Types of orchids: 10 stunning varieties for your home

Discover our favorite types of orchids for growing indoors

orchid Burrageara 'Nelly Isler Orange'
(Image credit: John Richmond/Alamy Stock Photo)

Nowadays, most types of orchids are nursery-grown and affordable, unlike back in the mid 1800s when the plants were stripped from the wild and collected by wealthy hot house owners. Most of us will have given or received a showy phalaenopsis or moth orchid, whose blooms last for months. Propagation by tissue culture has made it possible to grow many identical plants by starting them off in test tubes of agar gel enriched with nutrients. 

The orchid family Orchidaceae competes with the daisy tribe (Asteraceae) as to which is the largest in the plant kingdom. There are around 763 genera and 28,000 species, some of which grow in the ground but many are epiphytic and cling to trees using aerial roots that can also absorb moisture and nutrients from rotting organic matter. Many produce storage structures called pseudobulbs to tide them over dry seasons.

Orchids were one of the first plant families to develop about 120 million years ago and the flowers we find so captivating have evolved to attract insect pollinators. Some are masters of mimicry, reproducing the scent and structure of specific female insects in order to lure males to their pollen masses. The vast numbers of minute seeds produced carry no food reserves and rely on the presence of mycorrhizal fungi to germinate. Fortunately for orchid breeders, they will germinate in nutritious agar.

Having cut your orchid-growing teeth on a phalaenopsis or two, perhaps it is time to let loose and experiment with a wider range of these fascinating plants. Cymbidiums and easy-going Cambria types (a vibrant group comprising hybrids of diverse parentage) are a good starting point, both enjoying slightly cooler conditions. 

Orchids are surprisingly durable and if you find the best position for each one and attend to watering and feeding, there will soon be the thrill of spotting a new flower spike.

  • Buy orchids in the US: view at The Sill
  • Buy orchids in the UK: view at Crocus

Zygopetalum 'Adelaide Parklands' orchid

The Zygopetalum 'Adelaide Parklands' orchid

(Image credit: Rose-Marie Murray/Alamy Stock Photo)

10 types of orchids to try

Here are ten different types of orchids that will make long-lived plants for your indoor garden. These are not always available all of the time, so it pays to keep your eyes open to spot your favorites. 

1. Cymbidium

orchid Cymbidium Gorey Faldouet

(Image credit: Jacky Parker/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height and spread: 2ft (60cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA 11 
  • Min temp: 46-50°F (8-10°C)

With their long narrow leaves and stems of voluptuous blooms, these classy fall-to-spring-flowering orchids make any house look like a stately home. 

Plants can stand outdoors in semi-shade for summer but should come indoors to a cool position for winter and spring. Miniature types are more compact. 

Repot these orchids every few years.

2. Masdevallia veitchiana

Masdevallia veitchiana orchid

(Image credit: Avalon.red/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height and spread: 9in (23cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA 11 
  • Min temp: 50°F (10°C)

In its Peruvian cloud forest home, this orchid is a lithophyte, meaning it grows on rocks. 

Short stems bear leaves and in spring and summer, sinister-looking orange flowers whose sepals end in tails. These are easily rotted by over-watering, so let them drain, air well, and water sparingly in winter. 

Look out for interesting hybrids.

3. Miltonia Sunset

Miltonia Sunset Orchid

(Image credit: Mim Friday/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 18in (45cm) 
  • Spread: 23cm (9in)
  • Hardiness: USDA 12 
  • Min temp: 55°F (13°C)

This colorful pansy orchid hybrid is easy to get hold of and a relatively low-maintenance indoor plant.

Elongated, mid-green pseudobulbs and mid-green leaves are joined at random times of the year by stems of pansy-shaped flowers of festive purple-pink and yellow.

When potting mature plants, it is easy to split them into smaller sections for potting. 

4. Miltoniopsis

Miltoniopsis Breathless 'Brilliant' orchid

(Image credit: Genevieve Vallee/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height and spread: 10in (25cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA H1b 
  • Min temp: 52°F (11°C)

The rounded, rather formless flowers of miltoniopsis are even showier and more pansy-like than those of miltonia. 

While the latter are mainly found in Brazil, miltoniopsis are from Costa Rica to Venezuela. Their pseudobulbs are more rounded and produce one rather than two gray-green leaves. These enjoy a potting mix of fine bark, charcoal and perlite.

5. Paphiopedilum

Paphiopedilum Moustache orchid

(Image credit: Tony Watkinon/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 12in (30cm) 
  • Spread: 9in (23cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA 12 
  • Min temp: 55°F (13°C)

Slipper orchids originate from India to China, SE Asia and Papua New Guinea. Availability is somewhat random, so keep an eye open for favorite and affordable plants. 

I like P. Moustache (shown) for its striped upper sepal, long sweeping lateral sepals (the drooping mustache) and buff-colored pouch. 

Be aware that it's easy to accidentally overwater these houseplants as they have no pseudobulbs.

6. Phalaenopsis

phalaenopsis orchids

(Image credit: Chuck Place/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 18in (45m) 
  • Spread: 12in (30cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA 13 
  • Min temp: 60°F (15°C)

The many hybrids offer a variety of sizes and flower colors on long-lived plants suited to good but not direct light in ordinary warm living room conditions. 

After flowering, prune these orchids by cutting back the still-green flower spike to the first notch behind the last faded bloom – a side spike is often produced.

7. Vanda

Vanda coerulea orchid

(Image credit: Nobuo Matsumura/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 20in (50cm) 
  • Spread: 12in (30cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA 12 
  • Min temp: 55-60°F (13-15°C)

Among the most opulent of orchids, vandas originate from India to SE Asia and the Philippines.  

There are no pseudobulbs but plenty of thick aerial roots.  

Historically grown in slatted baskets hung in shaded greenhouses, they are now often sold in open-sided pots sat in glass vases periodically filled with water and then drained.

8. Zygopetalum

Zygopetalum James Strauss Orchid flowers

(Image credit: Tim Gainey/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 12in (30cm) 
  • Spread: 18in (45cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA H1b 
  • Min temp: 52°F (11°C)

The warm, moist forests of South America are home to the parent species of these pseudobulb-forming orchids whose fragrant, richly-colored flowers open from fall to spring. 

Upper sepals are generally lime-green and maroon and the lower lips are indigo blue. 

Good, indirect light and cool nighttime temperatures are ideal.

9. X Oncidopsis Nelly Isler gx AGM

orchid Burrageara 'Nelly Isler Orange'

(Image credit: John Richmond/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 10in (25cm)
  • Spread: 20cm (8in)
  • Hardiness: USDA 12 
  • Min temp: 50°F (10°C)

A brightly colored, vigorous hybrid whose mature pseudobulbs produce two to three leaves each. The scented, long-lasting flowers are warm carmine with a paler, patterned lip marked yellow at the center. 

Cooler winter temperatures help encourage these orchids to rebloom. Good but filtered light brings the best results. 

10. Coelogyne cristata

Epiphytic orchid Coelogyne cristata

(Image credit: Geordie Torr/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Height: 12in (30cm) 
  • Spread: 2ft (60cm)
  • Hardiness: USDA 11 
  • Min temp: 50°F (10°C)

There are several attractive species in this epiphytic genus, though the brown markings of C. fimbriata always remind me of cockroaches! 

C. cristata from the cool eastern Himalayas is one of the best indoor plants of this orchid variety. It bears rounded pseudobulbs and, in winter, long dangling sprays of fragrant, yellow-throated white flowers with wavy petals. 

Cool, drier winters and normal summer watering are appreciated.

Anne Swithinbank
Freelance writer

Having trained at Kew Gardens in London, worked in parks department nurseries and as Glasshouse Supervisor at RHS Wisley, Anne has been a freelance horticulturist since 1986. Anne writes for Amateur Gardening and has been a regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time for 27 years. A large plot full of wildlife habitats, edible and ornamental plants is Anne’s workshop and inspiration.