Three Orchids You Can Grow In Your Garden

April 18, 2014 by

Bletilla striata Takashi HososhimaBletilla striata. One of the many terrestrial orchids you can grow in your garden. Photo by Takashi Hososhima.

Beautiful. Ephemeral. Elusive. Fickle. Tantalizing. These are some of the words that come to mind when I think of orchids. Long considered to be the epitome of plant life, orchids have captured our adoration and respect in a way no other plant has. But did you know there are three types of orchids? The ones most people are familiar with, the epiphytes, represent only a small portion of the types of orchids that exist.

Epiphytic orchids grow in trees, or, when domesticated and growing in our living room, in loose chunky growing mediums. They get water and nutrients from the air as opposed to the soil, and from moisture and organic debris found in the bark of their host trees. The types of epiphytic orchids most people are familiar with are found in the genus of Phalanopsis, Dendrobium and Cattleya.

Cattleya aurantiaca PaphiomanCattleya aurantiaca. Photo by Paphioman.

Found mostly in tropical regions, lithophytes live on rocks. Their strong roots burrow into crevices and they get water and nutrients from surrounding moss and organic debris. The leaves of lithophytes are fleshy and store water to help the plant live through dry spells. Examples of lithophytic orchids are certain species of Dendrobiums, Bifrenaries and Maxillarias.

Maxillaria consanguinea Luis RenatoMaxillaria consanguinea. Photo by Luis Renato.

The types of Orchids I find most enthralling are the terrestrial orchids. These orchids grow in the ground just like the majority of garden plants with which most people are familiar. Terrestrial orchids are found everywhere from boggy ravines to semi-arid desert regions and chances are there is one that is suitable for your backyard.

Spiranthes odorata Don BrownSpiranthes odorata. Photo by Don Brown.

My favorite terrestrial orchid, and probably the one most easily found in garden centers, is Spiranthes odorata, also known as Spiranthes cernua var odorata, common name Lady’s Tresses. Native to boggy areas in the eastern US this plant grows to about 18 inches. Blooming in late summer and early fall Spiranthes odorata features spikes of tiny white flowers that spiral up. Hardy to zone 4 this is a wonderful addition to any garden looking for a plant that blooms in the fall, often up until frost. With a wonderful fragrance this is a true aquatic plant that can be grown in water several inches deep, although I have grown it successfully in both my garden and in client’s gardens in areas that receive average moisture.

Bletilla striata, at Lucy n John'sBletilla striata photo by Mike Bush

Bletilla striata is another one of my favorites. I grew it in my Brooklyn garden quite successfully in the side yard. Spring bloomers hardy to zone 6, you can choose from several varieties such as Albostriata and Tri-Lips. Most have pinkish blooms but some varieties like First Kiss have white flowers. Native to Eastern Asia, they grow to about 2 feet and prefer moist to damp soils. You probably won’t find Bletilla in your neighborhood garden center but you can order any one of a number of different varieties from Plant Delights Nursery. If you are unsure of which variety is most suitable for your garden call the nursery and ask one of their knowledgeable staff to help you decide.

Plectelis radiata Maurizio VecchiaPlectelis radiata photo by Maurizio Vecchia

Plectelis radiata is a terrestrial orchid I have not grown myself but it is such a wonderful looking plant I wanted to include it in the list. Hardy to zone 6, Plectelis radiata blooms in summer and likes full sun to part shade. Grown best in well draining soils and moderate moisture these unusual plants can be procured from the Wild Orchid Company. Found in grassy wetlands in Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and some parts of eastern China, each flower stalk holds from 1-8 blooms.

The next time you are looking for something new and unusual to plant in your yard, consider a terrestrial orchid. Aside from being extremely rewarding to cultivate I have found they are wonderful conversation pieces. Being that they are so unusual and uncommon, visitors to your garden will surely want to know more about them. And if they don’t, do like I do and tell them anyway.

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