Orchid types explained
Confused by the different orchid types? Read our guide to the most common types of orchid that you're likely to find for sale.
Orchids make great houseplants – their exotic-looking flowers, in a huge range of colours, can last for several months. Some even have a lovely scent. Cared for correctly, they can last for many years.
Orchids hail from many different parts of the world, from the tropics to the Andes. For this reason they different care requirements, so always check the label and care instructions for your particular type.
Orchids can be divided into three groups according to the temperatures they thrive in – cool, intermediate and warm.
Cool-growing orchids include Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Odontoglossum and Miltoniopsis. They enjoy temperatures between16°C- 21°C (60°F -70°F) in summer and no less than 10°C (50°F) in winter.
Intermediate-growing orchids include Cattleya, Cambria, Paphiopedalum and Oncidium. They like temperatures of between18°C-24°C (65°F-75°F).
Warm-growing orchids include Phalaenopsis and Vanda. They like temperatures of between 21-29°C (70°F-85°F) in summer and no less than 18°C (60°F) in winter – making them a good choice for centrally heated homes.
More on growing orchids:
You'll also find other types of orchid, including those listed below.
Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis)
Moth orchids, or Phalaenopsis, are widely found in garden centres and supermarkets. They come in a wide range of colours and are easy to grow. Grow in a special bark medium rather than compost, in a spot that has bright, filtered light to thrive. They like humidity – for best results, grow in a light, humid kitchen or bathroom.
Dendrobiums require cooler growing conditions and a less humid environment than moth orchids. Reduce watering in autumn, and move plants to a bright windowsill or porch, where they can remain cool and dry until spring. Then, when temperatures start to increase again, increase watering and bring indoors.
Cymbidium orchids are easy to grow. Their pretty flowers, in a range of colours, appear from late winter to early spring. Cymbidiums prefer cool growing conditions. To flower well they need a distinct drop in temperature between day and night from mid- to late summer.
Cattleyas have bright, showy blooms that reach up to 20cm across, which can appear in autumn or spring. Plants produce 'pseudobulbs' topped with one or two fleshy leaves. They like a temperature of around 18-20°C (64-68°F), not dropping below 13°C (55°F) at night.
Ascocendas are the result of a cross between a Vanda orchid and an Ascocentrum. They combine the large flowers of the Vanda and the compact growth of the Ascocentrum. The brightly coloured flowers can appear three times a year. They enjoy warmth in winter and plenty of humidity.
Vandas produce large, beautiful flowers, usually between spring and autumn. They hail from tropical climes, so they love high temperatures and high humidity. They are often grown in slatted baskets or glass vases with little to no potting medium. Unlike most other orchids, they enjoy a sunny spot.
Also known as lady's slipper, cypripediums have a huge flower pouch (actually fused flower petals) and long, often twisting sepals. They're easy to grow in good multipurpose compost. Give them plenty of water during the flowering season. Many species are hardy and can be grown outside.
The intricate veins and spots on the flowers mean that odontoglossums are often called 'butterfly' orchids. Unlike most orchids, they do well in low light levels, such as a north facing windowsill. They hail from the Andes and like cool, fresh, airy conditions.
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Cambria orchids are more precisely called Vuylstekeara, a hybrid of Odontoglossum, Miltonia and Cochlioda orchids. They are widely available in garden centres and supermarkets. They like similar conditions to Odonoglossum but will tolerate a wide temperature range.
Oncidium orchids are sometimes known as dancing ladies and usually flower in autumn. The hybrids that you're most likely to see in shops are the easiest to grow – they like temperatures on the cool side. They will appreciate a spell outside in summer.
Miltonia or pansy orchids are often found on sale at garden centres, and are often actually Miltoniopsis hybrids. These compact plants have large flowers with a distinctive 'mask' or 'face', as pansies do. They like cooler temperatures but are forgiving of temperature fluctuations.
Paphiopedilum are known as slipper orchids, thanks to the pouch-shaped lip of the flower, used to attract pollinators in the wild. They usually flower from November to March. They like humidity and moderate temperatures – between 10-25°C (50-77°F). Move to a cool, bright spot in winter.
Orchid growing tips
- Grow in bright light, but away from direct sunlight
- Don't overwater – this is a common mistake. Wait until the roots look silvery and do not allow the pot to stand in water
- Most orchids enjoy humidity – stand on a tray of moist pebbles
- Pot on every two or three years
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