Orchids have no equal: They are breathtakingly beautiful, delicate, long-blooming, long-lived, fascinating in fragrance and form, and extremely varied. Few pleasures in gardening surpass the thrill of seeing orchids thrive and bloom. Here’s everything you should know about growing orchids and caring for orchids—and we’ve listed the most common orchid varieties. Once rare and expensive, orchids now outsell every other houseplant, surpassing even African violets, chrysanthemums, and poinsettias. This is because modern cloning techniques allow for mass production of plants, and cultivation that used to take seven years from seed to bloom now takes only two.
The orchid family is one of the largest in the realm of flowering plants: More than 25,000 species grow naturally, on every continent except Antarctica. The greatest concentration of orchid varieties is found in the tropical regions of the world, namely in Asia and Central and South America. In most of North America, orchids must be grown indoors (exceptions include natives such as the lady’s slipper).
- Every orchid has a characteristic, highly evolved lip, a petal that protrudes in a blossom of three petals and three sepals, some fused together.
- Every orchid has evolved to attract a particular pollinator, which has led to orchids’ enormous variety in appearance.
- Orchids are either epiphytic (air-growing) or terrestrial (earth-growing); most tropical orchids are epiphytic. In the wild, epiphytes cling to trees and stumps, drawing moisture from the mist and rain and decomposing leaves.