There are few flowers more widely desired than the orchid. With their delicate, graceful beauty and tropical appearance, orchids carry an unmatched implication of elegance. One of the oldest recognized flowers, orchids are cultivated in a wide variety of colors and delicately shaped blossoms.
Different cultures throughout history have believed orchids to possess healing, disease-fighting, and protective properties. Traditional Chinese healers used the orchid to help cure coughs and lung disease. Ancient Greeks associated the orchid with virility, and the Aztecs were said to drink a mixture of the vanilla orchid and chocolate to give them power and strength.
With an approximately 25,000 different types existing naturally, orchids are of the largest flowering plant families. In fact, orchids account for 10% of all flowering plant species. However, due to the fact that some tropical species grow in virtually inaccessible habitats and have never been seen more than a handful of times in the wild, orchids as a whole are seen as rare and valuable. Over 2,000 years ago, Confucius himself wrote poetry about the graceful leaves and delicate fragrance of orchids. In the Victorian age, their exotic mystique and beauty proved irresistible, and they were collected and displayed like treasures. Because of this, they became, and remain to this day, a sign of luxury and refined tastes.
Orchids have adapted to almost every environment on earth and can be found from the cold, snow-covered Alps of Switzerland to the dry desert scrub of Western Australia. Even Death Valley with two inches of annual rainfall is home to orchids.
PHALAENOPSIS, OR MOTH ORCHID
Some of the least expensive, most common, and longest-blooming orchids available. These large, moth-shaped blooms appear in shades of white, pink, red, green, yellow, orange, and purple and can stay looking beautiful for four months or more. Phalaenopsis prefer low to medium light. Keep out of direct sunlight, which will cause the blooms to expire more quickly. While the plant is in its growth season, water whenever the exposed roots turn grayish-white, usually weekly. During the flowering season, you can cut the water back to every other week.
DENDROBIUMS OR KING ORCHID
Most often used by florists in bouquets. Their blooms will continue to look good for a month or more, and come in a beautiful array of colors from white to purple, pink, and even green. Dendrobiums need lots of light, but not direct sun. A lightly shaded south window is best. Since dendrobiums like to be in small pots, and are usually much taller than the rim of the pot, watering twice a week is about average. Let them almost dry out before re-watering. Make sure to water dendrobiums in the morning so that the leaves are dry before night.
PAPHIOPEDILUM OR LADY SLIPPER ORCHID
Perhaps the most distinct orchids. This tropical beauty offers big blooms that are comprised of a hollow pouch in front of a sepal and two petals. Many paphiopedilum orchids have variegated foliage, so they look beautiful even when they’re not flowering. Paphiopedilum require very little light. If a reddish hue begins to show on the edges, you need to provide more shade. Paphiopedilums need more frequent watering than some other orchids because they have no place to store water. If your plant is potted in moss, water when the top feels dry. If your plant is planted in bark it will require more frequent watering, since bark retains less water.
ONCIDIUM AND HYBRID EXOTICS
Easy-care, long-lasting, unusual flowers available in an array of sizes, colors, and shapes. These unusual and stunning orchids are easy to care for at home with blooms that last from several weeks to months. Oncidiums should be kept in bright, indirect light indoors in your home or office and moderate room temperatures. They like to almost dry out between waterings and need to be watered every 7–12 days, which is a little more frequently than some other orchids. After the plant flowers, you can cut each flower stem to its base. The old stem will not bloom again. If you notice that the pseudobulbs of your orchid are looking a bit shriveled, you may want to increase your watering schedule.
VANILLA BEAN ORCHID
With this orchid, you will be able to grow your own vanilla beans! Like most orchids, vanilla orchids grow best in bright filtered shade and high humidity. Ideal temperatures are between 60-70 degrees F at night and 80-95 degrees F during the day. Vanilla orchids grow best in a mixture of half bark and half potting mix. Your vanilla bean orchid’s vines must grow for about two to three years, or to a length of 20 to 30 feet before it will produce flowers. These blooms last one day and must be hand-pollinated the day they open. If pollination is successful, the flowers will remain for about two to three days, but if they are not pollinated they will drop within 24 hours of opening.
One of the most beautiful, but most finicky of orchids. Vandas need bright, indirect light and will not flower if they do not receive sufficient light. When watering a Vanda, you must daily soak the plant for around 15 minutes, or until the white or silvery roots turn color. Then wait a few minutes before again soaking the plant. Make sure that water is not allowed to sit in the crown of the plant. During the growing season, fertilize with a liquid-based, weak fertilizer weekly. Vandas are warm-house orchids that prefer temperatures above about 65 F. They can tolerate lower temperatures, but a prolonged exposure to colder temperatures will have a profound effect on the plant’s growth and flowering. Exposure to any temperatures below 50 F can cause delayed flowering for up to a year. The number one problem with Vandas is lack of water; to grow healthy Vandas, make absolutely sure they are adequately hydrated.
The golden rule for orchid success is to duplicate the plant’s natural conditions as closely as possible. Although they can be intimidating, orchids are really quite simple to care for and the reward of the delicate, beautiful blooms makes it all the more worthwhile.