Types of Orchids: A Visual Compendium

Types of Orchids: A Visual Compendium

Did you know there are more than 20,000 types of orchids in the world? That’s more than four times the number of mammal species! While most are found in tropical rainforests and grasslands in far off places, a fair amount are also native to the United States. A favorite in homes worldwide, the “Orchidaceae” family features blooms that are vibrant, tropical and fragrant.

Family: Orchidaceae

The Orchidaceae family is one of the most species-rich families of flowering plants, with over 20,000 species. It is commonly divided into 5 subfamilies: Cypripediodeae, Vanilloideae, Orchidoideae, Epidendroideae, and Apostasiodeae. Subfamilies are further divided into smaller tribes, which are then divided into subtribes and grouped into genera.

Orchid flowers are all bilaterally symmetrical with three petals and three sepals. Their seeds develop in capsules and are extremely tiny, sometimes mistaken for dust or spores. Because the seeds are so small, they don’t contain enough nutrition to grow a new plant themselves, so they develop a symbiotic relationship with fungus, which provides the nutrients for them to grow.

Subfamily: Cypripedioideae

The Cypripedioideae subfamily is known for its lady slipper orchids, which are named after their slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects and help the flowers get pollinated. There are 5 genera in this subfamily: Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, and Selenipedium. Cypripedioideae orchids have two lateral, fertile anthers, which is unusual in most other orchids.

Tribe: Cypripedieae

Orchids in the Cypripedieae tribe are believed to be some of the most primitive orchids. This tribe consists of 4 genera with over 100 species that are distributed in boreal, temperate, and tropical regions throughout Europe, Asia, and America. Some have argued that this subfamily should be a distinct family separate from Orchidaceae.


Subfamily: Vanilloideae

The Vanilloideae subfamily is an ancient group that includes the only orchids from an ancestor of agricultural value — vanilla. This subfamily consists of the tribes Pogonieae and Vanilleae, and has about 15 genera and 180 subspecies. Orchids from this subfamily exist throughout Asia, Australia, and the Americas in pantropical areas.

Tribe: Pogonieae

The Pogonieae tribe consists of 5 genera that are distributed from North to South America and East Asia. Orchids in this tribe are known for their unique lip margin, which appears fringed or jagged. Most species are pink or purple.


Tribe: Vanilleae

The Vanilleae tribe is divided into 3 subtribes consisting of 10 genera. Of these genera, Vanilla is the only genus that is pantropical in distribution, and all genera except Vanilla have very few species. Vanilleae orchids are characterized by their long, thick, succulent vines.


Subfamily: Orchidoideae

The Orchidoideae subfamily is a large group that consists of 7 tribes and 3,630 species. These orchids have showy flowers that are arranged in an erect or arching terminal inflorescence. They are distinguished by their single, fertile anther. Members of the Orchidoideae subfamily can be found worldwide.

Tribe: Orchideae

The Orchideae tribe is the largest tribe within the Orchidoideae subfamily, and contains a variety of flower forms. Flowers in this tribe dominate the orchid flora in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, though they can also be found in East Asia. These orchids usually have a three-lobed lip without a basal spur, prominent caudicles, and erect anthers.


Tribe: Cranichideae

The Cranichideae tribe consists of about 90 genera and 1699 species. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica, though are most diverse in tropical and subtropical regions. They often have small, tubular flowers that do not open widely, and soft herbaceous leaves.


Subfamily: Epidendroideae

The Epidendroideae subfamily is the most widespread subfamily. It represents more than eighty percent of orchid species, and includes over 10,000 types of orchids. Although members of the Epidendroideae subfamily are present in temperate regions, they are most prevalent in the tropics of the Eastern and Western hemispheres. There orchids typically have single anthers with sub-erect structures.

Tribe: Arethuseae

The Arethuseae tribe consists of 26 genera that can be found in Asia, New Guinea, the southwest Pacific Islands, eastern North America, and the northern Caribbean. This tribe was originally categorized by John Lindey in 1840, and contained over 90 genera, but was recategorized by Robert Dressler in the late twentieth century.


Tribe: Neottieae

The Neottieae tribe consists of 3 genera. It is distributed throughout the world including Europe, tropical Africa, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, New Guinea, and Australia. In the Western Hemisphere, it is found in the western United States, Central America, and South America. They have fleshy, but slender roots, and thrive in temperate habitats.


Tribe: Triphoreae

The Triphoreae tribe has about 4 genera and 28-30 species. Orchids in this tribe are commonly found in North America, Central America, and South America, though one species can be found in tropical West Africa. They have a slender stem, fleshy roots, which often have nodular tuberoids, and small flowers.


    Tribe: Calypsoeae

The Calypsoeae tribe consists of about 12 genera and 70 species. It is widely distributed in Europe, northern Asia, North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. The species in this tribe are typically terrestrial, and the most popular genera are Governia, Oreorchis, and Corallorhiza.


Tribe: Coelogyneae

This tribe is fairly large and consists of four genera — Dendrochilum, Pholidota, Chelonistele, and Coelogyne — and over 300 species. They are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Old World. Coelogyne is the most popular genus. Its orchids are characterized by a three-lobed lip that is concave at the base, and a hooded or winged column.


Tribe: Cymbidieae

The Cymbidieae tribe consists of about 1800 species and over 100 genera. The tribe exists in tropical regions throughout the world, and species are either terrestrial or epiphytic. Orchids in this tribe are unique in that they have two pollinia (masses of pollen grains) and a sympodial growth habit.


Tribe: Collabieae

Collabieae is a somewhat neglected tribe with little understanding of its phylogenetic relationships. It’s a medium-sized tribe with about 500 species that are primarily distributed in the Old World tropics. This tribe displays a variety of vegetative and floral variations, including lateral and terminal inflorescences.


Tribe: Malaxideae

The Malaxideae tribe consists of about 1000 species, and is distributed in temperate and tropical areas throughout the world. The flowers are typically small and they have terminal inflorescence. Malaxideae are unique in that they contain high numbers of both obligate terrestrial and epiphytic orchids.


Tribe: Epidendreae

The Epidendraea tribe consists of six subtribes: Bletiinae, Chysinae, Coeliinae, Laeliinae, Pleurothallidinae, and Ponerinae. It includes 86 genera, which are found in the Caribbean, and North America, South America, and Central America. The Epidendraea tribe primarily consists of tropical epiphytic orchids.


Tribe: Maxillarieae

The Maxillarieae tribe is large and complex, consisting of about 70 genera and over 1000 species. Orchids from this tribe are primarily found in Central and South America. Overall, this group has diverse vegetative habits, floral morphology, and pollination mechanisms.


Tribe: Vandeae

Vandeae is a large tribe that consists of nearly 2000 species. Orchids within this tribe are primarily classified based on floral morphology. The tribe consists of epiphytes, which are plants that grow harmlessly on other plants. It can be found in pantropical areas including Africa, Asia, and America.


Tribe: Tropidieae

The Tropidieae tribe is a pantropic tribe consisting of about 2 genera and 43 species. Orchids in this tribe have loose pollen and an erect anther. Their flowers are commonly arranged in clusters around the main stem, and are often pale green, white, or yellow.

To give you a better feel for how orchid subfamilies, tribes, and genera are interconnected, we created a compendium of popular American orchids. It plots over 100 “local” genera of orchids so you can see just how impressive and expansive this family is. You may be surprised that some of these vibrant, exotic-looking orchids exist in your own backyard!  Want to learn more about flowers and plants? Check out our other compendiums featuring types of roses and types of desert plants.


Inspired by orchids?

Browse our orchid bouquets, which include the Dendrobium and Cymbidium genea you see in this guide!

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Vanilla Orchids: Natural History and Cultivation by Ken Cameron


Orchid Biology VIII: Reviews and Perspectives  ed. Tiiu Kull, J. Arditti


An Atlas of Orchid Pollination: European Orchids by Nelis A. Van Der Cingel

The New Encyclopedia of Orchids: 1500 Species in Cultivation by By I. F. La Croix


Orchids of Asia by By Eng-Soon Teoh


Monocots: Systematics and Evolution: Systematics and Evolution edited by Karen L Wilson, David A Morrison


Brassia, Comparettia, Odontoglossum, Polystachya, Cochleanthes, Tolumnia, Trichocentrum, Brassavola, Psychilis CC Image courtesy of Arne and Bent Larsen on Wikimedia Commons  |  Catasetum, Cymbidium CC Image courtesy of http://www.larsen-twins.dk on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cephalanthera CC Image courtesy of Sramey on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dichaea, Eulophia, Galeandra, Trichoglottis, Lycaste, Stanhopea, Caularthron, Domingoa, Prosthechea, Dendrobium, Goodyera, Stenorrhynchos, Pogonia, Gymnadenia CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dipodium CC Image courtesy of David Lochlin on Flickr  |  Ionopsis, Campylocentrum CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr  |  Macradenia CC Image courtesy of Maarten Sepp on Flickr  |  Koellensteinia CC Image courtesy of Alex Popovkin on Flickr  |  Leochilus CC Image courtesy of Marcos Antonio Campacci on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oeceoclades, Bletia, Chiloschista, Renanthera, Miltonia, Brachionidium, Cattleya, Lepanthopsis, Nidema, Scaphyglottis, Trichosalpinx, Eria, Coelogyne, Cyclopogon, Eltroplectris, Eurystyles, Platythelys, Prescottia, Psilochilus, Triphora, Paphiopedilum CC Image courtesy of Dalton Holland Baptista on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oncidium CC Image courtesy of Calyponte on Wikimedia Commons  |  Arethusa CC Image courtesy of Chris Meloche on Wikimedia Commons  |  Arundina CC Image courtesy of Kevin Gepford on Wikimedia Commons  |  Calopogon CC Image courtesy of Bob Peterson on Flickr  |  Cleisostoma CC Image courtesy of Earth100 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Dendrophylax CC Image courtesy of Mick Fournier on Wikimedia Commons and CC Image courtesy of Big Cypress National Preserve on Flickr  |  Micropera, Crepidium CC Image courtesy of Raabbustamante on Wikimedia Commons  |  Taeniophyllum CC Image courtesy of Airborne Pilot on Flickr  |  Corallorhiza CC Image courtesy of Wsiegmund on Wikimedia Commons  |  Maxillaria CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr  |  Govenia CC Image courtesy of Sanfelipe on Wikimedia Commons  |  Isochilus CC Image courtesy of Patricia Harding on Wikimedia Commons  |  Lepanthes CC Image courtesy of Quimbaya on Flickr  |  Elleanthus CC Image courtesy of Philipp Weigell on Wikimedia Commons  |  Pleurothallis CC Image courtesy of KENPEI on Wikimedia Commons  |  Restrepiella CC Image courtesy of Moises Béhar on Wikimedia Commons  |  Bulbophyllum CC Image courtesy of Montrealais on Wikimedia Commons | Calanthe CC Image courtesy of Qwert1234 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Phaius CC Image courtesy of Hectonichus on Wikimedia Commons  |  Spathoglottis CC Image courtesy of Vaikoovery on Wikimedia Commons  |  Calypso CC Image courtesy of Walter Siegmund on Wikimedia Commons  |  Tipularia CC Image courtesy of TheAlphaWolf on Wikimedia Commons  |  Malaxis CC Image courtesy of Bernd Haynold on Wikimedia Commons  |  Oberonia CC Image courtesy of Ramesh Meda on Flickr  |  Anoectochilus CC Image courtesy of Badlydrawnboy22 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cranichis CC Image courtesy of Americo Docha Neto on Wikimedia Commons  |  Mesadenus, Pteroglossaspis CC Image courtesy of NC Orchid on Flickr  |  Pelexia CC Image courtesy of Elena Gaillard on Wikimedia Commons Ponthieva CC Image courtesy of Jose Lacruz on Wikimedia Commons  |  Spiranthes CC Image courtesy of Eric in SF on Wikimedia Commons  |  Zeuxine CC Image courtesy of Panoso on Wikimedia Commons Dactylorhiza CC Image courtesy of Uoaei1 on Wikimedia Commons  |  Habenaria CC Image courtesy of J.M.Garg on Wikimedia Commons  |  OphrysPseudorchis CC Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons  |  Orchis CC Image courtesy of Algirdas on Wikimedia Commons  |  Platanthera CC Image courtesy of Enrico Blasutto on Wikimedia Commons  |  Epipactis CC Image courtesy of Dcrjsr on Wikimedia Commons  |  Listera CC Image courtesy of Superior National Forest on Flickr  |  Sobralia CC Image courtesy of João Medeiros on Flickr  |  Broughtonia CC Image courtesy of Walter on Flickr Masdevallia CC Image courtesy of trixty on Flickr  |  Isotria CC Image courtesy of Jason Hollinger on Flickr  |  Flickingeria CC Image courtesy of Averater on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cleistesiopsis CC Image courtesy of Charly Lewisw on Wikimedia Commons  |  Cypripedium montanum CC Image courtesy of Bill Bouton on Flickr  |  Cypripedium reginae CC Image courtesy of Orchi on Wikimedia Commons  |  Disperis, Encyclia, Epidendrum, Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla barbellata CC Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners on Flickr  |  Govenia CC Image courtesy of Bosque Village on Flickr  |  Psychopsis CC Image courtesy of LadyDragonflyCC – >;< on Flickr  |  Aplectrum CC Image courtesy of Fritz Flohr Reynolds on Flickr