CC Image courtesy of http://www.larsen-twins.dk on Wikimedia Commons | Cephalanthera CC Image courtesy of Sramey on Wikimedia Commons | Dichaea, Eulophia, Galeandra, Trichoglottis, Lycaste, Stanhopea, Caularthron, Domingoa, Prosthechea, Dendrobium, Goodyera, Stenorrhynchos, Pogonia, Gymnadenia CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons | Dipodium CC Image courtesy of David Lochlin on Flickr | Ionopsis, Campylocentrum CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr | Macradenia CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr | Koellensteinia CC Image courtesy of Alex Popovkin on Flickr | Leochilus CC Image courtesy of Marcos Antonio Campacci on Wikimedia Commons | Oeceoclades, Bletia, Chiloschista, Renanthera, Miltonia, Brachionidium, Cattleya, Lepanthopsis, Nidema, Scaphyglottis, Trichosalpinx, Eria, Coelogyne, Cyclopogon, Eltroplectris, Eurystyles, Platythelys, Prescottia, Psilochilus, Triphora, Paphiopedilum CC Image courtesy of Dalton Holland Baptista on Wikimedia Commons | Oncidium CC Image courtesy of Calyponte on Wikimedia Commons | Arethusa CC Image courtesy of Chris Meloche on Wikimedia Commons | Arundina CC Image courtesy of Kevin Gepford on Wikimedia Commons | Calopogon CC Image courtesy of Bob Peterson on Flickr | Cleisostoma CC Image courtesy of Earth100 on Wikimedia Commons | Dendrophylax CC Image courtesy of Mick Fournier on Wikimedia Commons and CC Image courtesy of Big Cypress National Preserve on Flickr | Micropera, Crepidium CC Image courtesy of Raabbustamante on Wikimedia Commons | Taeniophyllum CC Image courtesy of Airborne Pilot on Flickr | Corallorhiza CC Image courtesy of Wsiegmund on Wikimedia Commons | Maxillaria CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr | Govenia CC Image courtesy of Sanfelipe on Wikimedia Commons | Isochilus CC Image courtesy of Patricia Harding on Wikimedia Commons | Lepanthes CC Image courtesy of Quimbaya on Flickr | Elleanthus CC Image courtesy of Philipp Weigell on Wikimedia Commons | Pleurothallis CC Image courtesy of KENPEI on Wikimedia Commons | Restrepiella CC Image courtesy of Moises Béhar on Wikimedia Commons | Bulbophyllum CC Image courtesy of Montrealais on Wikimedia Commons Calanthe CC Image courtesy of Qwert1234 on Wikimedia Commons | Phaius CC Image courtesy of Hectonichus on Wikimedia Commons | Spathoglottis CC Image courtesy of Vaikoovery on Wikimedia Commons | Calypso CC Image courtesy of Walter Siegmund on Wikimedia Commons | Tipularia CC Image courtesy of TheAlphaWolf on Wikimedia Commons | Malaxis CC Image courtesy of Bernd Haynold on Wikimedia Commons | Oberonia CC Image courtesy of Ramesh Meda on Flickr | Anoectochilus CC Image courtesy of Badlydrawnboy22 on Wikimedia Commons | Cranichis CC Image courtesy of Americo Docha Neto on Wikimedia Commons | Mesadenus, Pteroglossaspis CC Image courtesy of NC Orchid on Flickr | Pelexia CC Image courtesy of Elena Gaillard on Wikimedia Commons Ponthieva CC Image courtesy of Jose Lacruz on Wikimedia Commons | Spiranthes CC Image courtesy of Eric in SF on Wikimedia Commons | Zeuxine CC Image courtesy of Panoso on Wikimedia Commons Dactylorhiza CC Image courtesy of Uoaei1 on Wikimedia Commons | Habenaria CC Image courtesy of J.M.Garg on Wikimedia Commons | Ophrys, Pseudorchis CC Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons | Orchis CC Image courtesy of Algirdas on Wikimedia Commons | Platanthera CC Image courtesy of Enrico Blasutto on Wikimedia Commons | Epipactis CC Image courtesy of Dcrjsr on Wikimedia Commons | Listera CC Image courtesy of Superior National Forest on Flickr | Sobralia CC Image courtesy of João Medeiros on Flickr | Broughtonia CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr Masdevallia CC Image courtesy of trixty on Flickr | Isotria CC Image courtesy of Jason Hollinger on Flickr | Flickingeria CC Image courtesy of Averater on Wikimedia Commons | Cleistesiopsis CC Image courtesy of Charly Lewisw on Wikimedia Commons | Cypripedium montanum CC Image courtesy of Bill Bouton on Flickr | Cypripedium reginae CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons | Disperis, Encyclia, Epidendrum, Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla barbellata CC Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners on Flickr | Govenia CC Image courtesy of Bosque Village on Flickr | Psychopsis CC Image courtesy of LadyDragonflyCC – >;< on Flickr | Aplectrum CC Image courtesy of Fritz Flohr Reynolds on Flickr
Also called the Lady’s Slipper orchid, this type of flower is easy to grow and is great for the beginner flower-grower. They come in a wide variety of colors, including cheery colors such as pink, white, and yellow, as well as more somber colors such as brown, burgundy, and near-black tones. In addition, many of the varieties include petals that have bristly hairs, freckles, and even stripes, with an added bonus of specks on some of the varieties’ leaves.
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.
Once you develop more than a passing interest in orchids, you will quickly notice how diverse this exotic plant family is. Encompassing genera that yield both the vanilla you love to bake with and fragrances you love to wear, each flower has unique characteristics and care requirements. Compare your plants to some of the most commonly cultivated orchids to help you determine what type of orchid you are growing.