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!)
Check your water. For a long time, serious growers insisted that orchids could only be watered with rainwater. Nowadays, most people just use tap water, and this is fine. However, be aware that treated water may have higher salt content, and some water is high in calcium. If you see deposits forming on your plants, you should seek out a new water source.
The den-phal type are warm growing year round and do, just by happenstance, bear flowers similar in appearance to the genus Phalaenopsis. They can be distinguished by plant habit (most Dendrobium have pseudobulbs that resemble tall canes) and flower shape. Den-phals have a spur at the back of the lip; some are more pronounced, others less. They are also borne on very strong upright to barely arching stems. Interesting to note, den-phals can rebloom on old canes.
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.
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!
Special thanks to David Banks of Australia, Christian Kirsch; Dr. Rudolph Jenny, Peter O'Byrne***, Eric Hagsater***, Lisa Thoerle***, Mario Blanco***, Mark Whitten***, Adam Karremans, Hakan Halander****; Daniel Jimenez***, André Schuiteman***, Dr. E.F. de Vogel, Jaap Vermeulen, Rick Barry, Dr. Guido Braeme, Rogier Van Vugt; Rene Dishong, Tom Ballinger, Mac & Helen Rivenback; Dr Rubin Salueda; Rafael Govaerts***, Padre Pedro Ortiz, Dr Leslie Garay, Vena Read, Charles Lamb, Donald Tan of Malaysia, Joseph Dougherty, Dalton Holland Baptista, Rick Cirino; Prem Subrahmanyam, ROMAN MARUSKA Czech Republic, Michael Coronado, Alejandro Taborda, Greg Butler and Oak Hill Gardens, Bill Bergstrom and Bergstrom Orchids, Donna Nash, Oliver Lenhard, D. E Vermeullen, Americo Docha Neto, Richard Korber, Carl Withner, Mark Nir, Ekkehard Schwadtke; Dr Eric Christenson, Dave Alford, Igor Zhuravlev, Tony Watkinson, David Hunt, Jean Marie Vanderwinden, Glen Ladnier, Jeffrey W. Tucker, Jorge Alejandro Paulete Scaglia, Scott McGregor, Wilella Stimmell, Eric Thiessen, Geert Volckaert, George and Kathy Norris***, David Alford, Eric Hunt, Peter O'Byrne, Allen Black, Helen Milner, Al Pickrel, Greg Riemer, Marcia Whitmore, Phillipe Musschoot, Wilford Neptune, Jean-Claude George, Tony Walsh, Greg and Kerri Steenbeeke and their Orkology Kreations Website, Jim Hamilton, Robert Fuchs and RF Orchids, Gene Monier and JEM Orchids, Jerry Bolce, Andy's Orchids, Stephen Jones, First Ray Orchids, Robert Weyman Bussey, JEM Orchids, Carlos Hajek and his Peruvian Orchid Page, Bill Morden, David Morris, Noble Bashor, Patricia Harding, Nina Rach, David Haelterman; Craig Cooper, Rocky Giovinazzo, David Friedman, Bill Pinnix, Troy C. Meyers, Linda's Orchid Page, Pierre-Alain Darlet*, Guy Cantor, Tropical Orchid Farm in Maui, H&R Nursuries, Lois Greer, Ichiro "Haru" Ohsaka and his Bulbophyllum Page, Mauro Rosim from Brazil, A World Of Orchids, Bruce Norris of Canada, Nick Doe, Neville De La Rue, Nelson Barbosa Machado Neto, Jeff Aguillon, Dale and Deni Borders, Eka Mulja Tjipta, Rick Barry, Manfred Schmucker, Uri Baruk, Mike and Candy Joehrendt, Dan and Marla Nikirk, Walter Orchard, Christer Carlson; Guillerrmo Angulo, M. Max, Paula Vagner, Tennis Maynard, Greg Allikas, Malcolm Thomas, David Morris, Jacques Deschenes, Lourens Grobler; Gary Yong Gee; José Castaño Hernández; Judd and David Janvrin* for their photo and text contributions.
You can readily buy Paphiopedilum at fancy grocery stores, and if you can’t find them, find a fancier store where women shop with little dogs in their bag! While these types of flowers come in girlie soft pink, eye-catching yellow, innocent white and other soft colors, many of them are dark red, brown and green with hairy and warty petals. The infamous Paphiopedilum sanderianum from Borneo has lateral sepals (the side petals) that can hang down 3 feet (1 meter) long! This highly sought-after plant can cost hundreds of dollars. But there are plenty of wonderful Paphiopedilum plants out there that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Learn more about Paphiopedilum orchids.
These orchids can be planted in orchid bark, moss or a mix (mixes might include bark, small rocks, moss, sponge rock, and even cork). Don’t even think about planting them in the soil. If your orchid is planted in bark you’ll need to water it more often than if it’s planted in moss. The bark will help the water drain with ease where the moss will hold the moisture longer. I prefer the bark or mixes which are predominantly bark because the watering is much easier for me to get right.
Epiphytic orchids, those that grow upon a support, have modified aerial roots that can sometimes be a few meters long. In the older parts of the roots, a modified spongy epidermis, called a velamen, has the function of absorbing humidity. It is made of dead cells and can have a silvery-grey, white or brown appearance. In some orchids, the velamen includes spongy and fibrous bodies near the passage cells, called tilosomes.
Catasetum orchids, along with the other members of the Catasetum alliance, have big, thick pseudobulbs with an attractive fan of thin leaves along their length. The flowers can be very showy, but are unisexual, so that male and female flowers look different. Lighting affects which kind appears. They need a dry rest after flowering when the leaves drop.
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.
Cycnoches orchids have unisexual flowers, meaning they have separate male and female flowers which look different (usually just one of the two types of orchid flowers each time it blooms). The flowers are usually make a very dramatic display. After flowering, the leaves drop off and it enters a dry rest; don't water until it starts to grow again or it will rot.
The Orchideae tribe is the largest tribe within the Orchidoideae subfamily, and contains a variety of flower forms. Flowers in this tribe dominate the orchid flora in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, though they can also be found in East Asia. These orchids usually have a three-lobed lip without a basal spur, prominent caudicles, and erect anthers.
This site is compiled from photos collected from growers or photo collectors around the world and I rely on them to try to be sure of their identification. As we all know, however, many plants are mislabeled and growers and collectors can't know all species in every genera, so please be advised that to the best of our knowledge the following ID's are correct. I have hundreds of references, thanks to you all, but often many species are not well represented. I try to the best of my capabilities to be correct but as the adage goes, "To err is human". Many species herewith have been scrutinized by taxonomic experts and will be correct, but this may not be true of all the species described. If you have any questions as to the veracity of any species described in this encyclopedia please e-mail me, Jay Pfahl, at email@example.com and we will work at correcting the mistake. As to the text it is compiled by culling notes from hundreds of books and publications [See Bibliography and source books] but it too can be wrong in part due to my mistake or in the often conflicting reports on various orchids.
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.