Dendrobium Orchids: Types, How To Grow and Plant Care

Dendrobium orchids, commonly just referred to as dendrobiums, is one of the largest orchid genera, which is a lot when you consider the orchid family is the biggest plant family on earth.

The dendrobium genus is made up of more than 1,800 different species, so chances are you’ve come across one or two, or you’ve even grown them before. 

You’ll find them in a range of colors, usually in pastel tones, such as ivory, pink, purple, and green.

Because there are so many different species of dendrobium orchids, it makes sense that they have different care requirements. 

While they all come from Southeast Asia, they grow within different climates, some exclusively at a high altitude, growing only in mountainous areas, and others are found in humid, damp lowlands. 

This might sound challenging, but most dendrobium orchids are easy to take care of, once you know their requirements.

You’ll also see that dendrobium orchids come under the names Bamboo Orchid, and Singapore Orchid.

What is a Dendrobium Orchid?

Dendrobium orchids belong to the Dendrobium genus, in the Dendrobieae tribe, part of the Epidendroideae subfamily of the orchid plant family.

In the wild, you’ll find them in Vietnam, New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Japan, and India, as well as across the Pacific islands.

As this is such a large plant family, encompassing many different types of orchid, some have tried to get them reclassified under several, small genera, but this approach for this genus has not been accepted.

It’s always worth looking at the name of the genus, which can tell you something of the plant’s habits, or of its history. 

Dendrobium is a compound word of Greek origin, dendron translates to tree, and bios which translates to life. This refers to the fact that most of the orchids within this genus live off other plants rather than in soil, and these plants are called epiphytes. 

How to Recognize Dendrobium Orchids

While there are a small number of species in the genus that live in soil, most are epiphytes, and some are lithophytes, those which live on bare stone. 

The appearance of a dendrobium wildly depends on the species. There is one thing that unites them, though. They are sympodial orchids, which means the plant grows from a horizontal stem, which is made up of more than one stalk.

The growth appears from a pseudobulb, which looks like a bulb, but it’s actually a larger part of the orchid stem. Depending on the species, pseudobulbs can be as small as 5cm tall, or as impressive as nearly 5 meters tall.

When it comes to the leaves, some are oblong shaped, some are lanceolate, or ovate. The texture may be smooth, delicate and like paper, or thick and like leather. Some dendrobium orchids lose their leaves in the winter months, while others are evergreen.

The gorgeous flowers that dendrobium orchids produce can get as large as 5cm in diameter, while some are more petite at just under 3cm. 

These blooms are made up of two petals, three sepals, and an additional smaller petal which forms the characteristic lip of an orchid flower. The color is dependent on the species.

The Difference between Nobile and Phalaenopsis Dendrobium Orchids

While smaller genera of dendrobium orchids have not been accepted, they can be divided into two smaller groups, phalaenopsis dendrobiums, and nobile dendrobiums.

Luckily, it is easy enough to tell the difference, just by looking at the orchids, as long as you know what you’re looking for.

Nobile dendrobium orchids have soft canes, and they lose their leaves in winter. These orchids produce bigger pseudobulbs that resemble foliage, and the leaves are lighter too. 

When it comes to the flowers, some nobile dendrobiums can produce an impressive 50 flowers, each of which can last a couple of weeks in the right conditions.

Phalaenopsis dendrobiums resemble phalaenopsis orchids (see also Moth Orchid Care Guide). The leaves are a deeper, much richer green than nobile dendrobiums, and they stay on the plant year-round. 

The pseudobulbs of phalaenopsis dendrobiums are much thinner, usually getting taller than nobile dendrobium types. 

Phalaenopsis dendrobiums can repeat flower in some cases, though there are fewer flowers produced than the nobile dendrobiums, at about 20 flowers at a push.

How to Make a Dendrobium Orchid Thrive

In order to get your dendrobium orchids to be at their absolute best, you need to know what kind you have, as this will dictate the care that you need to give them, but there are some general care tips to give you an idea of what most dendrobium orchids need.

Dendrobium orchids need to be indoors, unless you live in a warmer climate where you can safely keep them outdoors all year round. 

Position & Light

Dendrobium orchids, like a lot of orchids, like partial sunlight, and they aren’t a fan of direct sunlight. 

When you keep them indoors, you will notice that they will need somewhere bright within indirect light, as the amount of light that filters through your windows will be significantly less than outside.

If the leaves start to turn yellow, move it further away from the light, as it’s getting too much.

Temperature and Humidity

As the majority of dendrobium orchids come from warmer climates, they need to be in an environment where the temperature does not drop below 60°F (15°C) at any time. 

While they may tolerate some cooler temperatures, they won’t stand it for long.

In terms of humidity, they require an atmosphere which is at least 45% humid, but they do fare better when the humidity is higher, ranging between 50% and 70%.

If the leaves on your dendrobium orchid start turning brown at the tips, the atmosphere is far too dry, and it will start to suffer.

You can help improve the humidity by sitting the pot on a shallow tray filled with gravel and water. As the water evaporates, this will raise the humidity surrounding the plant. 

When to Feed a Dendrobium Orchid

Most orchids need feeding regularly in order to sustain their overall growth, not just to support them in the flowering season. 

Dendrobium orchids are no different, and they need to be fertilized regularly during their growing season with a specially formulated orchid fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer, as some may differ by brand. 

Cut the amount of fertilizer by half once the growing season has finished.

When to Water a Dendrobium Orchid

While dendrobium orchids like being moist, they hate being saturated. Overwatering an orchid is a quick way to kill it, and you’ll notice signs of overwatering when the orchid wilts or the leaves turn yellow.

Always check before you water. Push your finger into the ‘soil’, whether that’s orchid bark,  sphagnum moss, or something else. If it is wet, give it another day or two until it has dried out a little more.

You can reduce the watering in the winter, but you should never let dendrobium orchids dry out completely. Signs of underwatering include the leaves turning brown, becoming dry and brittle, and the canes drying out.

Always water a dendrobium orchid in the morning, and this will give the excess time to evaporate before the colder temperatures in the evening, preventing disease.

Repotting Orchids

Dendrobium orchids like to be slightly pot-bound. While you might be tempted to give them a large pot and plenty of room, try to avoid this, as all you will do is stop the plant from flowering.

Normal soil won’t work for dendrobium orchids, as it won’t for most types of orchid. Epiphyte orchids have adapted to live on the surface of other plants, usually the bark of trees, so the roots are used to plenty of air, and free drainage. 

The easiest way to use commercial orchid mix, which typically contains bark, perlite, or sphagnum moss. 

When it comes to repotting orchids, do so every few years, only when the dendrobium orchid has finished flowering, otherwise you may interrupt its growth. 

Should You Prune a Dendrobium Orchid?

Generally, you should hold off on cutting any part of your dendrobium orchid. The old growth or canes, even when they don’t have leaves on them, are still alive.

They act as a storage for nutrients and water to help sustain the plant’s growth. Occasionally, these old canes can flower, or even produce baby orchids, called keikis, which can be separated from the plant once they grow roots.

Dendrobium Orchids to Try Growing Yourself

Dendrobium anosmum

Known as the Hono-Hono orchid, or the unscented dendrobium orchid, this is nevertheless a beautiful plant.

It produces rich pink to purple flowers in spring, and each flower spike is capable of growing up to 10 flowers.

The unscented dendrobium orchid can get as big as 3 meters tall, but this only usually happens in the wild. Still, it is a beautiful plant, featuring shiny, thick and oblong-elliptic foliage, which drops in the winter months., Laos, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others.

It’s often found through many parts of the Philippines, as well as parts of Vietnam

Dendrobium aphyllum

The hooded orchid, this particular dendrobium orchid, is instantly recognizable by its flowers, with a distinctive lip on each, shaped like a cone. 

Most hooded orchids live on the surface of other plants, but you do also get some varieties which live on bare rock. 

The flowers only last for a short window of time when compared with other types of dendrobium orchid. But what they lack in longevity, they make up for in beauty. 

The blooms feature ivory, white, or rose sepals and petals, which ring around the cone-shaped lip. The labellum itself is covered in tiny hairs, almost like an iris flower.

Dendrobium crumenatum

Dendrobium crumenatum has many common names, including the pigeon orchid, the white dove orchid, the purse dendrobium, or the sparrow orchid.

You may have guessed from these names that the flowers look like birds, and these blooms only come in a fantastic, cosmic-white. They are touched with yellow at the lip, resembling a beak.

Better enjoy them while you can. When they first open, they have the most spectacular perfume, but this fragrance soon fades. 

Instead of blooming throughout a specific season, sparrow orchids flower roughly ten days after the surrounding temperature drops by at least 5°C (or 41°F). 

The plant itself is a meter tall, and the pseudobulbs can be as large as 12cm tall, so you will need a fairly big pot for a sparrow orchid. When it comes to the foliage, sparrow orchids feature oblong leaves which fall in winter.

Dendrobium cucumerinum

Much smaller than the other types of dendrobium orchids, the cucumber orchid comes from Australia.

This is another epiphyte orchid, which requires a well-aerated potting medium that drains freely.

The common name of this dendrobium, the cucumber orchid, refers to the foliage, which look exactly like gherkins, or tiny cucumbers.

The unique appearance of this orchid doesn’t stop with the leaves, however. Each flower spike can produce nearly 20 blooms in ivory-white, tinged with green, and speckled with burgundy. 

The labellum of these flowers are curved, and the petals and sepals curl in toward the center of the flower.

Like the sparrow orchid, the cucumber orchid’s flowers don’t last long, but you will see them appear during the last few weeks of winter, and the first few weeks of spring.

Dendrobium taurinum

Known as the bull orchid, named after its unique flowers, this is a gorgeous epiphyte.  The blooms produced appear in shades of purple or dark pink, and the sepals are cream. 

The labellum of each flower is white, tinged with dark pink, and features ruffled edges. Every flower spike produced can boast up to 30 flowers, making for a stunning display.

The foliage is a lovely rich green, contrasting nicely against the flowers.

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