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Orchid: Exotic & Surprising Easy-Care Houseplant

Orchids are one of the most beautiful and popular houseplants around. They're also one of the most diverse. And although delicate in appearance, these exotic plants are hardier and easier to grow than most people realize.

Other names for this plant...

Varies based on species

About Orchids

Many novice growers steer clear of orchids, afraid they're demanding and challenging to grow. But orchids are one of the easiest houseplants to care for, requiring minimal knowledge and effort.

There are also nearly 300,000 varieties of orchid plants, making them a collector's dream. When blooming, orchids put on a spectacular display of color and texture. Even dormant, their large, lush green leaves and exposed roots contribute to the vibe of your plant collection.

Botanical Name

Orchids belong to the Orchidaceae family, one of the two largest families of flowering plants.

Plant Type

Most orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plants or trees. Epiphytic plants aren't parasitic. However, they gain nutrients from the air, rain, or debris surrounding them.

Some orchids are terrestrial, growing in soil.

Specific information related to growth will depend upon the species of orchid.


Orchids have a long history. They are noted throughout history and can be found in most areas of the world, except Antarctica. Orchids were prominent in places like Greece, China, and Rome as far back as 500 BC.

Although there are many genera within the orchid family, the name "orchid" is derived from the Greek word orkhis, which translates to "testicle" and refers to the typical shape of the root within the family Orchidaceae.

In addition, the Greek myth of Orchis is associated with the origin of the orchid. It's said that after drinking too much and committing immoral acts, Orchis was sentenced by the gods to live the remainder of his life as a flower. Hence the orchid.

While orchids are readily available anywhere, the largest and most diverse concentrations are in Asia and South and Central America.


Although highly diverse, orchids share some similar characteristics:

  • Tall, curved flower spikes (stems)

  • Brightly colored flowers with petals and sepals (interior petals) in sets of three.

  • Waxy leaves

  • Slow growth rate

The flower of an orchid possesses both male and female reproductive organs. The female organ is called the stigma, and the male portion is the anther. These organs are housed in a gynostemium or column found in the flower's center.

Each orchid species will have distinctive traits like size, color, and petal shape outside these common attributes.

Orchids come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Types Of Orchids

To say that there are many types of orchids is an understatement.

Within the Orchidaceae family, there are more than 1,000 genera which is the classification level between family and species. Across the over 1,000 genera, the plants break out into 25,000+ species and can be further broken down into 300,000 varieties.

The overwhelming numbers are part of what can make growing orchids seem like a daunting task. But even with such a wealth of diversity, there are some favorites among seasoned growers and beginners.

The top 10 most common genera of orchids grown are listed below. Each genus listed will contain several orchid species, all with unique features.

  1. Cattleya orchids. Common name corsage orchid or queen of the orchids.

  2. Cymbidium orchid. Common name boat orchid. It can tolerate colder temperatures than many other species.

  3. Dendrobium orchid. Common names include bull orchid and pigeon orchid. This is the largest genus containing more than 2,000 species of orchids.

  4. Miltonia orchid. The common name is the pansy orchid. This orchid doesn't go dormant and will grow all year long.

  5. Oncidium orchid. Common name dancing lady orchid. This orchid can have dozens of flowers blooming at once.

  6. Paphiopedilum orchid. Common name slipper orchid or Venus slipper orchid. This is one of the most popular orchids for beginners due to the ease of care.

  7. Phalaenopsis orchid. Common name moth orchid and one of the most popular.

  8. Vanda orchid. Common name grey orchid or checkered vanda. One of the only orchids to produce blue flowers.

  9. Zygopetalum orchid. Common name zygo orchid. This genus contains the most significant number of orchids grown in households.

  10. Ludisia Orchid. Common name jewel orchid. While the orchid flower is generally the primary attraction, the orchid leaves on the jewel orchid are the main feature in this case.

Orchid Styling 

In their natural habitats, orchids grow in tropical, humid areas, often on trees. This allows them to pull water from the air and take advantage of the nearby nutrients. This makes them ideal for styling in terrariums with moisture-loving plants or grouped with other tropical plants, like Monstera or rubber plants.

When grown indoors, orchids need an appropriate container to thrive. These are usually clear pots with several holes for drainage. It's not uncommon for the roots of the orchids to grow through the holes in the pot and outside of it. While this isn't a problem, it can be unsightly and put the roots in harm's way.

The clear pots can easily be placed in larger, decorative pots and changed as needed. Actual repotting of your orchid into a new container is only necessary every 1.5-2 years.

Orchids can make a statement and stand alone or be grouped with other tropical houseplants.


Orchid leaves are prone to sunburn. While they like light, it needs to be indirect. Leaf color can help determine if your orchid receives the right amount of light. Dark green leaves indicate too much sun. This can be confusing since dark green indicates health in many other house plants.

In the case of the orchids, look for light to medium greens. A yellow undertone is good too.

East-facing windows typically offer the right amount of indirect sunlight.


One of the worst things for orchids is over-watering. They need regular water and prefer to be slightly moist rather than dry. They also need good drainage so the roots don't sit in water, as this can cause root rot.

The standard advice is to use the tip of a pencil to test the soil. If you stick the end of a pencil in the soil and the tip comes out darkened with moisture, it's not time to water.


While different orchid species have different temperature tolerances, generally, orchids do best between 65 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit.


Orchids like humidity. 40-80% humidity is ideal. That can be hard to achieve depending upon where you live and where the orchid is located in your home.

Bathrooms typically provide ample humidity, and humidifiers can help.

Certain species of orchids can thrive in lower humidity levels. Research can help you determine which orchid species best suits your environment.


Different species of orchids will have varying requirements. Still, most do well in a potting mix that contains a blend of materials that offer good drainage and preserve moisture. Look for perlite, lava rock, peat moss, sphagnum moss, or other similar materials.


Pruning your orchid as the blooms die and it heads into its dormant season is the best way to encourage reblooming when the growing season arrives.

Using clean and sharp tools, you will snip the flower spike (stem) about an inch above the node under the lowest bloom. Snip at the plant base if the flower spike is damaged or diseased.


Orchids like regular feeding. There are many formulas available that provide the right combination of nutrients. In general, look for a balanced fertilizer that contains a 20-20-20 formulation and no urea.

Feed your orchid a diluted 3:1 water to fertilizer dose weekly for best results.

Height & Growth

The size of an orchid can vary widely. Certain species of orchids are among the most miniature flowering plants on Earth. Others may grow as tall as 12-13 feet.

Specific information related to size will depend upon the species of orchid you want to grow.


Orchids are not toxic to humans or pets and are occasionally used for culinary purposes. All parts of the plant are edible and can be cooked, added to salads, or used for decoration.

Ancient cultures believed orchids possessed medicinal value, and even now, orchids are used in different areas of the world to create teas and powders that are said to have therapeutic properties.


Orchids are non-toxic to pets.

Common Problems 

There are several potential problems that orchids can face. Each species may have a stronger propensity for specific issues over others.

The most common across all species are:

  • Drooping leaves. Generally a sign of overwatering.

  • Discolored or spotted flowers. Often a result of temperatures that are too low and poor airflow.

  • Bud blast. This is when buds occur and then die before blooming. This can happen when the growing environment isn't ideal for the orchid. 

  • Yellowing leaves. Most often caused by over-watering.

  • Accordion pleat leaves. Occurs when watering is inconsistent.

When an orchid is done blooming, cutting the stem can encourage new growth.

How To Propagate Orchids

There are two primary ways to propagate your orchids:

  • Root division. This involves gently removing your adult orchid from its pot, clearing the soil, and dividing the rhizome in half.

  • Keiki development. A keiki is the Hawaiian word for child. An adult orchid can grow a carbon copy of itself at the base of its stalk. Once the keiki has developed leaves, it can be removed and planted.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do orchids live?

An orchid can live for 10-15 years in the proper conditions. In the wild, they can live over 20 years.

Why won't my orchid bloom?

Orchids require sufficient light to bloom. Proper lighting is crucial to orchid health and longevity. Look for a spot that receives bright, indirect light.

How often should I repot my orchid?

Orchids don't need frequent repotting. Every 1.5 - 2 years is the average time an orchid can live in its container before repotting.

Are orchids hard to grow?

The hardest part about growing an orchid is finding the right spot in your home to keep it happy. Indirect light, humidity, and a regular watering schedule are the balance that needs to be struck.

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