Containing more than 20,000 species, the orchid family (Orchidaceae) boasts tremendous diversity in the appearance of its members. Orchids are cultivated and collected throughout the globe, though these somewhat demanding flowers may not be ideal for every home or garden. There are a number of flowers that look similar to orchids, however, that can be grown instead.
The Aztec lily (Sprekelia formosissima) is a perennial member of the amaryllis family native to Mexico and Guatemala. The plant is commonly called an "orchid lily" because of its waxy, orchid-like flowers, which have a similar petal formation to an orchid. The plant grows best in full sunlight in USDA Zones 8 to 11. Aztec lilies grow naturally in rocky soils, so be sure to plant the lily in soil that is extremely well drained. Water the plant frequently during the growing season and withhold water during winter.
Bearded iris (Iris germanica) is an easy-to-grow perennial that is notable for its fleshy green foliage and large blooms. The flowers, which have a row of upward-facing petals and downward-facing petals, have a distinct, orchid-like appearance. The plant grows best in full sunlight (though it will tolerate filtered sunlight) in USDA Zones 4 to 10. Bearded iris isn't picky about soil, though soil should be kept consistently moist. The thick, strong stems of the plant make bearded iris an ideal cut flower for bouquets.
Purple Orchid Tree
A member of the bean family, the purple orchid tree (Bauhinia variegata) is a fast-growing evergreen native to parts of subtropical Asia. The tree is named after its pale purple or bluish flowers, which look very similar to orchids (but have the added benefit of a strong, sweet fragrance). The tree is on the smaller side, rarely growing more than 40 feet tall. The flowers usually appear in late winter or early spring. Purple orchid tree can be grown USDA Zones 9 to 11, in full sun or slightly filtered sunlight. The tree thrives in acidic soil.