With the different orchid types, it’s important to master the watering schedule. If orchids have pseudobulbs, enlarged stem structures that store water, the orchid potting mix can dry out a little between waterings. Orchid species that are epiphytes and grow on tree branches in tropical rainforests are adapted to receiving water from daily rain, so they need more frequent watering.
A majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes, which grow anchored to trees or shrubs in the tropics and subtropics. Species such as Angraecum sororium are lithophytes, growing on rocks or very rocky soil. Other orchids (including the majority of temperate Orchidaceae) are terrestrial and can be found in habitat areas such as grasslands or forest.
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.
Orchids have been used in traditional medicine in an effort to treat many diseases and ailments. They have been used as a source of herbal remedies in China since 2800 BC. Gastrodia elata is one of the three orchids listed in the earliest known Chinese Materia Medica (Shennon bencaojing) (c. 100 AD). Theophrastus mentions orchids in his Enquiry into Plants (372–286 BC).
The complex mechanisms that orchids have evolved to achieve cross-pollination were investigated by Charles Darwin and described in Fertilisation of Orchids (1862). Orchids have developed highly specialized pollination systems, thus the chances of being pollinated are often scarce, so orchid flowers usually remain receptive for very long periods, rendering unpollinated flowers long-lasting in cultivation. Most orchids deliver pollen in a single mass. Each time pollination succeeds, thousands of ovules can be fertilized.
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.
^ Zhang, Guo-Qiang; Liu, Ke-Wei; Li, Zhen; Lohaus, Rolf; Hsiao, Yu-Yun; Niu, Shan-Ce; Wang, Jie-Yu; Lin, Yao-Cheng; Xu, Qing; Chen, Li-Jun; Yoshida, Kouki; Fujiwara, Sumire; Wang, Zhi-Wen; Zhang, Yong-Qiang; Mitsuda, Nobutaka; Wang, Meina; Liu, Guo-Hui; Pecoraro, Lorenzo; Huang, Hui-Xia; Xiao, Xin-Ju; Lin, Min; Wu, Xin-Yi; Wu, Wan-Lin; Chen, You-Yi; Chang, Song-Bin; Sakamoto, Shingo; Ohme-Takagi, Masaru; Yagi, Masafumi; Zeng, Si-Jin; et al. (2017). "The Apostasia genome and the evolution of orchids" (PDF). Nature. 549 (7672): 379–383. doi:10.1038/nature23897. PMID 28902843.
The orchid family is an incredibly large and diverse plant family, with more than 25,000 different species and more than 150,000 registered hybrids. The variation within a single species can be significant, let alone across the entire family. But with a little practice, knowledge, and observation, almost anyone can identify the most common types of orchids. Identifying one orchid from the next will be helpful in understanding what conditions they prefer and how to grow and flower them well. Happy growing!
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!
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.
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 main characteristic of this type of orchid is its very pleasant aroma, which means you will likely smell it even before you see it. The pure white flowers release their scent at night, are frequent bloomers, and can bloom all year long in many places. They are a small but showy type of orchid, and their leaves are long, reed-like in shape, and light green in color. They are also easy to grow and are low-maintenance flowers.
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.
Disa is a genus of beautiful plants with rather triangular flowers, often red. They require VERY different care than other types of orchids, so it's easy to kill them if you don't know what you're doing. In particular, they like it wet and should never dry out. The best-known Disa is Disa uniflora, which in South Africa is known as the Pride of Table Mountain.
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.