Orchids have been treasured since ancient times for their ethereal elegance. Yet despite an appearance of fragile beauty, they are surprisingly resilient. Many orchids are easy to maintain outdoors or indoors, as long as they receive indirect sunlight and steady watering and fertilizing. These six species are ideal for beginners:
The phalaenopsis orchid, nicknamed “Phal” by horticulturists, derives its Latin name from the genus Phalaena, a now-obsolete moth category designated by botanist Carl Linnaeus. Phal’s petals are compared to the wings of a moth in flight. It is a common orchid that can be found almost anywhere that sells plants.
The moth orchid, as it is also called, is easy to grow indoors because it thrives at room temperature. It grows just 6-8 inches wide but produces a hearty cloud of blossoms. The flower’s rounded petals come in many colors, often with blotches and patterns.
This orchid is also convenient because it only requires repotting once every other year. When Phal is healthy, it produces air roots that collect moisture from the air, the way it would when growing on a tree in its native southeast Asia. Because the moth orchid is accustomed to living under a shady forest canopy, it does better in low light and humidity.
Paphiopedilum spicerianum is a rare Himalayan species with an alien appearance: ruffled green petals, a burgundy and green pouch, and a curving white dorsal sepal streaked red down the middle. This hooded sepal protects the pouch from filling with water.
Despite its exotic form, the “Paph” or “ladyslipper” is relatively easy to grow. It was discovered sprouting in river gorges, on moss and rocks at elevations of 5000 feet. As such, it prefers cooler temperatures, though it tolerates a wide range of conditions.
The plant grows well in medium light and with even moisture. It demands more water than other orchid species, but if potted with sphagnum moss it is more easily satisfied.
Paphiopedilum spicerianum was named for British grower Herbert Spicer. It spreads ten inches; its blossoms are 3 inches across.
Named for a Venetian nobleman, Brassavola nodosa is suitably elegant, with a wide white lip surrounded by long, spidery sepals. The snowy white color attracts pollenating moths. This orchid gives off a strong citrus fragrance in the evening, earning it the nickname “Lady of the Night.”
Brassavola is a popular choice in flower hybridization. It grows quickly and, if healthy, blooms year-round. As a native of Mexico, it is more draught tolerant than most of its fellow orchids. The plant will flourish in a shaded outdoor area and can even grow in a mounted basket or on a slab of tree bark.
4. Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’
‘Sharry Baby’ is an easy grower because it enjoys everything in moderation–moderate light, moderate moisture, moderate temperature (anywhere from 50°F-90°F). Like many of its relatives in the Oncidium genus, it produces large green pseudobulbs with long, slender leaves.
It autumn it blooms, developing six or seven branched sprays of small, deep red flowers that exude a powerful chocolate scent. These fragrant blossoms only last for 2-3 weeks, but there are many of them, and they open at different times, increasing the longevity of the bloom.
The famous “chocolate orchid” should only be repotted if absolutely necessary. It is better to plant it in a large basket to ensure drainage. Sharry Baby is genetically predisposed to black spotting on the leaves. This condition is not harmful, but it may increase if the orchid gets too much direct sunlight.
In ancient China, Cymbidium was cultivated and given as a gift among friends; it symbolized virtue and respect. Confucius called it “the king of fragrance.” The orchid later became popular in Victorian England, largely due to its tolerance of cold weather. It can survive in temperatures as low as 44°F.
The plant’s name is derived from the Greek word for boat–kymbe. Its central lip, which is often white with purple or red speckles, is hollow in the center like a tiny boat.
Cymbidium is one of the most popular orchids in the world. It grows golden-green leaves and bears waxy, long-lasting flowers arranged in 5-point star formations. The flower requires a cool, bright area and steady moisture through the summer months. It blooms twice a year, during the winter and spring, and the sprays of flowers last for 4 weeks.
This corsage favorite is often called “the Queen of Orchids,” and it comes in almost every color on the spectrum.
Hailing from the highlands of Brazil and Argentina, Cattleya is accustomed to a contradictory mix of conditions: a lot of light, but cool, humid air and only moderate warmth. Fortunately, this also means that the flower performs well indoors.
Cattleya growers should avoid potting the plant in soil. Instead, they should use chopped bark chips or tree fern fiber if they live in a moderate climate, and clay pellets or lava rocks if they live in a hotter area. A high nitrogen content is especially important.
There are 763 genera and 28,000 species in the orchid family. A novice gardener will certainly find one that can flourish in his/her habitat. The above six are a good place to start.