Orchids are an amazing family of plants all belonging to the Orchidaceae family which is recognized as the most diverse plant family in the world. The Orchidaceae family is incredibly vast, consisting of over 800 genera and over 20,000 known species! Orchid species are found throughout the world on every continent except Antarctica.
Orchids are famous for a variety of reasons, perhaps most notably their unique flowers. Most people are familiar with Phalaenopsis orchids (aka Moth Orchids). The immaculate blooms of Phalaenopsis orchids are very striking and come in a variety of colors. Although they look very delicate, they can actually perform quite well indoors.
The world of orchids goes far beyond Phalaenopsis orchids. As you will see, orchids come in a wide range of blooms. In fact, there are so many different types of orchids there are many orchid societies and clubs around the world with enthusiasts always seeking new and interesting species and varieties. The American Orchid Society is one of the most prominent in North America.
Many of these orchids you see in the U.S. are grown in tropical locations such as Hawaii. To visualize the role Hawaii plays in orchid growth, I will take you on a photographic tour of the orchid growing process in Hawaii and share some care tips for a few of the most popular types of orchids.
Growing orchids in Hawaii
Hawaii is an excellent location to grow orchids, primarily due to its climate which is similar to where many ornamental orchids are native too. Warm temperatures, abundant humidity and predictable weather make Hawaii ideal for growing.
Many orchids are reproduced by micropropagation (or “tissue culture”) often described as in vitro (in glass). During micropropagation, tiny pieces of plant tissue are taken from a mother plant. In a very sterile, laboratory environment, the plant tissue is inserted into a glass jar filled with a jelly-like agar base which provides food to the tiny plantlets. This plastic bottle contains hundreds of small orchids shipped to Hawaii from Southeast Asia after being propagated by tissue culture.
The plants begin growing in the jars and are eventually transferred into foam-like cubes to grow bigger in size. The cube’s material holds moisture and abundant air needed for root growth. When large enough, the plants are grown in a well-drained growing medium.
Notice the course growing medium of orchids. Orchids are often grown in these growing mediums due to the need for a moist but very well-drained growing environment for their roots. Remember – most orchids do not grow in normal soil in the wild. They are Epiphytes – meaning their roots are typically above ground attached to the trunks and branches of trees. Orchid roots must never sit in water and must always be exposed to air. Many orchids have structures called “Pseudobulbs” that store water, meaning their watering needs can be lower than the average houseplant.
Types of orchids
Miltonia orchids (also known as Pansy Orchids due to their similar blooms) are a very common and diverse type of cultivated orchids. Blooms of Miltonia orchids often have bright colors contrasted with whites. Many have vibrant burgundy or purplish colored blooms with streaks of whites (or reversed with a white background and streaks of vibrant colors) and yellow centers.
Miltonia orchids need plenty of water but superb drainage as well as high humidity and somewhat cooler temperatures to induce blooming. Light levels can be somewhat lower compared to most other orchids.
Paphiopedilum orchids (also known as Slipper Orchids or simply “Paphs”) have very unique blooms – even by orchid standards, making them a rather expensive plant. The most defining feature of these orchid blooms is their prominent pouches in their blooms which look a bit like pitchers of the pitcher plant.
Slipper Orchids are native to jungles of Southeast Asia and are not particularly difficult to grow indoors however they prefer higher humidity and like most orchids must not be over-watered. They do not require particularly high light, doing well in an east window or under fluorescent light.
Oncidium & Tolumnia orchids
Oncidium and Tolumnia orchids (sometimes called “Dancing Ladies”) typically produce up to a dozen or more small blooms on spikes. For this reason, they are sometimes used as cut flowers.
Oncidiums are native to the western hemisphere, primarily South America.
Cattleya orchids have beautiful blooms that somewhat resemble Iris blooms. This makes them popular as cut flowers and for use in corsages. Blooms are quite large on Cattleya orchids and come in quite a few colors, most commonly pinks and purples.
Miniature Cattleyas are increasing in popularity and are often found growing in windowsills due to their need for higher light.
Sure to catch the eye, Brassidium Orchids are most often referred to as Spider orchids for their blooms that sport long tentacles available in a wide range of colors and variegation. Not only are these blooms very exquisite but they are typically born on spikes, meaning multiple blooms at once.
Want to know more about orchids? Check out these amazing orchid facts and grow your appreciation for the whole Orchidaceae family.
Green Side Up,
Matt Kostelnick, Senior Horticulturist at Ambius