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10 exotic orchids

With their exquisite and spectacular blooms, exotic orchids make beautiful house plants. Yet despite their exotic looks, they can be simple to look after, as long as you understand the conditions they enjoy.

Orchids that naturally grow on trees are known as epiphytes. These are often sold in transparent pots so that light can reach their roots, or are mounted on bark sheets or driftwood. Those that grow on the ground in soil are known as terrestrial orchids and sometimes require moister compost than epiphytic orchids.

View our image gallery of exotic orchids.

Many orchids are endangered, so always purchase plants from reputable suppliers to ensure they haven’t been taken from the wild. The following 10 varieties should all be readily available and are well worth growing.

Orchid - Cattleya 'Green Mist'

Cattleya ‘Green Mist’

Cattleyas are epiphytes and enjoy warm, humid conditions, with some air movement. Water them when the growing medium is dry. A new flower spike grows from a dormant bud each year. Cut this back to the stem after flowering.

Orchid - Dendrobium 'Thailand Black'

Dendrobium ‘Thailand Black’

These stunning flowers can last for about six weeks. Keep the plant in warm conditions (min 13°C) and water when the growing medium is becoming dry. Dendrobiums can reproduce by forming baby plantlets called keikis. 

Orchid - Dendrobium thrysiflorum

Dendrobium thyrsiflorum

This epiphyte produces blooms once a year from each flowering stem. Water it with rainwater and liquid fertiliser when its growing medium is getting dry during summer and mist the foliage frequently. Water less in winter.

Orchid - Disa aurata

Disa aurata (golden disa)

Keep this plant on a cool, bright windowsill, out of the sun. Disas are terrestrial orchids that grow with their roots permanently in wet soil. Keen growers sometimes use an aquarium pump to circulate water continually around the roots.

Disa uniflora

Disa uniflora

This red disa is the emblem of South Africa’s Western Cape. Like the golden disa, it needs permanently wet conditions and benefits from watering with a weak fertiliser solution. Occasionally, pink or yellow flowers develop.

Phalaenopsis 'Golden Beauty'

Phalaenopsis ‘Golden Beauty’

Grow in a warm room with low light and high humidity. Plants are usually sold growing in bark compost in clear plastic pots, so the green roots can photosynthesise. Don’t be tempted to repot, as these conditions are perfect.

Orchid - Phalaenopsis 'Mini Mark'

Phalaenopsis ‘Mini Mark’

With tiny flowers only 2.5cm wide, this beautiful little moth orchid should be grown in the same conditions as ‘Golden Beauty’ (above). Like larger-flowered varieties, it can keep its blooms for about eight weeks.

Orchid - Prosthechea cochleata

Prosthechea cochleata, cockleshell orchid

This beautiful upside-down flower is the national flower of Belize. Keep the plant warm, in a light but not sunny location, in a pot of free-draining bark compost. Many hybrids of this species are available.

Orchid - Prostechea prismatocarpa

Prosthechea prismatocarpa

With plentiful, long-lasting, scented flowers, this epiphyte grows on trees in the mountains of Central America. It likes bright light, but not direct sun. Let the growing medium dry slightly between waterings and water less in winter. 

Orchid - Vanda rosthchildiana 'Pink'

Vanda ‘Rothschildiana Pink’

Vandas have very long roots and are often grown in baskets so the roots can hang down. They need warm and bright, but not sunny, conditions. If the plant gets too tall, you can cut off the top plus a few roots and replant it.

Thanks to the following orchid specialists who provided information on the plants in this feature:

Dave Parkinson Plants

David Stead Orchids

Vacherot & Lecoufle

Writhlington School Orchid Project

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: 10 exotic orchids
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!jasmine1 27/07/2012 at 17:08

Surely these are not all true orchids eg Vanda (lilly) and I think DIsa .this is very misleading!