Dendrobium orchids are a large family of orchid plants containing well over 1000 separate species. These hearty flowers frequently feature stunning colors, distinct petal formations, and strong stems. Dendrobium orchids can live for many years and are native throughout Asia, the Polynesian island chains, New Zealand, and even Australia.
Americans living on the mainland will probably have encountered some hardier species of dendrobium orchids at flower markets and even grocery stores. These plants can indeed thrive away from their native tropical climates, but require heat, light, and humidity that mimics their homeland. Most of the species available for casual growers are dendrobium orchid hybrids, which do require a lot of attention to ensure proper nutrition and growing conditions. The result of a well-cared for hybrid orchid is a plant that can live for years and bloom every summer, even producing offshoots for further planting.
The keys to successfully growing dendrobium orchids are heat, light, water and fertilizer. These plants require several hours of sunlight per day, and should never be in an environment where average temperature is less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius). Experts recommend watering plants thoroughly at least once a week during the growing season, and once every 10-14 days thereafter. Some expert gardeners also recommend fertilizing with each watering during the growing season, and once every other watering after growing season.
Dendrobium blooms can be quite long-lived if grown in correct conditions. Hybridized varieties can bloom for several weeks to two months, while there are some accounts of New Guinea varieties where a single flower can last for nearly a year. Naturally, expect flowers to wilt sooner if they are cut and displayed rather than left on the stem.
Like many flowers, orchids carry a long history of symbolic meaning. For hundreds of years, they were believed to have aphrodisiac properties, and were often used in love potions and love spells. During the great botanical explosion of the 19th century, orchids were sought after as rare delicacies, as only the very wealthy could afford to own greenhouses that could support tropical plants.
Today, orchids are popular in tropical flower decorations, such as Hawaiian leis. The heady smell and vibrant color truly make a beautiful decorative display, and orchid leis are particular sought after to wear at high school and college graduations. Dendrobium orchids are often available at nurseries that specialize in tropical plants, or can be shipped by tropical plant supply stores. Although the proper care and cultivation of these lovely flowers can take time to master, their spectacular display can last for years and surround a gardener with the flowers of their success.