Orchids have very long-lasting, showy flowers that come in many shapes and sizes. The flower blooms last from several weeks to several months. They are easy to care for when you know a little bit about their nature and their needs. The orchid species that are most commonly used as houseplants include Cattelya, Paphiopedilum and Phalaenopsis.
All orchid flowers have six petal-like parts that are waxy or velvety to the touch. Orchids are mostly epiphytic, which means they grow on trees or other plants. Orchids that grow in soil are called terrestrial. Orchid root systems cling to bark and often extend over the edge of their pots. The roots need exposure to air rather than soil. Without good air circulation the plants die.
Orchids in the tropic wilds grow on trees or plants and prefer a growing medium that replicates those conditions. There are many types of commercial orchid potting mixes available at garden centers. They consist of large pieces of bark mixed with porous material such as vermiculite and small amounts of organic matter. This mixture allows very easy drainage. Orchid roots rot quickly when they are in constant contact with moist soil.
Keep orchids in a part of the house that has bright, indirect light. For outdoor care place orchids under a tree with a high canopy that allows sunlight in. When orchids grow in too much shade their leaves turn yellow. Most orchids prefer temperatures between 55 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Phalaenopsis thrive in warmer conditions, between 65 and 80 degrees F.
Keep the air humid around orchid plants. Placing potted orchids on a tray of pebbles is a good way to create humidity. Small pots of ferns on the tray also create a humid atmosphere that benefits orchids. In addition, misting exposed orchid roots and foliage increases humidity. A humid atmosphere helps orchid plants resist disease and insect infestation.
Even though orchids have some specialized needs such as a very porous potting mixture and humidity, their exotic and beautiful blooms make it worthwhile to grow them. Orchids are the second largest family of plants, with between 21,000 and 26,000 species. Their flowers range from minute to the familiar corsage Cattleya orchids, in all colors of the spectrum.