Orchid in the wild

Wild Orchid in North America

Native Orchids

North America is full of wonderful wild orchids. No matter where you live or travel to, there are bound to be some orchid species native to the area. Many species are very showy and easy to spot, while others are very discreet and very easily overlooked.

A great way to familiarize yourself with native orchids is to visit local botanical gardens because most will have a native plant exhibit. You can also search for local orchid societies to find out whether they hold any wild orchid group tours or outings. If you’re not really sure what to look for, a guided tour will help give you some guidance in finding wild orchids. There are also many good native orchid field guides to help you identify the native orchids in the area.

Remember, it is important to never remove a wild orchid from its environment. Not only it is illegal, but many orchid species are endangered and it can disrupt the ecosystem’s balance and endanger other flora and fauna.

Below, we’ll review the most commonly found wild orchids in North America.

Canada

There are many species of orchids that are found throughout Canada that thrive in the sandy, boggy, rocky, and forest environments. Many beautiful lady-slipper orchids are found including the Cypripedium which is related to a Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium. Approximately 10 different Cypripedium species can be found in Canada. The most well-known of these being the Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow Lady’s Slipper) and Cypripedium reginae (Queen
Lady’s Slipper).

Other genera with species native to different areas of Canada include:

  • Calopogon
  • Cephalanthera
  • Epicactus
  • Goodyera
  • Listera
  • Malaxis
  • Piperia
  • Platanthera
  • Spiranthes

United States

Native orchids are found growing all over the United States in the mountains, forests, grasslands, and swamps. Many of the orchids that are native to the U.S. are hard to recognize as orchids because they are very small plants with even smaller blooms. The United States is home to approximately 200 orchid species, most of which are terrestrial.

Florida
Nearly 100 of the species found in the U.S. are found in Florida. One of the most popular native orchids found in Florida is the Dendrophylax lindenii—the Ghost Orchid.

Other popular genera with species native to the state of Florida include:

  • Calopogon
  • Corallorhiza
  • Encyclia
  • Epidendrum
  • Habeneria
  • Hexalectris
  • Ionopsis
  • Isotria
  • Listera
  • Malaxis
  • Mesadenus
  • Oceoclades
  • Ponthieva
  • Pteroglossapsis
  • Triphora
  • Vanilla

United States – Northeast
Many species of orchids exist in varying concentrations throughout the American northeastern region, including:

  • Amerorchis
  • Calopogon
  • Calypso
  • Cypripedium
  • Epicactus
  • Goodyera
  • Isotria
  • Liparis
  • Listera
  • Malaxis
  • Platanthera
  • Pogonia
  • Spiranthes

Mexico

Mexico has more than 1,200 species of native orchids! Some of the popular native Mexican orchids include the Brassavola Nodosa (Lady of the Night Orchid), Prosthechea cochleata (Clamshell or Cockleshell Orchid), and the wonderful-smelling Vanilla planifolia.

Other genera with species native to Mexico include:

  • Barkeria
  • Brassia
  • Catasetum
  • Cattleya
  • Cypripedium
  • Epidendrum
  • Laelia
  • Masdevallia
  • Maxillaria
  • Phragmipedium
  • Pleurothallis
  • Rhyncholaelia
  • Oncidium
  • Sobralia
  • Trichocentrum

The list above is far from a complete list because there are thousands of orchid species in North America alone. Because there are so many different orchids growing in the wild, the next time you are out on a hike, be sure to be on the lookout!

Next Steps: Where do you go from here?

A couple options:

#1 – More Free Orchid Tips!
At a minimum, I strongly recommending signing up for our orchid tips newsletter (it’s free!). That’ll give you some additional (more detailed) step-by-step tips you can start using with your Orchids right away…

#2 – Get Access to ALL My Orchid Articles…
If you’d like to learn everything you need to know about orchid care (and caring for ALL types of orchids) we also have something called the Orchids Made Easy Green Thumb Club.

The Green Thumb Club includes a number of different benefits – including weekly lessons on all different orchid care topics delivered to you in a special, password-protected members area. You also get the opportunity to get YOUR actual questions answered in my weekly “Ask The Orchid Guy” column, which you can check out here.

The Green Thumb Club costs less than a meal at McDonald’s – and ALSO includes all sorts of ADDITIONAL benefits, including exclusive discounts at orchid suppliers from 20-40% off as well access to our “orchid diagnosis tool” which helps you identify what problem might be plaguing your plant.

Because the club is backed by a full 100% money-back guarantee for a full 30 days, if after checking it out you decide that it’s not for you or that you didn’t get value you out of what you learned – no problem! Simply send us an email to let me know, and you’ll receive a fast and courteous refund. Put it this way: If you’re not happy, I’m not happy!

(By the way, this here will give you access to 50% off the cost of membership. A little “gift” for reading this article all the way to the end :-))

All my best,

Ryan “The Orchid Guy” 🙂

IMPORTANT: To learn everything you need to know about caring for your orchids, if you haven’t already I strongly recommend signing up for the “Orchid Care Tips & Secrets Newsletter” my wife and I publish by clicking here.

It’s completely free – and the best part? You can even choose the type of information you’d like to receive (reblooming tips, basics of orchid care, etc.) Join over 20,000 fellow orchid enthusiasts young and old and sign up for our free orchid care newsletter today! 🙂

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Orchid

Popular around the globe for their beauty and variety, orchids are the largest family of plants in the entire world. There are 25,000 – 30,000 different species of orchid, at least 10,000 of which can be found in the tropics. Orchid species can differ greatly from one another, with extreme variations in size, weight and color. While some orchids may only be the size of a nickel when in bloom, others may weigh up to one ton with petals as long as 30 inches, and sprays of small flowers 12 – 14 feet long. Orchid blossoms appear in almost every imaginable color except for true black.

In general, the floral arrangement of all orchid species is the same, with each orchid flower having six parts. The outer three flower parts are green “sepals,” and the inner three flower parts are beautifully colored “petals.” Some orchids live underground (subterranean), some grow on rocks (lithophytes), and some grow in the soil, but most are epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants and trees.

Orchids tend to obtain their nourishment from the air, rain or moisture in the soil. While some are self-pollinating, most rely on specific insects or birds for pollination. Another unique fact about the orchid is that the plant compensates for its lack of a true water-retentive root system by working with a certain type of fungi called mycorrhizae fungi during some portion of their life cycle. During this period, the fungi grow partly inside orchid roots, helping the plant to absorb water and minerals. The orchid “repays” the fungi by producing some nutrients during photosynthesis that help the fungi to survive. This kind of relationship, where two organisms help one another, is called a symbiotic relationship.

What orchids bloom all year?

It is possible to have orchid blooms all year long, but it requires some careful planning on the types of orchids you bring into the home and cultivate. No plant will last for a full year, although orchids can bloom, go dormant, and be coaxed in reblooming.

Since there are thousands and thousands of species of orchid, it would be nearly impossible to list all of the species, the times the bloom and the length of their bloom times. However, if you do your research, ask other orchid experts and ask questions from the people from which you buy the orchids, you can plant and cultivate a number of different species of orchids with varying bloom season, times and other factors. By doing this it’s possible to have orchids blooming all year long in your home.

Are orchids good for indoors?

There is a myth out there that orchids are very fragile and hard to grow. Although orchids do require some unique growing mediums and require special watering and humidity levels, most of these are not out of the realm of the average plant lover and homeowner to keep orchids alive and well in their homes. There is a reason that orchids are generally some of the most popular blooming plants for indoor use.

Growing orchids in your home or office is not something that necessarily requires creating a special room for them, either. Although, if you want to do such a thing you can, it is not necessary. There are plenty of species of orchid that can grow inside the average family home or even an office without those special needs. Nearly all species of orchid are famous for their colorful flowers and blooms and can be used to enhance the appearance of an interior space.

What orchids live in the rainforest?

Vanilla orchid

There are many thousands of species of orchid that grow in tropical climates, including rainforests. Estimates vary as to just how many species of orchid are known and recognized, but it can be anywhere between 25 – 30K. Some estimates indicate that as many as 10K may live in tropical or rainforest type of conditions.

Just a few examples of rainforest orchid include:

  • Vanilla Orchid
  • Bucket Orchids or Coryanthes
  • Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta)
  • Tualang (Koompassia Excelsa)

Caring for orchids

Are orchids difficult to grow?

There is a misconception out in the world that orchids are very fragile, frustrating plants to try and grow. That is not actually the case. Yes, there are certain steps and conditions that are favorable to growing orchids, but the fact is, there are species of orchids capable of growing all over the world, including some that have been grown right near the edge of the Arctic Circle.

Given this fact, there is more than likely a species of orchid that you could find to grow in your home or office. Of course, there are special needs required, but that is true of all plants. Plants are wide and varied and some need more water, some less, some more light and some less. Some are hardy and can thrive in desert-like conditions, while others require a more tropical and moist atmosphere.

Notice the growing medium of orchids. Orchids are often grown in these growing mediums due to the need of a moist but very well drained growing environment for their roots.

The main problem that most novice home orchid growers run into has to do with the roots. For those accustomed to plants that thrive buried in soil, it looks weird to see the grayish, worm-like appendages that spread off from the main plant. The grower may be tempted to cut those off or back, but those are the roots and if you do pot the plant, they should be allowed to grow as much as possible.

One thing that ultimately kills all houseplants is either under or over watering. This holds just as true for orchids as it does any other indoor plant. Remember that orchids, in general, do not require as much watering as other plants – but it may depend on the species. Follow watering, light and cultivating instructions carefully when you purchase an orchid.

The fact is that orchids share many characteristics as succulents, which are famous for being hardy plants that can survive well with limited water, irregular soil, and low light situations.

Are orchids hard or easy to care for?

Orchids are a plant that has gotten a fearsome reputation for being hard to care for. This is probably not earned as much as one would think. Yes, orchids need special lighting, watering, fertilizing needs, but that is true of any plant. A lot depends on the species of orchid you are attempting to grow.

Orchids do require certain humidity levels and may require some growing medium that you are unfamiliar with, but with the proper discipline, the average grower can find orchid growing a very rewarding experience. They are tougher plants than most people realize and given their minimal watering needs, are easier in some ways than other plants.

How often do you water orchids?

The watering needs of your orchids depend a lot on the type of orchids you are trying to grow. All instructions for watering that come with the plants you have ordered and planted should be followed implicitly.

Watering orchids once a week is usually a fairly good rule of thumb, but that can change based on the climate you are in and species. The size of the container the orchid is in can also affect the watering schedule and a good rule of thumb on that is that a 6-inch pot will likely need water every 7 days, but a 4-inch pot will need water every 5 to 6 days.

Other factors that can affect how often your orchid needs watering include the potting or growing medium you are using. The quality of the water being used might be another factor since most urban water systems add chlorine to their water and that has the possibility of affecting plant growth and water needs.

Can orchids grow on hydroponics?

Some species of orchid can lend themselves to hydroponic growing. For example, terrestrial orchid species are more likely to do well with hydroponic growing than epiphytic orchids.

Hydroponics will provide a consistent amount of food and moisture and terrestrial orchids, which grow in loose, moist soil benefit more from this kind of system than other species.

Why do orchids wilt? Why do orchids turn yellow?

Just like any plant, an orchid can wilt. They can wilt for a wide variety of reasons. It can be a lack of water, lack of fertilizer, lack of light or other factors. Overwatering can cause plants to wilt and die. Having the wrong growing medium can cause the orchids to wilt and die. With orchids, the wrong humidity levels can also cause problems that will damage or kill the plant.

Of course, if you fix the problem and adjust the water and other factors, can cause the orchids to come back and perk up again. It is even possible to take an orchid that has gone dormant and cause them to bloom again.

In addition to wilting, the plants can turn yellow. The same issues that cause the wilting can cause the yellowing.

Why do orchids droop?

Some species of orchid droop because of their nature. They grow up the stem and the weight of the blooms cause the flower to droop, giving the orchid plant a trademark drooped look. This is not a problem unless the petals are dropping off or the flower turns brown. The drooping is normal.

If the blooming plant is wilted and drooping, it could be a problem with watering and humidity levels. Adjusting those can make them better and fix the problem.

Why do orchid stems turn red?

There are certain species of orchid which have stems that will turn red if they get too much sun. For example, phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, are known to have stems which turn red if they get too much sun.

Why do orchids lose their flowers?

There are a variety of orchids that will lose their flowers for a number of different reasons. They can lose their flowers if they do not have the right amount of watering, humidity or light and they die. In those cases, the flowers will shrivel and die and the flower petals can fall off.

Orchids can be a bit like the perennial flowers that you plant in a garden, too. They can go dormant. Some beginners might assume that the flower is dead and throw the plant away, but with the right love and care, it’s possible to bring the orchid back. Among orchid fans, this is known as reblooming.

Orchids, just like most plants, require a lot of energy to grow and bloom. When they deplete that energy, they fall dormant and the stem can appear dried and shrivel up. The flowers can droop and become sickly looking. The colors might fade. By adjusting the watering, plant food, and other factors, it is possible to bring the flower back and cause a rebloom.

Why do orchids die?

Orchids are just like any other plant. The reason they die varies depending on a number of factors. Each species of orchid has its own growing seasons as well as watering, light and humidity needs. Although orchids are not nearly as fragile as legend would have it, they must be treated and grown in the right medium, watered properly, given light and the right humidity levels. If these needs are not met, the flower will die.

The most common reasons that plants die is due to overwatering and underwatering. Most people end up guessing about the plant’s watering needs and either overdo it or don’t do it enough.

Even though orchids can go dormant, they also can die simply because plants do have a lifecycle and will die at some point, too. The reasons an orchid dies is wide and varied and it is impossible to know for sure and would need to be reviewed on a case by case basis.

Did you enjoy our Ultimate Guide to Orchids and Orchid Care? Check out a few of our other Ultimate Guides below:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Hanging Baskets
  • The Ultimate Guide to Office Plants
  • The Ultimate Guide to Living Green Walls
  • The Ultimate Guide to Succulents
  • The Ultimate Guide to Terrariums
  • The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Vegetable Gardens

Orchids belong to the plant family Orchidaceae, one of the largest families of flowering plants with at least 25,000 species. Orchids are found throughout the world except Antarctica, from the tropics to montane cloud forests. Many orchids are native to the United States, but the majority grow in the tropics and subtropics. Orchids have long been valued for their beautiful and unique flowers, scents, foliage, and medicinal uses. In fact, vanilla comes from an orchid.

Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid
Credit: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes/
University of Kentucky

Orchids are either terrestrial (growing on the ground) or epiphytic (growing on other plants, such as a tree), and require mycorrhizal fungi (fungi on their roots) to provide the plant with minerals and carbohydrates. Many orchids have highly specialized pollinator relationships with bees, moths, and other insects. The shape of the orchid flower leads nectar-seeking insects to pick up and drop off pollen as they visit the flower.

Many orchids are commonly available as houseplants and are sold in nurseries and stores across the United States. Most of the orchids sold in the United States and traded internationally are not collected from the wild, but are cultivated, including many U.S. native species. Horticulturists have created more than 100,000 hybrids of orchid.

Orchids are also used in herbal remedies. Native Americans and early settlers dug and dried certain orchid roots for their medicinal properties. Orchids are used in other ancient medicines, such as Chinese traditional medicine.

While many wild orchids are not considered rare, several are naturally rare due to their specialized habitat requirements and small populations. Over-collection of plants from the wild can also cause orchids to become uncommon. Collection in the wild and loss of habitat have led to decline of orchids, both in the United States and abroad. There are many local, national, and global efforts to conserve orchids and their habitat.

Laws & Regulations

Orchids have varying levels of rarity and protection throughout the United States, and laws vary from State to State. Some species are federally-listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It is illegal to dig up plants or pick flowers on National Parks and permitting requirements vary on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land.

In addition, the entire orchid family, including all orchids native to the United States and its territories, is listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Most of the family is listed in Appendix II, so that exports require a CITES permit. Several species are listed in the more restrictive Appendix I; this means that all imports and exports must be accompanied by a CITES permit. Orchids can be grown in nurseries using methods that are not harmful to wild populations, helping to satisfy the international demand for these beautiful plants and reducing collection pressure on wild populations.

For more information on orchids and regulations on trade, please visit the Endangered Species Program, the Branch of Permits, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
For CITES permit information, visit our Branch of Permits page.

  • Each orchid flower is bilateral symmetric, which means that it can be divided in two equal parts.
  • Size, shape and texture of leaves depend on the habitat. Orchids that live in dry climate have thick leaves covered with wax, while species that live in warm and humid areas have thin, elongated leaves. Certain species of orchids do not have leaves at all.
  • Orchids do not have usual roots. They have rhizome, tuber or aerial roots.
  • Orchids can live on the ground (terrestrial forms), attached to woody plants (epiphytic types) or under the ground.
  • Certain species of orchids are parasitic. They are not able to produce food (sugar) using the sunlight and carbon dioxide (like other plants). Instead, they obtain food from fungi that live inside their roots.
  • Bond between orchids and certain species of insects is tight and highly specialized. Petals have similar shape and color like female insects to attract males and ensure pollination. Ophrys apifera, better known as the Bee Orchid, lures male bees with its enticing smell and bee like appearance. When a male bee approaches the flower to mate, it becomes covered in pollen and is sent off to pollinate the next orchid it visits.

Native Orchid Plant Info: What Are Native Orchids

Wild orchid plants are beautiful gifts of nature growing in diverse habitats around the world. While many orchids grow in tropical or sub-tropical environments, many have adapted to harsh climates, including the far northern reaches of Alaska. Read on for more native orchid plant info, and learn why growing native orchids may not be a good idea.

Native Orchid Plant Info

What are native orchids? Native orchids are those that grow and have evolved naturally in a particular area or habitat without any help from human beings, either directly or indirectly. Of more than 30,000 orchid species identified thus far, at least 250 are native to North America. These wild orchid plants were present long before the arrival or European settlers.

Considering the vast number and diversity of wild orchid plants in North America and around the world, it’s nearly impossible to present a list of common types of native orchids. Not surprisingly, more than 120 species of native orchids have been identified

in Florida alone. The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) is one of the most well known.

You may, however, be more surprised to learn that between 20 and 40 species have been identified in Alaska and Central Canada, including several types of bog orchid and lady’s slipper.

Growing Native Orchids

Of the many native orchid species growing in North America, nearly 60 percent are listed as endangered or threatened on the federal or state level. This means that removing wild orchid plants from their habitat is not only destructive, but may be illegal.

While most native orchids have never been abundant, they are more challenged than ever before, due primarily to habitat loss and climate changes in specific microclimates. This is why it’s a good idea to think twice before growing native orchids. If you choose to give it a try, be sure the orchid isn’t listed as endangered or threatened. Look for orchids that are available to the public through reputable nurseries.

Orchids depend on complex, symbiotic relationships with various fungi, which provide nutrients that orchids need to germinate and develop. Even botanists aren’t 100 percent sure how this relationship works or exactly what fungi are involved for specific orchid species. However, it is well known that wild orchid plants grow in areas with a diversity and abundance of fungi.

This explains why wild orchids are notoriously difficult to grow, even for expert gardeners with professional greenhouses. Although some native orchids are available to gardeners, growth is difficult to sustain and many of these plants tend to have very short lives.

Again, if you decide to give it a try, countless books have been written about the complex art of growing native orchids. The best place to start is with an open mind and several hours of careful research. Good luck!

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