13 Orchid Species You Can Grow
ORCHID SPECIES FREQUENTLY have the undeserved reputation of being difficult-to-cultivate prima donnas with ordinary flowers. If you share that philosophy, here is a baker’s dozen that should help dispel that notion.
There are many worthy species within the genus Brassavola; most have white, spidery flowers with a pleasant scent. Most Brassavola plants do not hog space. Their slender leaves and pseudobulbs and compact habit make them easy to accommodate. Brassavola nodosa, popularly called lady of the night for its irresistible nighttime fragrance, is probably the most readily available. It needs bright light to flower well and intermediate to warm temperatures, similar to those given cattleyas.
A most unusual orchid flower is sported by Aeranthes grandiflora. The plant comes from Madagascar and is related to the African genus An-graecum. The fragrant yellow or cream flowers open successively on a long slender flower stem. The species thrives in shady humid conditions.
The slipper-orchid genus Phragmipedium includes many species worthy of cultivation. My recommendation is the perhaps unlikely candidate Phragmipedium pearcei. Many of the truly spectacular phragmipedium flowers are borne on plants that mature to an equally spectacular size. But Phrag. pearcei is a diminutive member of the clan that is a plant of manageable scale and its long-lasting, successively produced greenish flowers have subtle reddish-brown stripes and markings that can enchant an observer for hours.
I have a weakness for orchid flowers with twisted petals or, better yet, twisted petals and sepals, and they hardly come more twisted than Trichopilia tortilis. The flowers are indeed striking, having petals and sepals of a pinkish color with light colored borders. The rather large trumpet-shaped lip is white with yellow and brown spotting in the throat. This Central American species is fairly easy to cultivate in intermediate conditions.
The orchid family includes plants with flowers in a broad range of sizes and offers an interesting variety of arrangements for those flowers on the floral stem. The Asian genus Den-drochilum is among the more distinctive. Here is a good example of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts. Dendrochilum flowers are usually quite small and individually unremarkable, yet in this genus the smallish flowers are typically borne in orderly ranks along arching pendent racemes that give mature well-grown specimens particular appeal when they are effectively placed in orchid displays. One of the choicest is the autumn-flowering Dendrochilum cobbianum. The flowers are fragrant and typically greenish or yellow in color with a yellow-orange lip.
From the showy genus Cattleya, I would like to make a plug for one of the less-spectacular species, Cattleya luteola. This charming miniature from the Amazon region sports clusters of two to several fragrant light-yellow flowers. The interior of the tubular lip is darker yellow with streaks of reddish purple. This one grows well mounted and can flower twice a year.
Another orchid genus known for its characteristic flowers and distinctively arranged inflorescences is Brassia, appropriately called spider orchid after its narrow pointed floral segments. Most members of the tropical American genus grow to become sizeable plants, but they are worth the space. The impact of their dramatic floral presentation is unforgettable. Brassia verrucosa produces some of the largest flowers in the genus. The blossoms are pale green and frequently spotted or striped with red-brown.
Color, fragrance and an interesting floral habit contribute to the deserved popularity of the genus Lycaste among orchid species growers. You will learn the importance of a dry, dormant period from species such as Lycaste aromatica, which requires neglect to produce its cheery yellow-orange flowers in late springtime. The flowers carry the bonus of a remarkably powerful cinnamon scent.
Your friends may not believe that Encyclia cochleata is an orchid. Each cream-colored flower of the cockle-shell orchid is topped by a black-purple cupped lip that is striped olive; the petals and sepals twist below. It is an undemanding plant that produces its flowers successively for a long period. Everyone who appreciates unusual flower forms should grow this one.
Neofinetia falcata is a favorite acquisition for fans of fragrant orchids, and as a bonus, the sweet-scented flowers are produced on a miniature plant. There is arguably only one species in the genus. It is a native of Japan, and the plant’s habit can be compared to that of a miniature vanda, to which it is closely related. Flowers are typically a pristine white and have a long nectar spur. The species is an easy keeper and flowers primarily during the summer.
A tiger from the jungle is how I envision Rossioglossum (syn. Odontoglossum) grande, due to its yellow sepals that are boldly striped with a mahogany hue. In fact, it is an epiphyte from the cloud forests of Central America. The sizeable flowers carry quite a punch, particularly when six to 10 of them are produced at once. It is reputedly undemanding, but does grow best with cool evenings and a short rest after new growth matures. I did not have great success with one I grew some years ago, but look forward to trying it again. This is my idea of a really dynamite species.
A distinctive variation on the orchid flower theme is offered by the members of the genus Galeandra. The flowers have comparatively large spurred lips that can be described as cornucopia shaped. The sepals and petals are aggregated to form a bit of a tuft or crest on the flower’s dorsal side. The plants have foliage that is deciduous during the dry season. They enjoy a long flowering period during the summer months. Galeandra batemannii is perhaps the most readily available species and one of the more colorful, with pink to purple coloration at the apex of the lip of an otherwise pale olive flower.
Perhaps the king of orchid species is Rhyncholaelia digbyana. While its flowers lack bold color, they have a subtle translucence and a faint green coloration that could be described as pale celadon. The fimbriated lip is incomparable and the blossom has an intoxicating lemon fragrance too. This species is the “B” in most of the Brassolaeliocattleya (Blc.) hybrids within the Cattleya Alliance, a holdover from the days when it was known as Brassavola digbyana. This one thrives in bright light and intermediate conditions and will never be forgotten by those who behold it.
As I review this list, I acknowledge there are not lots of colorful blossoms among the suggestions, but most are fragrant and encompass an incredible variety of orchid flower forms. Their blooming periods cover most of the calendar too. You may find that some of the popular ones have been domestically inbred to produce larger, showier flowers than those that are typically found on their wild brethren.
Numerous captivating orchid species await those who hunt for them. Other intriguing examples can be found in the genera Gongora, Cycnoches, Psychopsis, Dendrobium, Paphiopedilum, Schomburgkia, Stanhopea and Phalaenopsis, to name but a few. Many boast flowers that exemplify the adjective “exotic” within the plant kingdom.
If you have a nomination for a great orchid species, send me an e-mail with your suggestion. Include a comment or two promoting your choice and please be sure that the subject line of the e-mail includes the word “orchid” or another word or phrase that will prevent me from deleting it with the spam. I will take the receipt of your suggestion as tacit agreement to use your name and suggestion in a follow-up article in Orchids magazine.