Beautiful. Ephemeral. Elusive. Fickle. Tantalizing. These are the words I associate with orchids. Orchids are long considered the best example of plant life and have been adored and respected for a long time. Did you know that there are three kinds of orchids? The epiphytes, which are the most well-known, only represent a fraction of the orchid types that exist.
The epiphytic orchids can be found in trees or when they are domesticated, in loose, chunky mediums. They receive water and nutrients from the air, rather than the soil. The genus Phalanopsis, Dendrobium, and Cattleya are the epiphytic orchids that most people know.
Lithophytes are found in tropical areas and live on rocks. They are strong roots that burrow into the rocks and get nutrients and water from organic debris and moss. Lithophytes have fleshy leaves that store water for dry spells. Some species of Maxillarias, Bifrenaries, and Dendrobiums are examples of lithophytic orbs.
The terrestrial orchids are the most fascinating type of Orchids. These orchids are just like most garden plants. You will find terrestrial orchids everywhere, from desert areas to boggy ravines.
Spiranthes odorata is my favorite terrestrial orchid and one that can be found most readily in garden centers. Also known as Spiranthes cernua var odorata or Lady’s Tresses, it is also commonly called Lady’s Tresses. This plant is native to the eastern US and can grow to 18 inches.
Spiranthesodorata blooms in the late summer and early autumn. The tiny, white flowers spiral up from the spikes. This plant is hardy to zone 4. It’s a great addition to any garden that wants a plant that blooms in fall, sometimes up to frost. This aquatic plant has a lovely fragrance and can be grown in water up to several inches deep. However, I have successfully grown it in my garden as well as in gardens of clients who receive an average amount of moisture.
Bletilla striata, another favorite of mine, is also a great choice. It was easy to grow in my Brooklyn backyard. You can grow spring bloomers that are hardy to zone 6. There are many varieties, including Tri-Lips and Albostriata. Many varieties have pinkish flowers, but First Kiss has white flowers. They are native to Eastern Asia and can grow up to 2 feet tall. They prefer moist soils over dry. Bletilla is unlikely to be found in your local garden center, but you can order any of the many varieties available from Plant Delights Nursery. You can ask the nursery staff for help if you’re not sure which variety would be best for your garden.
Plectelis radiata, a terrestrial orchid that I have never grown, is so beautiful I decided to add it to the list. Plectelis radiata is hardy to zone 6. It blooms in summer, and prefers full sun to partial shade. These unusual orchids thrive in moist soils that drain well. Each flower stalk can hold between 1-8 blooms and is found in grassy wetlands in Japan, Korea Peninsula, and parts of eastern China.