So you want to grow an orchid? There are tens of thousands of orchid varieties to choose from, in almost every color of the rainbow. Some exotic versions are rarely seen outside specialty shows, while others are readily available to the novice grower. Unlike the common stereotype, many types of orchids will thrive as houseplants, and don’t need to be kept in a greenhouse. The orchid you’ll choose to grow will depend on the environment in your home, as well as the way the plant looks.
The orchid plant is also unique in its morphology (form or structure). We can begin with the leaves and work our way down to the roots. The leaves of many orchids in cultivation are unique in that they are specifically designed for water conservation (as is true for almost every orchid structure). They have a heavy waxy leaf coating and specialized stomata (openings through which the leaf “breathes”) that help to prevent water loss during transpiration (the act of the plant “breathing”). Many orchids utilize CAM photosynthesis as well, which in essence means that the plants collect materials during the day and then process them at night.
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.
Also called the Butterfly orchid, this flower comes in striking colors such as burgundy and bright gold, and it can even have foliage that is green and speckled. It blooms for several months, needs only moderate light conditions, and it is very easy to grow and maintain. It is a truly stunning plant that can complement your garden regardless of what else is planted there.
Dendrobium is a massive genus containing more than (conservatively) 900 species. These range from cool-growing miniatures to huge specimen plants growing in hot conditions year round. The most commonly found types of Dendrobium are the phalaenopsis type (commonly known as den-phals, and named for the species most used in their breeding, which used to be known as Dendrobium phalaenopsis, but which is now known as Dendrobium bigibbum), and the nobile type (named for the species most used in their breeding, which is known as Dendrobium nobile).
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.
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.
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.
If you are growing your orchid in tree bark or another well-draining medium, you should provide copious amounts of water to soak the roots. After soaking the potting mixture well, allow the excess water to drain out of the pot. This will ensure the return of that all-important airflow to the roots as well as flushing the growing medium to prevent the buildup of mineral salts. Just be sure that you never leave the roots soaking for more than about 15 minutes, as they will start to become waterlogged if you do.
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.
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.
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 petals of these orchids are a bit smaller than those of other orchids, and it consists of many spikes so there are a lot of those petals to look at. The Cymbidium orchid has won several international flower awards, and it comes in colors such as yellow and red (the Showoff), lime green (the Chica), and bright pink (the Frae). These and other Cymbidiums are excellent for first-time growers, because they are easy to grow and are low-maintenance. They also do better in cold climates than many other orchids do, and they make beautiful centerpieces.
Here in Southern California, one orchid that grows extremely well is the boat orchid, Cymbidium. These types of orchids have been grown and depicted in drawings and poetry for more than two thousand years since the time of Confucius. They are still popular plants today because of the big, showy and long-lasting flowers. The pink, yellow, green, red, brown, peach or combination colored flowers also last superbly as cut flowers—if you change water daily and cut back the bottom of the spike, they can look pristine for a month or two in the vase.
Explore different types of orchids to learn if these graceful, exotic bloomers are plants you’d like to grow. Various orchid types hail from all kinds of diverse environs around the world. Some, like phalaenopsis orchids, are tropical beauties, while others, like cymbidium orchids, are native to cool mountainous regions. Some orchid species are hardy wildflowers, like the enchanting lady slipper orchids.
Some orchids mainly or totally rely on self-pollination, especially in colder regions where pollinators are particularly rare. The caudicles may dry up if the flower has not been visited by any pollinator, and the pollinia then fall directly on the stigma. Otherwise, the anther may rotate and then enter the stigma cavity of the flower (as in Holcoglossum amesianum).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Consider your climate. The frequency with which you water orchids is affected by the level of humidity in your climate, as well as the amount of sun the orchid gets and the temperature of the air. Since these factors vary according to region and household, there's no rule for how often to water an orchid. You'll have to develop a routine catered to your specific environment.
A very showy flower, this type of orchid comes in colors that include white, yellow, brown, purple, red, and a few varieties that are multicolored. They can be a challenge to grow, but they grow well if the temperature is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit because they are used to cool or cold climates. The Odontoglossum orchid has stems that can grow up to four feet high and blossoms that can reach up to six inches in width. Between 20 to 150 blossoms grow on each stem, and their petals are ruffled and very fragrant.
Dendrobium species live as epiphytes and lithophytes in New Guinea, Southern China, Thailand, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and more. As a result, it’s hard to generalize how to care for these types of orchids. Some of them require cool nights of 50 to 59°F (10 to 15°C) while some of them require warm temperatures in the 80s°F (27°C). That’s why it’s so important to understand their natural environment so that you can make them happy. Learn more about Dendrobium orchids.
Masdevallia is one of my favorite types of orchids! They have triangular flowers (the petals are tiny, so you just see the three sepals.) They need cool temperatures to do well, and like a lot of humidity, but are otherwise quite easy to grow. (But they have a reputation as being hard to grow from people who've ignored their temperature and humidity requirements.)
Pollinators are often visually attracted by the shape and colours of the labellum. However, some Bulbophyllum species attract male fruit flies (Bactrocera spp.) solely via a floral chemical which simultaneously acts as a floral reward (e.g. methyl eugenol, raspberry ketone, or zingerone) to perform pollination. The flowers may produce attractive odours. Although absent in most species, nectar may be produced in a spur of the labellum (8 in the illustration above), or on the point of the sepals, or in the septa of the ovary, the most typical position amongst the Asparagales.
The most important thing to know about how to water phalaenopsis orchids is that you should only water the roots, making sure to leave the crown (leaves, flowers, and stem) dry. Moisture on these parts of the plant can cause problems such as mold, fungus, and tissue rot – especially if water gets trapped in pockets such as those that form where there’s new growth. If you do get water on any part of the crown, use a paper towel to remove the moisture.
Almost all of the preceding orchids were found near these two landscape shots, # 1 shows the cleared forests which has grown back with pine in the background and the original scrub forest with rock outcroppings in the foreground. The orchid not blooming is a Masdevallia, the bloom spike I do not think is from an orchid. Anyone? #2 Shows the stunted bushes that grow amid rock outcroppings on a hill on the sides of the savannah of Bogata'.
The Lycaste orchid genus, similarly to its relative Anguloa, likes intermediate-to-bright light, intermediate-to-cool temperatures, and high humidity. The flowers look rather different, though; they are more-or-less triangular in shape because the sepals point outward while the petals point forward. These orchids are very fun to grow, and will thrive if you get their care right.
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.