You probably have been given or purchased an orchid- most likely a Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, or Cattleya. These are just three of the most popular genera of the orchids in cultivation today.
The size and diversity of the orchid family, Orchidaceae, is nothing short of astounding, with estimates of 800 genera, 30,000 naturally occurring species and more than 100,000 hybrids. Orchids grow on every continent and every habitat except the major deserts and arctic circles. Many orchids grow in subtropical areas of the world and many of those will grow well in South Florida.
Orchids can be epiphytes (which grow attached to other plants, also known as “air plants”), terrestrials (grow on land), lithophytes (grow on rocks), or saprophytes (grow on dead organic matter). About 75% of all orchids are epiphytes and can be found growing on trees.
There are two groups of epiphytic orchids based on stem structure and growth habit- sympodial and monopodial.
Sympodial orchids have a horizontal growth habit and often feature pseudobulbs, a thickened stem from which the leaves emerge that are attached to a basal rhizome. The pseudobulbs store water and food for the orchid, which allows the plant to go for prolonged periods without water. Examples of sympodial orchids include Cattleya, Dendrobium, and Oncidium orchids. In general, these types of orchids require less watering as they can store water in their pseudobulbs.
Cattleyas are a genus of Orchidaceae native to much of South America. They are among the most popular orchids grown. Cattleyas come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes and have very showy flowers. Cattleyas are epiphytes which grow on trees or rocks. Cattleyas generally prefer humid environments and like to dry out between watering. Most important for Cattleya growth is bright, indirect light. The leaves should be medium green in color when the light levels are optimal. They tolerate temperatures between 60 and 90 F. Cattleyas like to be fertilized when in active growth, that is when you see new root tips.
Dendrobium orchids are a popular, complex, and extremely large genus from the Old World. Some varieties grow in the mountainous Himalayas while others grow in lowland tropical forests. Some varieties even thrive in the Australian desert. Many of the subtropical Dendrobiums have beautiful flowers which are also long lasting, but because it is such a large genus group, no one culture works for all.
Oncidiums can be found anywhere from sea level in the tropics to the high elevations of the Andes. The genus is not only one of the largest and most popular cultivated orchid genera, but also a collection of considerably distinct species with varying light, water, and humidity needs. Oncidiums usually produce long, branched, many-flowered, erect to arching inflorescences bearing small to large flowers often in colors from yellow to brown, rarely of uniform color but usually marked or blotched.
Monopodial orchids grow upright or vertically. They feature side shoots, which likewise grow upright. Unlike sympodial orchids, this type of epiphyte does not have pseudobulbs for nutrient storage and therefore most monopodial orchids have thicker or longer roots to retain moisture. Vanda, Phalaenopsis, and Paphiopedilum are just three of the most common monopodial orchids. Usually, these types of orchids require more humidity and more frequent watering.
Vandas are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and the Pacific where they can be found hanging from trees or from cracks in cliffs and other rocky locations. In South Florida these plants will grow best outdoors in bright filtered sunlight. Vandas require high humidity and should be watered daily. In the heat of the summer, they can use multiple waterings a day. Vandas can be mounted on a tree, such as a palm tree, grown in a wooden basket, or mounted on a wire.
The majority of Phalaenopsis are native to Indonesia and the Philippines. They naturally grow in the tropical forest attached to trees and in crevices; therefore, they like low, indirect light, warm temperatures, and high humidity. Phalaenopsis, commonly called the moth orchid due to their flat flower petals resembling moth wings, are admired for their beautiful flowers and are the most widely grown orchid genera. In fact, they account for a staggering 75 percent of all orchid plant sales. These orchids are among the easiest orchids to grow, whether in greenhouses, on windowsills, or mounted on your palm trees. Blossoms on a single stem can last for months.
Paphiopedilums are also called slipper orchids because of their unique floral pouch reminiscent of a lady’s shoe. They are semi-terrestrial orchids that can be found growing on the humus rich floor in their native jungle habitats of the Philippines and New Guinea to the high hills of northern India. Paphiopedilums come from the jungle, so they expect a tropical environment with plenty of moisture, humidity, and bright shade. Their care is like African violets and are a bit fussier than other orchids, preferring a temperature range between 60F-80F with a humidity level of 40-50 percent. They require watering about once per week. But like all orchids, Paphiopedilums do not tolerate soggy roots, so make sure they’re not sitting in excess water after watering.
Explore the beauty and diversity of orchids at Flamingo Gardens’ breathtaking exhibit, Beauty Of Orchids, on display March 19 to May 8, 2022. Over 1,000 live orchids in 10 displays created by staff and the Orchidteers volunteer group are set among the lush tropical setting of Flamingo Gardens and feature the images of award-winning orchid photographer, Tom Kuligowski.
Inside the Gallery you will enjoy an exhibit of beautiful orchid photographs selected from participants in Flamingo Gardens’ 11th Annual Photo Contest.
On weekends, exit the Tram at the Wetlands Walkway to hear “Native Orchid Music” by Juraj Kojs, based upon the DNA sequence of various Florida native orchids. Each weekend will also include orchid classes, tours, and demonstrations, as well as orchids for sale from select vendors. Check online for the schedule of classes and special programming at: https://flamingogardens.org/beauty-of-orchids.html
Beauty of Orchids opens the weekend of the Exotic Plant Festival & Bonsai Show, March 19 & 20, and will remain on display during the 40th International Orchid & Bromeliad Show, April 16 & 17, through Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022.
Timed Online Tickets are recommended on weekends. Beauty of Orchids exhibit is included in your Flamingo Gardens’ admission of $21.95 for ages 12+, $15.95 for ages 3-11, Flamingo Gardens’ members and children 2 and younger are free. Narrated tram tour included.