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Orchids 101

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2009

Types of Orchids


Called the "bucket orchid," this South American flower has bizarre petals that hang from the base of the plant suspended in air. The lip is modified into a bucket shape, and liquid drips into it, filling the cup.


Coryanthes are pollinated by a group of bees that harvest fragrant waxes to use as an attractant for females. While scraping the wax from the surface of the flower, the bees lose their footing and fall into the pool. The only way out is through a small opening -- squeezing through it is how they pick up the pollen.

Bulbophyllum Echinolabium

Not all beautiful things are friendly -- this lovely orchid with its spidery flower has a dark side. The word "echinolabium" translates to "spiny lip," and the hinged lip, color, and fragrance of the flower is designed to attract flies for pollination. The bloom has a fragrance that is quite awful, smelling like rotting meat.


These plants, also called butterfly orchids, started the orchid craze in Victorian England.


These orchids are a South American genus that come in rare blue and violet tones. With broad leaves, they need bright light and warm conditions to thrive. Good air movement will help keep the leaves free of spotting, a common problem with this type of orchid. The flowers are known for their strong fragrance of hyacinths and have leopard spots on the sepals and petals with velvet blue violet lips.


Dendrochilum is an unusual and easy-to-grow orchid. It is a very unorchid-looking orchid with nearly a thousand flowers on the plants.


Oncidiums and their relatives are a large group of hybrids that are becoming very popular. They are grown as cut flowers and are commonly called dancing lady orchids for their fanciful and colorful flowers. They come in every size, shape, and color you can imagine and are easy to grow.


Paphiopedilums are tropical lady's slipper orchids from Southeast Asia and are very popular with orchid growers. They are easy plants to grow in the home, and many of them will succeed in lower light situations. The flowers have been bred into a variety of colors and shapes and last quite a long time in the right conditions.


Epidendrums are popular landscape plants in the tropical regions of the world, and many new dwarf varieties are being introduced from Japan. They will continually bloom for months and do well in brightly lit situations. They come in many bright hues of pink, orange, red, and yellow.

Nobile Dendrobium

The genus Dendrobium contains thousands of different species. These orchids enjoy cool conditions and a dry rest to trigger their flowers in spring. In the right conditions, they will cover themselves in fragrant blooms of bright colors.

Jewel Orchid

This beautiful orchid is grown for its interesting and spectacular foliage.


Vandas are challenging to grow in the home but love warmer climates. Originally from Southeast Asia, they have been bred into a variety of shapes, bright colors, and wild patterns. They don't enjoy being in a pot, preferring instead to have their roots exposed in a very coarse mix or in an open basket. They need high humidity, good air movement, and warmer temperatures to succeed.


The classic orchid -- full of color and fragrance -- is enjoying a surge in popularity again.


The pansy orchid: wonderfully fragrant flowers with great patterns that resemble -- what else? -- pansies.


Orchid Care Tips

Different kinds of orchids have different light requirements: Phalaenopis and Paphiopedilum like low to medium light, while Oncidium and Dendrobium like medium to high levels of light. 


Orchids generally need to be watered every four to seven days depending on the orchid, the home environment, and the time of year. Take your orchid to your kitchen sink and run tepid water through the potting mix until the water flows freely through the drainage holes.


If your orchid is done flowering, cut the flower spike down to the base of the plant. From there, move the plant to bright, indirect light and repot if necessary using proper repotting medium, such as orchid bark; combine with charcoal and sphagnum moss to help with drainage.


Repotting and Propagating Orchids

To repot and divide an orchid, you'll need containers with suitable drainage holes, suitable potting mix containing orchid bark, charcoal, and perlite, and a clean and sterile cutting tool.


Begin by gently removing the plant from its pot and shaking off all the old potting mix. Do this gently to ensure you damage the roots as little as possible. Remove any dead or dying roots from the plant.


Next, look at the plant to see where the new growth is and decide how many plants you would like to get from the original one. When you divide your plant, you don't want to cut the pieces much smaller than four growths. This will make sure that the remaining pieces have a good root system and plenty of stored foods in the bulbs to keep the plant growing healthily.


Using your clean and sterile cutting tool, make a clean cut through the rhizome. Any of the older bulbs can be discarded. Sometimes they will produce new growth, but it can take some time before reaching blooming size. After dividing the plant into pieces, each section can be potted individually.


When potting the plant, make sure that you choose a container that will allow for growth. Place the plant with the cut end towards the side of the pot and the new growth going towards the center. Fill the pot and press down on the sides of the mix to help firm the plant into its new home. The rhizome should be just below the surface of the mix with the new growth slightly buried. This way, when the new roots appear they will go right into the new mix and the plant will continue to grow happily into its new home. If the plant is a little wobbly, stake it to help secure the plant.


Place the plants on a windowsill and water and fertilize them on a regular basis. You can share your new plants with friends, or just enjoy them yourself.


The New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show

Curated by Marc Hachadourian, the annual orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden is an elaborate and kaleidoscopic display of orchids. The 2009 show runs through April 12, and showcases thousands of brilliantly colored orchids in a contemporary Brazilian garden designed by award-winning Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles. The Orchid Show also features a massive original work of art by Burle Marx and landscape design elements inspired by him.


Special Thanks
Special thanks to Marc Hachadourian, curator of glasshouse collections for the New York Botanical Garden, for sharing this information.

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