Speciality orchids are the Houseplants of the month for November 2016

The range of orchids on offer is constantly growing. The focus this month is on six undiscovered treasures which push the envelope and offer supernatural beauty.


Exciting peepholes

Fairy tale shapes and supernaturally beautiful flowers: orchids are perfect natural elements for creating an otherworldly atmosphere. You can use them to create an indoor space which gives the feeling that anything is possible. The unusual semi-transparent structure of these houseplants – slim stem, heavy crown, bizarre tendrils – help to create exciting peepholes. If you play around with mirrors and perspectives, the flowers can appear to float through the room.


Beautiful alienation

This style trend includes watery patterns with spots and splashes, but also semiprecious stones, crystals and a starry sky. Combine the spectacular shapes of these remarkable orchids with shiny porcelain, iridescent glaze, pots with graduated colour and batik motifs for an extra-dreamy effect. Unusual colours such as dark green, dark red, lilac and grey-green contribute to the fantasy mood. The alienation is complete if the slender shapes of the houseplants contrast with twisted branches nearby.


Orchids and care

If the air indoors is very dry, e.g. as result of central heating, it’s best to mist orchid buds every day. That prevents them from drying out and not opening. All orchids look best with ‘loving neglect’. You only need to immerse the pot in water with orchid food for half an hour every 10-14 days, then allow to drain thoroughly. Remove wilted flowers and otherwise leave the plant alone.


Full & rich

Cymbidium does not resemble a classic orchid at all, thanks to the lavish quantity of grassy foliage. That makes it a beautiful full houseplant from which one or more branches emerge, on which a long series of beautiful cup-shaped flowers appear which can continue to bloom for two to three months. The flowers can be yellow, green, orange or cream. Place Cymbidium in a light spot but keep it out of direct sunlight..


  • In the wild Cymbidium grows from the tropical rainforest to the Himalayas, including places with winter frosts. Around 70 species are known.
  • Repotting the plant after flowering and placing it in the garden (it can cope with a touch of frost) increases the likelihood of a new wave of flowers.
  • The name Cymbidium comes from the Greek ‘kymbe’ which means ‘boat’, and refers to the hollow in the flower’s lip.
  • The orchid symbolises ethics and virtue; in Asia it is an honour and a sign of respect to receive or be allowed to give a Cymbidium.


Elegant & voluptuous

Paphiopedilum has tall, beautiful green leaves, which makes this plant very attractive to look at even without flowers. The flowers themselves are very impressive: russet, yellow or green, with beautiful markings and an elegant, voluptuous shape. The orchid is also called Venus Slipper, because the lip is in the shape of a beautiful slipper. It is a shade orchid which can tolerate partial shade, but not full sun. Paphiopedilum likes fresh air, provided it’s not too cold.


  • In the wild this orchid particularly grows in South-East Asia.
  • The lip is actually a fly trap which helps pollinate other Paphiopedilums.
  • The name is derived from Paphos, a town in Cyprus, where the goddess Aphrodite arose from the sea, and ‘pedilion’, which means ‘slipper’ in ancient Greek. Ironically you cannot find any wild Paphiopedilums anywhere on Cyprus.
  • The plant was first officially described in 1886, and caused great excitement amongst Victorians because of the somewhat… erotic appearance.


Photogenic & classic

Cattleya is a tropical orchid which only occurs in South and Central America. They are striking houseplants with a tuber from which only a few thick leaves emerge. The flowers are usually 10 to 20 cm in diameter, and range in colour from white through yellow, orange, green, pink, purple and beautiful pastels. Some have a beautiful fragrance, which has earned Cattleya the nickname ‘Queen of the Orchids’. The plant prefers a light spot, but not in direct sunlight. Allow the soil to almost dry out between waterings. Cattleya thrives on high humidity: place the pot on an island of damp clay pebbles.


  • Cattleya’s flowers can reach a size of 15 cm.
  • Cattleya has the most varied appearance of all orchids.
  • The expression ‘to cattleya’ (‘faire catleya’ or ‘arranger les catleyas’) is a euphemism for amorous encounters between Odette and Swann in Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.
  • In the thriller ‘Colombiana’ the main character is called Cataleya and the orchid plays a major role in the plot.


Eye-catching colours

In South America Zygopetalum grows on tree stumps and rocks and on the soil amongst the leaves. The flowers are burgundy, green and brown and sometimes almost blue; some varieties have a sweet fragrance. Place Zygopetalum in a light spot, but not in direct sunlight. After flowering cut the flower stem off at the bottom. The orchid will produce more flowers on a new shoot. That does require patience: it can take 8 to 12 months.


  • The name is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘zygon’, which means ‘yoke’, referring to the two projecting petals.
  • Zygopetalum is one of the smallest orchid families: only 15 species are known. However there are many more Zygopetalum hybrids.
  • The most common colours (purple, brown and green) and patterns (spots and deltas) are echoed at every Brazilian Fashion Week: the plant is a national source of inspiration every year.
  • In Greek mythology Zygo was the ‘first-born river’ from which all other rivers arose. The pattern of rivulets (also known as the delta) on the orchid’s lip refers to this.


Magnificent alien

Brassia has curved stems with 10 to 15 greenish flowers with a diameter of 15 to 20 cm. The flowers themselves are spotted black and purple and the white lips have unusual green spots. This unearthly appearance makes Brassia a very eye-catching orchid which originates from the damp rainforests of Central and South America. The long train of flowers has earned it the nickname ‘spider orchid’. Despite its exotic appearance the beautifully scented Brassia is easy to keep in the living room.

  • Brassia is named after the illustrator William Brass, who was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks at the end of the 18th century to collect unusual orchids.
  • In the wild the orchid uses its spidery shape to attract Spider Wasps which sting the lip and thus pollinate other Brassias.
  • Because Brassias are so fine and light, they move when you walk past them. For that reason the orchid is also known in South America as the ‘Dancing Lady’.


Flowering mini-tree

Dendrobium nobilé distinguishes itself from other orchid species by the cluster of flowers which grows at the axil of each leaf. The flowers give off a lovely scent. In the wild this orchid grows both in the cool mountains of the Himalayas jungle of New Guinea and the desert of Australia, so it can easily cope with a living room climate. Dendrobium flowers for four months on average and is known for flowering again for anyone who can be patient for a couple of months.

  • There are around 1,200 different Dendrobium species.
  • The orchid has been known since 1799, when Olof Schwartz first described it.
  • The name comes from the Greek ‘dendron’ (tree) and ‘bios’ (life): in the wild the plant grows on trees as an epiphyte.
  • Many Dendrobium species are known for being very good at removing toluene (the most important ingredient in paint thinner) and xylene (solvent for resins and fats) from the air.

For more information see: www.thejoyofplants.co.uk

Published on: 27 October 2016