Elegant and attractive, the exotic orchid is one of the most popular houseplants. To the uninitiated, caring for one of these attractive flowers can seem a daunting proposition. But it really isn’t. Requiring just a little care and patience, the orchid is one of the most visually rewarding plants around.
This guide to the different types of orchids will not only seek to explain what an orchid is, we will also highlight some of the most interesting types. The suggestions below range from high maintenance specimens to easy to care for plants that are ideal for the home or garden.
The exotic orchid is an increasingly popular houseplant.
What is an Orchid?
Members of the orchidaceae family, there are currently over 800 genera and 25,000 recorded orchid species. This is before you also take into account the 100,000 cultivars and hybrids also available.
Many people think that the exotic looking orchid is a high maintenance plant that requires very strict growing conditions in order to flourish. However, this is not true. The orchid is actually a very versatile plant. They can be found growing in most regions of the world.
This geographical spread means that the different types of orchids can vary in size, weight, color and growing preferences. Many of these differences are related to the specific varieties’ natural habitat and are vital for the plants continued health and success. Despite these discrepancies, most orchid plants are easily identifiable.
A perennial plant, the orchid flower typically displays bilateral symmetry. Depending on the exact type the plant has set growing habits. All the different types of orchids can be classified as either Monopodial and Sympodial:
- Monopodial plants are those that produce a stem from a single, central bud. New leaves emerge from the apex every year. The stem of the plant grows vertically.
- Sympodial plants grow to a certain length before setting flowers. After the flowers fade, the stem dies back to be replaced by a new one. The stems of sympodial plants tend to grow laterally but can be trained.
Orchid plants can also be grouped by the environment in which they grow. Here, the two groups are termed Terrestrial and Epiphytic:
- Terrestrial plants are rhizomatous plants, growing from underground tubers or corms. These store the necessary nutrients for the plant to grow and flower.
- Epiphytic plants, also called the aerial orchid, grow aerial roots. This enables the plants to anchor themselves to trees, shrubs and other nearby structures. They are commonly found growing wild in subtropical regions. Sometimes called air plants, Epiphytic plants cannot photosynthesize. Instead they obtain their nutrients by forming a symbiotic relationship with fungal species, entwining their root systems in exchange for nutrients.
The Ideal Orchid Growing Conditions
An increasingly popular houseplant, different types of orchids require different growing conditions. Some like full shade positions whilst others prefer to bask in lots of sunlight. While some types like wet or even waterlogged soil others prefer arid conditions. Potted types often thrive in orchid mixes, such as Better-Gro Phalanopsis Mix or sand. Take the time to research your chosen variety before purchase.
Different orchid varieties and cultivars have different needs and growth preferences.
While getting the growing position right can be difficult, the floral attraction and interest these plants provide makes it well worth the effort.
If you are cultivating an orchid in a pot, it is worth investing in an Orchid Pot. These are designed to maximize drainage whilst also encouraging air flow around the roots. Not the most aesthetically pleasing container, once planted up the orchid pot can be placed inside a more attractive container if you wish. This guide to choosing the right pot for your orchid will help you to find the ideal container.
Specimens growing in pots require regular repotting. Our guide to repotting orchid plants takes you through everything that you need to know.
Perennial plants, once established and if correctly cared for, all orchid plants flower year after year until they die. To encourage plants growing undercover to rebloom, place them in an indirect light position and allow them to experience cooler air during the night time.
Potted plants also benefit from a weekly dose of fertilizer and growing in appropriate material. Aerial rooted types of orchids also grow in water.
While a general purpose houseplant feed can be applied, it is far better to give your houseplant a specific orchid fertilizer. Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food contains all the nutrients that your growing plants require.
Hybrid orchid varieties are increasingly popular. A low maintenance option, hybrids are pleasingly easy to care for and are often devoid of the more difficult care aspects that accompany pure orchid varieties.
If you want to learn more about caring for orchid plants, our Orchids 101 guide is a great place to start.
The orchid specimens found in garden stores and florists are often hybrid varieiteis. If you want a specific variety you may need to visit a specialist plant nursery.
Different Types of Orchids
The following specimens have been selected to show you the range of different types of orchids currently available. They range from low maintenance, hybrid plants that are ideal for beginners to more exoitc, high maintenance specimens that require a lot of time and care. Whatever you are looking for in a plant, you are sure to find an orchid to suit.
The Phalaenopsis orchid, also known as the Moth orchid, is an ideal choice for novice or nervous growers. The Moth orchid is both easy to grow and maintain. Flowering in a range of colors such as light pink or yellow, some cultivars can even be decorated with burgundy spots.
Phalaenopsis plants flower throughout the year. One of the more resilient types of orchids, all Moth orchid cultivars tolerate repotting and some handling. Again, this makes them a great choice for newcomers to orchid care. This natural resilience coupled with their long lasting flowering habit means that the Phalaenopsis flower is ideal for both indoor and outdoor cultivation.
The Moth orchid is one of the most commonly grown types of orchids.
There are over 200 different types of orchids clustered together under the Angraecum name. Typically star shaped in appearance most types produce medium sized flowers. Often white in color you can also find green and yellow flowering types of Angraecum plants.
Pleasingly fragrant, Angraecum is a popular ornamental or perfumery plant. A versatile specimen, these plants can also be grown in hanging baskets. A low maintenance orchid, Angraecum’s require an even amount of water and an average temperature range of between 60 and 80 ℉.
Popular with orchid lovers all over the world, despite their showy appearance, The Boat orchid is surprisingly easy to care for. The distinctive boat shaped flowers give the plants their name. An evergreen specimen, the foliage continues to provide interest when the plants aren’t in flower.
Found growing wild in tropical and subtropical parts of Asia and Australia, Boat orchid plants can be reliably cultivated both indoors and outside. They can also be used as part of a cut flower display.
The distinctive blooms of the boat orchid.
A fragrant variety, Brassavola’s white flowers typically open during the evening and night. When open, the flowers emit a pleasing fragrance. Brassavola’s night flowering habit means that the plants are sometimes called the Lady of the Night Orchid.
The Brassavola is a small, showy orchid with long, reed-like, light green foliage. Further adding to the attraction, Brassavola is an easy to grow, low maintenance plant. It is also a pleasingly reliable specimen. In favorable climates Brassavola plants can be encouraged to flower throughout the year.
The Dendrobium is one of the heaviest flowering types of orchids. When in flower numerous blooms can adorn a single Dendrobium stem. This means that the plants often require staking to prevent the stems from snapping or bending. A Mudder Metal Plant Stake provides robust support.
There are over 1000 recognized Dendrobium cultivars. These cultivars flower in a rainbow of colors including, white, yellow and lavender. An evergreen plant, when not in flower the foliage maintains visual interest. Dendrobium plants are pleasingly easy to grow and thrive in a range of different conditions.
Dendrobium types of orchids come in a range of colors.
A two-toned flower, often pink-red and white in color, Cattleya is one of the hybrid types of orchids. Some cultivars can also produce speckled blooms in a range of different shades. A fragrant plant, popularly used in corsages, Cattleya flowers can reach 8 inches in diameter.
Popular with orchid breeders, Cattleya plants can also be cultivated as houseplants. Despite the showy appearance the Cattleya is a pleasingly easy to care for cultivar.
A showy flower, Odontoglossum types of orchids flower in a range of colors including red, purple, yellow and white. There are also multicolored cultivars. One of the taller orchid plants on this list, Odontoglossum stems can reach up to 4 ft tall. Additionally, when fully opened the flowers measure 6 inches wide.
Depending on the size of the Odontoglossum plant a single stem can bear between 20 and 150 flowers. When open the petals are ruffled. Further adding to the attraction is the plant’s pleasing fragrance. One of the more difficult to grow types of orchids, Odontoglossum plants prefer cooler climates, typically 80 ℉ lower. However, their visual appearance makes the extra care required well worth the effort.
The ruffled Odontoglossum blooms.
Ludisia, or the Jewel orchid, is just as attractive when not in flower as when it is. The visual interest is largely provided by the foliage which is green with variegated stripes. In the fall and winter small white flowers emerge.
In addition to the more common white flowering Ludisia Albino there is also the Ludisia Nigrescens cultivar. This produces deep black blooms. Native to tropical parts of Asia, Ludisia types of orchids thrive in hot, humid and damp conditions.
One of the most eye-catching types of orchids, the flowers of the Catasetum orchid are snowy white with a dark orange-yellow center. A deciduous plant, the foliage yellows and falls from the plant during the winter months. Interestingly, the Catasetum orchid produces both male and female flowers on the same plant. These can look quite different when open.
Best cultivated in a controlled environment such as a temperature controlled greenhouse, Catasetum plants have specific growing requirements. One of the most important is a steady temperature. They also require precise watering and just the right amount of light. This means that Catasetum types of orchids are often only grown by experienced orchid breeders.
Catasetum orchid plants have a unique growth habit.
Thanks to its showy flowers the Maxillaria is one of the most well known types of orchids. There are over 300 Maxillaris cultivars. These flower in a range of different color combinations including yellow with white tips and dark red edges. The attractive flowers of the Maxillaria orchid are complemented by the plant’s narrow, green foliage.
One of the smaller types of orchids, Cymbidium plants typically consist of more floral spikes than petals. Cymbidium flowers come in a range of colors such as lime green, bright pink and red. An easy to grow, low maintenance plant that is ideal for new or nervous orchid growers, Cymbidium is one of the most resilient types of orchids. They also tend to do better in colder climates than other orchid varieties.
The small but productive Cymbidium.
Cycnoches are sometimes called the Swan orchid. This is because male Cycnoches flowers look like a swans neck. The Cycnoches is another of the many fragrant types of orchids on our list. When opened the flowers emit a strong, nearly spicy aroma.
A heavy flowering plant, up to 30 flowers can sit on one stem. The blooms are also surprisingly sturdy and long lasting. One of the more difficult types of orchids to maintain, the Swan orchid is popular for its distinctive flowers and unusual growth habit.
13 Lady Slipper
One of the most attractive of the many types of orchids on our list, the Lady Slipper orchid is named because the plant’s flowers resemble an elegant lady’s slipper. The flowers are made up of two glossy green leaves that emerge from the central stalk. Lady Slipper plants flower in a range of colors from white and bright yellow to deep purple.
The Lady Slipper is becoming increasingly rare in the wild, to the point where it is on the verge of being considered endangered. However, this variety remains a popular plant amongst growers and orchid breeders.
Unlike other types of orchids Lady Slippers require quite a bit of light and moisture. A grow light can be used if you struggle to find a position with enough natural light. The Lady Slipper orchid is best watered with only natural rain water or distilled water to better replicate their growing conditions.
The distinctive Lady Slipper orchid. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/lady-s-slipper-orchid-orchid-flower-6285702/
Lycaste is another of the deciduous types of orchids that lose their leaves during the winter months. When Lycaste plants are dormant protective sharp spines emerge on the tips of the pseudobulbs. Be careful when handling the plant, wearing gloves if necessary. Lycaste spikes are sharp enough to draw blood.
When the Lycaste is in flower, attractive colorful blooms in shades of lavender, white, pink and red with yellow centers emerge.
One of the most eye-catching types of orchids, the Milotonia orchid is sometimes called the friendliest looking orchid. This is partly because the flowers resemble pansies. This similarity has also given the Miltonia it’s other name, the Pansy orchid.
Flowering from late spring into the summer, as well as solid colors, including hot pink, there are also bicolored or multicolored flowering varieties such as white blooms with golden yellow centers. Miltonia’s are pleasingly easy to care for making them an ideal low maintenance houseplant.
The open, pansy-like flowers of the Miltonia orchid. Source:https://pixabay.com/photos/miltonia-flowers-garden-6920123/
A triangular flower, Masdevallia is one of the more unusual types of orchids. Often described as spidery or creepy, these plants typically flower during the summer months.
One of the more difficult types of orchids to successfully cultivate, Masdevallia plants require exposure to certain humidity and temperature levels before they start to flower. When in flower, Masdevallia cultivars can produce blooms in a range of eye-catching colors such as yellow-orange. These sit above pleasingly attractive green leaves.
A distinctive plant, Oncidium flowers are said to resemble a dancing lady in a colorful sundress. The bright yellow and gold flowering types are particularly attractive. Others such as Sharry Baby are fragrant. Sharry Baby, when open, emits a pleasing chocolaty fragrance.
Oncidium is a low maintenance, easy to grow flower. However, the plant does require lots of humidity and moisture in order to thrive and flower on a regular basis.
The pleasing, open flowers of the Oncidium orchid. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/flower-orchid-bloom-botany-blossom-6894253/
Phragmipedium is one of the few types of orchids that grow in water. If planted in the soil Phragmipedium orchid plants tolerate damp conditions and regular watering well. A soil moisture meter can be used to ensure your plants don’t dry out.
When fully opened the petals, which make up the distinctive flowers, are pouch-like in shape and are surrounded by a mustache. Flowering in a range of colors, light burgundy, light green and white blooms are amongst the most common.
The Psychopsis orchid, also known as the Butterfly orchid, is one of the most colorful orchid plants currently available. The flowers come in a range of striking colors including bright gold and rich burgundy. Further adding to the attraction, the plant’s green foliage can also be speckled.
The Psychopsis orchid is sometimes called the Butterfly orchid because the petals have a butterfly wing like texture. Flowering for up to several months at a time, this is a low maintenance specimen that is easy to care for. Psychopsis types of orchids require only moderate amounts of light.
The butterfly orchid is one of the most distinctive types. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/butterfly-orchid-orchid-53078/
Emitting a pleasing vanilla fragrance, there are over 60 recorded different Vanilla orchid cultivars. As the name suggests vanilla can also be obtained from the flowers.
Blooming in clusters of 12 to 20 buds, Vanilla orchid flowers are typically green-yellow in color. While they are attractive, the flowers only open for one day, opening early in the morning and closing at night as the light fades.
Vanilla plants typically don’t flower until they are mature. This is only after two to three years of steady growth. Best planted in a garden or temperature controlled greenhouse, Vanilla specimens can reach up to 10 ft tall.
Orchid flowers come in a range of eye-catching shapes, sizes and colors. Source:https://pixabay.com/photos/orchid-flower-garden-papua-orchid-6932660/
The different types of orchids listed above have been selected to show how versatile and attractive these exotic flowers truly are. From accessible, easy to care for plants such as the Moth orchid to more specialist specimens such as the Vanilla orchid, there truly is something for everyone.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.