If you’re just getting started in orchid growing or want to expand your collection but aren’t sure what to get, choosing from the most popular varieties will ensure you pick a winner. Popular species and cultivars include both epiphytic and terrestrial species from a range of climates, so you’re sure to find a plant to fit your growing environment.
In this guide, we’ll broadly cover orchid classification and introduce five of the most popular orchid species you won’t want to miss out on growing. Most of the plants we list also have the added benefit of being beginner-friendly, so don’t feel intimidated to try your hand at growing these beauties.
Alright, if you’re ready to learn all about the wonderful world of orchids and our pick of five popular and outstanding orchid species, read on!
Orchids: Botanical Classification
Representing almost 30,000 species and 880 genera, the Orchidaceae family currently claims the number two spot of the most prominent flowering plant family. Emerging in the tropics of Asia a little over 100 million years ago, orchids have since diversified to growing on every continent except Antarctica.
These little plant powerhouses have evolved to produce a vast display of flower shapes, colors, and fragrances. They are also masters of mimicry. Growing tropically and subtropically in the soil (terrestrial) attached to the bark of trees (epiphytic), and rocks (lithophytic), orchids can grow in a truly impressive range of habitats and climates.
5 Popular Orchid Species
The popularity of orchids can vary by generation. Orchids in the Cattleya genus used to be considered the queens of orchids and were highly sought after for use as cut flowers. While cattleyas are still popular, modern growers focus less on creating cut-flower bouquets and more on developing and admiring the whole plant. Orchids that can thrive as houseplants are particularly growing in popularity as people increasingly bring plants into their homes.
To get you started, we’ve listed these five widely popular, beginner-friendly species for you to consider:
- The Lady of the Night Orchid (Brassavola nodosa)
- Nun’s Hood Orchid (Phaius tankervilliae)
- The Horse Phalaenopsis (Phalaenopsis equestris)
- Crimson Cattleya (Cattleya labiata)
- The Charming Paphiopedilum (Paphiopedilum venustum)
We’ll discuss each species’ native environment, why people enjoy growing them, their flower characteristics, and critical plant care points.
1. Popular Orchid Species: The Lady of the Night Orchid (Brassavola nodosa)
Native to the lowland swampy forests and coastal regions of Central and South America, the lady of the night orchid (Brassavola nodosa) is a tropical epiphyte that produces stunning white, night-scented blooms.
This orchid is famous for its wonderful evening fragrance and elegant blooms that produce a gorgeous heart-shaped labellum, long, slender sepals, and lateral petals.
Key Plant Care Points
- Bright, indirect sunlight or morning full followed by filtered light.
- Temperatures should stay between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit with a roughly 10-degree drop at night. Does not tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Consistently water during its growing phase, allowing the plant to dry out slightly between watering. Reduce watering in the winter. The ideal humidity is 40-70%.
- Pot in a fast-draining, well-aerated orchid bark mix.
- During the growth phase, feed once every two weeks with 1/3-1/2 doses of balanced liquid orchid fertilizer. Cut back to once per month in the late fall-winter.
2. Popular Orchid Species: The Nun’s Hood Orchid (Phaius tankervilliae)
Named for the hooded ruffling around the torpedo-shaped labellum, the nun’s hood orchid (Phaius tankervilliae) is well-loved for its unique, long-lasting, and colorful blooms. This species is a pseudobulb-containing, cool-to-hot growing terrestrial native to tropical and subtropical regions of China, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The large flowers are typically 4-5 inches wide and add terrific visual interest to a garden or indoor space.
Key Plant Care Points
- Year-round bright, indirect sunlight.
- The ideal growth phase temp range is 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit with the low end of the range at night. Winter rest phase between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep growing substrate consistently moist but not soggy. Reduce watering to allow slight drying in winter. Ideal humidity 30-50%.
- A popular potting mix is equal parts fir bark, shredded sphagnum moss, loamy soil, and lava rock.
- Phaius orchids thrive on feedings every 10-20 days of organic fertilizers like fish and manure teas.
3. Popular Orchid Species: The Horse Phalaenopsis (Phalaenopsis equestris)
A highly adaptable, easy-to-grow epiphyte native to the Philippines and southern Taiwan, the horse phal (Phalaenopsis equestris) is well-loved and grown by orchid gardeners of all skill levels. Inhabiting lowland tropical regions near streams, this is hot-growing and thrives on humidity.
In addition to its beginner-friendly growing needs, the horse phal delights gardeners with months of flowering, with an abundance of blooms often emerging several times throughout the year. The flowers feature small, pale lavender lateral petals and sepals with a vividly purple labellum.
Key Plant Care Points
- Moderate, indirect sunlight in summer, increasing to bright, indirect sunlight during winter.
- Recommended temperature range year-round is 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80-85 degrees during the day.
- Keep the growing substrate moist but not soggy. Do not allow drying out. Keep humidity 70% or higher with lowered humidity levels at night.
- Tree fern-based potting mixes are pretty popular. Feed weakly weekly with balanced liquid orchid fertilizer.
4. Popular Orchid Species: The Crimson Cattleya (Cattleya labiata)
Native to the mid-altitude regions of Venezuela and Brazil at an elevation between about 1,800-2,700 feet, the crimson cattleya is a warm-growing epiphyte that produces large blooms in the fall and early winter.
Bloom colors include white, lilac, pink, and magenta. The large 5-7 inch wide flowers are of great visual interest, featuring narrow sepals, wide, ruffled lateral petals, and a colorful bell-shaped and ruffled labellum.
Key Plant Care Points
- Bright, indirect sunlight. Leaves are bright lime green with ideal light levels. Darkening leaves point to insufficient lighting.
- Summer daytime temps around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and night temps around 65 degrees. Winter temps ideally no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Water year-round so that the soil is moist but not saturated. Allow the potting mix to almost dry out between watering once the plant is mature. Humidity levels are high, between 75-90%, dropping to the lower range during the dry season.
- Plant in shallow, open-slotted baskets with a coarse-grained, quickly draining substrate. Fir bark or chopped tree fir-based mixes work well. Can mount on tree fern bark or cork slabs if humidity is kept high.
- Feed weakly weekly during the growing phase, reducing to monthly for the rest period. From spring to mid-summer, use high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer; from late summer to fall, use a high-phosphorus fertilizer.
5. Popular Orchid Species: The Charming Paphiopedilum (Paphiopedilum venustum)
A delight for the eyes, the (truly) charming paphiopedilum (Paphiopedilum venustum) is a stunning lady’s slipper orchid native to various mid-altitude regions in India, Bangladesh, the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan, Nepal, and China. This cool-growing terrestrial orchid grows at the base of cliffs, in dense bamboo forests, and in dense thickets near streams.
This species is widely popular for its gorgeous blooms that feature an intricately green-striped dorsal sepal, elongated lateral petals shaded green and purple with dark purple mottling, and a stunning pouched labellum shaded in light purple with green veins. It is also well-loved for its lovely mottled foliage.
Key Plant Care Points
- Moderate, indirect sunlight. A reddish tinge will develop on the leaf edges with too much light.
- Year-round, ideal temps during the day are between 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit, with night temperatures between 60-65 degrees.
- These orchids don’t produce water and nutrient-storing pseudobulbs. They require consistent watering year-round to keep the substrate moist but not soggy. Humidity is moderate at 40-50%.
- Use fine-grained bark orchid mixes with sphagnum moss, loamy soil or sand, and perlite. Fertilize weakly weekly with highly diluted, balanced orchid fertilizer. During the rest period, cut back to once or twice per month.
Summary of Five of the Most Popular Types of Orchids
|The Lady of the Night
|Central and South America
|The Nun’s Hood
|China, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands, Malaysia, and Indonesia
|The Horse Phalaenopsis
|The Philippines and Taiwan
|The Crimson Cattleya
|Venezuela and Brazil
|The Charming Paphiopedilum
|India, Bangladesh, the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan, Nepal, and China
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Natalia van D/Shutterstock.com
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