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An orchid is an attractive flower type that has been in existence for millions of years. In modern times orchids are as common and popular as ever. Today, for example, one might receive an orchid plant on a special day via flower delivery. Orchid flowers are also used for a number of reasons including decorative purposes and creating flower arrangements. Orchids are flowers from the Orchidaceae family, which is one of the largest plant families, represented by tens of thousands of different species. Despite the vast number of orchids in the world, most of the flowers basically have the same structure, which include sepals, petals, and a lip. The sepals on this exotic flower look very similar to the petals, and can be difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish. In most instances, orchid flowers have three of these sepals and three petals. The bottom petal creates what is called a lip. The lip of the orchid is a fancy protrusion that serves as a type of landing spot for pollinators. Orchids are primarily native to tropical areas; however, there are species of orchid that can be found in most climate ranges. They can also be found growing on rocks, on trees, and even underground. There are hundreds of orchid genera which the various species fall under. Whether purchasing orchids for oneself via flower delivery or arranging a gift for someone else, it helps to understand the various types and species that make up this family of flowers. When learning about Orchidaceae, it is simplest to begin by studying some of the more common genera.
What is an Orchid?
- Anguloa: The orchid genus Anguloa is most often called tulip orchids due to the similarities in the shape of its flowers. The flowers are colorful and, depending on the species, may be strongly fragrant. The genus, which currently has 13 known species, is native to countries in South America including Peru and Columbia. They are very similar to Lycaste, which is another genus of Orchidaceae.
- Brassia: This orchid genus has long 8 to 10 inch sepals that look very similar to spider legs. As a result of the spider-like appearance of its flowers, the orchids of this genus are often referred to as spider orchids. They are generally spotted and may be a light green or yellow, reddish-brown, or cream in color. Brassia species may be native to certain areas such South America, Central America, and the West Indies, and certain species are also found in Florida. There a number of hybrid Brassia species, and these, too, take on the spider-like appearance associated with the genus.
- Bulbophyllum, making it the largest genus in the Orchidaceae family. Species of this genus are found in tropical rainforests across the world, including New Guinea, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. The many different species have numerous different characteristics, although they continue to carry classic traits of orchids. They come in various shades, and many are epiphytic.
- Catasetum: Catasetum was first mentioned during the mid-19th century. Flowers of these deciduous plants have a waxy appearance and are typically a green or green/yellow color. There may also be red or maroon coloring on the flowers as well. There are in excess of 100 species of this particular orchid genus, which is native to Central America. Depending on the species, there may be separate male and female flowers on spikes. When this is the case, the male flowers are often produced more often. A unique feature of this genus is that pollen is often expelled or discharged on pollinators.
- Cattleya: Named after botanist William Cattley, this is one of the most popular genus of orchids. The different species of this epiphytic genus come in various sizes and colors. Flowers are typically large and bright. They have three petals, the third of which has developed into a stylized lip. The margins of the lip and the petals are typically ruffled. They are native to areas in South America, Costa Rica, and Argentina.
- Cymbidium: There are roughly 44 species of cymbidiums, which are native to areas such as China, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and Southeast Asia. The genus also has thousands of different hybrids in addition to the species. Although they come in various colors, they do not come in a true red or blue. Another feature of the petals are that they are waxy, thick and hard. Cut Cymbidium flowers may be used in flower arrangements and corsages.
- Dendrobium: This is one of the largest, and most diverse genus of orchids. Species are largely epiphytic and are found on tree branches or trunks. Species of this attractive flowering genus may be deciduous or evergreen. The flowers typically blossom along the stem length and are a pastel color.
- Epidendrum: Species of this genus are typically native to the Caribbean, South America, or Central America. They are suitable for novice orchid growers or hobbyists as they are easy to grow. Epidendrum species come in two types. One type produces a pseudo-bulb and an appearance that is similar to most orchids. The second type grow on reed stems with flower clusters. These do not have pseudo-bulbs.
- Laelia: According to the PlantList, there are 164 species of orchid in this genus. Of these, 24 are considered accepted species. These flowers are found in Mexico and in Central America, in areas with a subtropical climate. They are very closely related to the genus Cattleya. In fact, Laelias from Brazil fall under the Cattleya genus. Some species of Laelias are lithophytes and grow on rocks; however, a majority are epiphytes. Most species are some shade of purple or pink with a purplish lip.
- Miltonia are native to Brazil and were established in the mid-1800s. The flowers of this genera are medium to large in size, are long-lasting, and come in a host of colors with spots of brown or green. The species of this genus are epiphytic.
- Oncidium: Native to the Americas, the species of this genus have been known to grow at various elevations. As a result, different conditions are required for their care. They are suitable as house plants and come in various sizes and various colors, including pink, yellow, and red. Oncidium may be terrestrials, lithophytes, or (most commonly) epiphytes. The petals are typically ruffled and the lip has a callus.
- Paphiopedilum: This genus, the flowers of which are often referred to as slipper orchids, is native to Asia and New Guinea. The flowers come in a variety of colors, are spotted, striped, or solid, and are waxy. The leaves of the plant have a leather-like feel and may have a mottled pattern. Each flowering stem will likely have as many as three flowers and will only bloom once annually. Species belonging to this genus often do well as indoor plants under the appropriate conditions.
- Phaius: Species of the Phaius genus produce flowers that are tall and spiky. Common bloom colors include yellow, magenta, and white. They are native plants from Madagascar, Australia, Japan, and China. The species of this genus are primarily terrestrial.
- Phalaenopsis: The flat flowers of this genus have an appearance that is similar to flying moths. As a result, orchids from this genus are often referred to as "moth orchids." They are typically pastel in color, but are never blue. They are epiphytic orchids that are native to tropical regions in Asia. Depending on the species, Phalaenopsis can produce as many as a dozen flowers per flower spike.
- Sophronitis: The species of this genus produce orchids that are miniature in size and are native to Brazil, Northeastern Argentina, and Paraguay. Flowers are often red, orange, lavender, yellow, or pink. The lip of these orchids are trilobed. It is a relatively small genus with species that are lithophytic or epiphytic.
- Vanda: Vanda is another genus of orchid that is native to tropical Asia. Most of the species enjoy the bright light that comes from being in full-sun and warm weather. Size and color of the flowers vary depending on the species. Plants may have as many as three flower spikes and numerous flowers. Species of this genus require a significant amount of care and do not make good house plants for novice orchid hobbyists.
Other Orchid Information
- Choosing Orchids to Grow in the Home: Dr. Leonard Perry, extension professor at the University of Vermont discusses how to select the appropriate orchid for one's home. Topics covered include indoor temperature and one's wishes in terms of blooms.
- Learning About Rainforests - Orchids: This page gives readers a brief overview of orchids. Information such as the number of known species and differences in appearance are reviewed.
- Orchids on the Windowsill: Read this article on growing orchids indoors. Tips about watering, sunlight, and exposure are provided.
- Orchids Information Sheet: Visitors to this Clemson Cooperative Extension page will find information on selecting orchids, as well as general culture information. Readers also have the option to print the information contained on this page.
- Growing Orchids in the Home: Click on this link to open an eleven-page PDF on how to grow orchids in one's home. The document discusses general orchid culture pests and which orchids are easiest to grow.
- Orchidaceae Orchid Family: Open this Web page to read about the orchid family by clicking on the link. The page discusses the different genera of orchids and provides general care instructions.
- Orchid Care for the Novice: This page discusses basic orchid care from the point of view of the flower.
- Control of Orchid Mites: This is an informative article that reviews two types of mites that are problems for orchids. The PDF file also discusses control methods that may be employed.
- Orchids as Houseplants: The Iowa State Department of Horticulture offers this brief news article on keeping orchids as house plants. Environment and care instructions are included.
- Plants - Orchids: By clicking on this link readers open up an informational page about orchids on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs website. The page provides basic information about orchids, as well as laws and regulations protecting the flowers.