Members of the orchid family, Orchidaceae, are classified as perennial herbs. Most members of Orchidaceae are known for their bright, characteristic blossoms and fragrant smell, but there is a wide variety in the family, manifesting in a few truly uncharacteristic plants. They come in many different shapes, sizes and colors. According to the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, there are 880 genera of orchids within the family Orchidaceae containing close to 22,000 species and countless hybrids.
Vanilla planifolia is the plant from which commercial vanilla flavoring is extracted. Surprisingly, this plant is a member of the orchid family. This orchid gains the prestige as the only orchid used in industrial applications, mainly the food and cosmetic industries. Native to Mexico, this orchid is also known as flat-leaved vanilla and Tahitian vanilla. It prefers moist, humid climates. The yellow flowers of Vanilla planifolia last only one day and are self-fertile plants. Vanilla flowers must be hand pollinated to produce fruit, making these time-sensitive plants lucrative to grow at home.
Most plants in the Orchidaceae family are tropical or subtropical, requiring hot, humid climates for growth. The bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, is native to southern England and the Mediterranean, making it a temperate climate plant perfect for gardeners in temperate zones. The flowers of the bee orchid are pink or purple in color and form in spring. The plants require a cold period of growth over winter to be able to blossom in the spring. At maturity, Ophrys apifera grow to almost a foot in height.
Orchids in the Cattleya genus are some of the most common orchids used in floral arrangements. Native to Central and South America, these orchids are available in every color except for black and blue. Cattleyas are known colloquially as the "Queen of Orchids" for their prevalence in the cut flower world. They enjoy full sun, but require a period of shade during the hottest part of the day. Like most orchids, cattleyas prefer a tropical or subtropical climate with temperatures of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no less than 60 F at night with high humidity. In their native habitat, cattleyas are subject to periods of dry soil between waterings. These orchids do best when their natural conditions are mimicked.
Bird's Nest Orchid
Not all orchid plants are famous for their fragrance or smell. The bird's nest orchid, Neottia nidus-avis, is one of two types of orchids that lack chlorophyll. This orchid obtains its nutrients from a symbiotic relationship with a host plant. Bird's nest orchids prefer soils of a high pH content and are found throughout the world. They are not grown commercially, as their fungus-like appearance makes them unpopular.