The orchid family is truly immense, with an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 species and over 100,000 varieties bred by horticulturalists. It is estimated that a further 800 new species are added each year. Orchids occur in every habitat on the planet, except for Antarctica and true deserts.
With the possible exception of the rose, no other flower inspires such wonder or passion as the orchid. Orchids are relatively promiscuous, which means they inter-breed quite easily and explains the 100,000 or so hybrids we have today. Despite this huge variety there are only a handful of orchid types used in floristry – mostly Cymbidium, Dendrobium (Singapores) and Oncidium hybrids.
Cymbidium: Sold as stems with several flowers (usually 3 to 15) per stem or as individual flowers. Flowers are large, up to 10 cm, and have 5 large waxy petals surrounding inner sepals that are often brightly coloured. The colour range is enormous: white, green, yellow-green, cream, yellow, brown, pink, and red (and there may be markings of other colour shades at the same time, every colour except blue and black. There are hundreds of varieties and colour combinations available. They make fantastic pot-plants (see Orchids- Pots). Flowers are long-lasting and normally appear in winter. In Australia they are grown mainly in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and many are imported from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Dendrobium: With over 1200 species, this is a large genus with many native Australian species. Flowers are much smaller and delicate than Cymbidium, and form sprays of up to 50 flowers per branch. Stems are short, typically 20 to 40 cm. The most popular Dendrobium is called the Singapore orchid, which typically has a dozen or so delicate flowers per stem in white, purple, pink, green, red or yellow. All are imported.
Oncidium: Usually found only in dark yellow with brown spots. Each stem has several branches each containing 10 to 20 open flowers or buds. Flowers are small (2 – 3 cm) and delicate. All Oncidiums are imported from Asia.
Types: Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Oncidium
What to look for
- Flowers are 1/2 to fully open;
- Stem ends should be in vials filled with water, or small bags filled with wet cotton wool;
Avoid flowers with dried, slightly translucent appearance as this can mean chilling injury.
- Never refrigerate.
- Recut at least 2 cm off each stem with sharp secateurs and place in water immediately.
- You can also top up the vials with fresh preservative and replace stems.
- Preservative is essential – this will help buds open.
- Replace water in vase or vials every day.
- Very sensitive to ethylene. Keep away from fruit, car exhausts and cigarette smoke.
- Orchids like a humid environment and misting is recommended.
- Individual flowers can be revived by immersing in room temperature water (not cold!) for 5 minutes. Place revived flowers in a plastic bag with wet tissue paper and seal the bag.
Interesting Facts about this Flower
Orchids get their name from the Greek ‘orchis’, meaning ‘testicle’, from the appearance of subterranean tubers in some species.
One orchid genus, Vanilla is commercially important, as it is used as a flavouring of the same name.
All orchid species are protected under the CITES agreement and are all described as potentially threatened or endangered in their natural habitat. Orchid hunting was a popular (and expensive) hobby, mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries, although it still continues today. Over the years it has caused enormous environmental damage and is the major reason all orchids are protected under CITES.
In the Language of Flowers, orchids mean ‘love, beauty and refinement’.
Botanical Name: Cymbidium, Dendrobium (Singapore),Oncidium and Vanda
Common Names: Cymbids, Golden Shower (Oncidium), Singapore orchids
Stem Length: 20 to 80 cm
Country of Origin: Cymbidiums: Tropical Asia and Central America; Dendrobiums: Tropical Asia, Australia; Oncidiums: Tropical America
Available Colours: Blue, Brown, Cream, Green, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow