Lasting Beauty: Why We Love Orchids

By Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
April 21, 2015 Updated: April 21, 2015

When it comes to beautifying the home, cut flowers and flowering plants are an easy option. Orchids are fairly low maintenance and produce attractive sprays of flowers that can last for months. Is it any wonder we love these exotic tropical plants?

The blooms can be solid colours like periwinkle, deep red, or even stark white. They also come in an array of psychedelic colours and patterns with shapes that defy description.

Orchid flowers can be large and showy or tiny and delicate, depending on the species. Some orchids produce blooms that are larger than the leaves of the plant. Many are quite fragrant and the scent may be stronger in the daytime or during the evening.

There are numerous types of orchid to choose from. One that can be found in most grocery stores, garden centres, and big box stores is the Phalaenopsis, or “moth orchid,” so named because its flowers resemble the shape of the moth that pollinates it.

I think the attraction is mostly the flowers, but there are so many species and it’s such a great example of evolution of plant life.
— Orchid expert Bill Arthurs

Other types of orchids are also pollinated by moths or butterflies and some have developed in such a way that they, too, resemble the shape and colouring of the butterfly or moth they rely on for pollination.

“I think the attraction is mostly the flowers, but there are so many species and it’s such a great example of evolution of plant life in the relationship between insects and human beings, and the plant itself,” said orchid expert Bill Arthurs in an interview at the Ottawa Orchid Show on April 18.

Arthurs, who grew and hybridized orchids for 25 years, answered questions from attendees at the show.

Some people may be reluctant to buy an orchid because they think they’re tricky to grow. In fact, the types of plants sold locally are usually able to do well in that area. However, the light and humidity levels in your home need to be similar to the plant’s native habitat for it to thrive, so checking the label is important.

“You try to pick out what you can grow in your area, in this latitude, where the photoperiod in the winter is mostly dark and the plants aren’t used to it,” Arthurs said.

Arthurs noted that there are thousands of species and hundreds of genera of orchids that come in a variety of shapes and sizes that are imported from every area of the world.

Orchids grow in “different climates, different light intensities, different methods of growth, from tropical rain forests to almost desert conditions, so I can understand why people will buy an orchid and it won’t act very well under their own growing conditions, because it’s not the same as the condition the orchid was growing in the wild,” he said.

“There are challenges there but a good idea is maybe to join the Orchid Society and soak up some knowledge on it.”

Arthurs explained that there are two types of orchids: terrestrials that grow in soil and epiphytes that grow on trees. Terrestrials include the “lady’s slipper” varieties that do best in their native habitats where there are specific mycorrhiza fungi that support the vascular roots of the plant. Epiphytes are grown in bark chips or sphagnum moss and require regular watering, particularly in the growing season.

Most orchids like bright indirect light, although some require direct sun, so choose one that can be best accommodated by the amount of sunlight and humidity in your home.

Those interested in growing an orchid or just learning more about these intriguing plants can find the local orchid society in their area by visiting

Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan