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.
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!
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.
The Gongora orchid genus is a really neat type of orchids, related to Stanhopea. They have nice, strong fragrances, often of cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg. The flower stems hang over the pot's edge and the flowers point downwards. They can adapt to a wide variety of lighting conditions and a relatively large temperature range, but like a lot of water.
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.
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.
Some saprophytic orchid species of the group Gastrodia produce potato-like tubers and were consumed as food by native peoples in Australia and can be successfully cultivated, notably Gastrodia sesamoides. Wild stands of these plants can still be found in the same areas as early aboriginal settlements, such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Australia. Aboriginal peoples located the plants in habitat by observing where bandicoots had scratched in search of the tubers after detecting the plants underground by scent.[Note 1]
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.
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
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.