Over 25,000 species of orchids exist in the world, with even more hybrids thanks to orchid breeders. Many orchids produce flower stalks, or scapes, that bear multiple blossoms. The scapes are very ornate and may even droop slightly due to the weight of the flowers. Far fewer orchids develop scapes that are topped by only one flower; four botanical groups or genera typically display single flowers.
While there are over 900 difference species of Maxillaria, all display single flowers on a scape, although many may produce multiple scapes and flowers at the same time. These evergreen orchids are native to tropical areas of North and South American, and have flowers with three large petals and three smaller sepals. The sepals may be small, or thin and long, adding to the floral interest.
About 45 different species of Cypripedium grow naturally across the Northern Hemisphere. These winter deciduous plants, often called ladyslippers or moccasin flowers, often bear single flowers on a scape. Each blossom has three spreading sepals and a slipper-shaped lip or pouch.
Sometimes called Asian slipper orchids, there are nearly 60 species of Paphiopedilum. The flower scape is often terminated by a singular flower, although some species may display a branch with multiple blossoms. The slipper orchid flower has two spreading petals that look like ears and one upright sepal; two lower sepals are fused together to create a slipper-like pouch. Paphiopedilum orchids are native from southern China and India south to Indonesia and New Guinea.
Phragmipedium is the New World's equivalent to Paphiopedilum, with between 15 and 20 different species that grow in tropical areas of Central and South America. Also called slipper orchids or American slipper orchids, its scapes often bear single flowers, although some species may display two or more on each branching scape. This orchid has the same flower structure as Paphiopedilum, but often the spreading petals in Phragmipedium orchids are extremely long and resemble curling ribbons.