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What Is a Butterfly Orchid?

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  • Written By: Rhonda Rivera
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2014
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The term butterfly orchid refers to any flower within the Platanthera, Oncidium, and Psychopsis genera located in the orchid family, scientifically known as Orchidaceae. More specifically, this term can be used for any plant within the orchid family that has bright colors and an unusual shape. All together, there are over 100 species of these types of flowers, which grow in many countries across the world. The color and shape of these flowers can differ drastically from one species to another, but the common name of butterfly orchid originates from the shape of the flower, which resembles a butterfly. Some species of butterfly orchids are common garden plants, while others are too rare or difficult to care for and therefore not frequently grown by the average gardener.

Often, a butterfly orchid flower has at least two petals on roughly the opposite side of each other, resembling a butterfly with its wings spread. This is not the case for every butterfly plant, however, as there are a variety of possible shapes. The colors of the flowers are vast, ranging from white to dark purple, with many orchids sporting spots, stripes, or intricate patterns. Some butterfly orchids are quite plain in appearance, however; for example, a solid off-white butterfly orchid is not at all unusual.

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As for location, these types of flowers can be found all over the world, especially in North and South America. For example, Psychopsis papilio is an orchid located in South America and Trinidad. Epidendrum tampense thrives in the sunny region of Florida in the United States, as well as the Bahamas. Many butterfly orchids are originally from Asian countries, such as the Philippines or China, but gradually found their way to other countries with climates suiting their ideal growing conditions.

In general, butterfly orchids are tropical plants that need plenty of moisture and sunlight to flourish. Some species are easier to care for than others because they are capable of growing in dryer, shadier areas than other butterfly orchids. In addition, professional florists may have the flowers on hand for delivery, if a person wants butterfly orchids but does not want to bother growing them from seed. Orchid species from a florist are typically chosen with careful consideration regarding how long they can live when cut, so some species are likely unavailable due to their inability to last a week or two after being snipped.

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