Epidendrum Orchids (Star Orchids): Types, How to Grow and Plant Care

While the orchid type you’re most familiar with is probably the moth orchid, or the phalaenopsis orchid, there are others which are definitely worthy of your attention, and some space in your home.

One of these is the epidendrum orchid, or the star orchid. They don’t look like what you’d consider a ‘normal’ orchid, with their sea of flowers and tiny leaves, but they are one of the best types for a huge display of color.

Interested? Here’s everything you need to know about epidendrum orchids, including how to recognize them, where to grow them, if you should feed them, and more.

At a Glance: What You Should Know About Epidendrum Orchids

Epidendrum orchids can refer to a whole genus, which is one of the largest in the orchid family, made up of more than 1500 orchid species. 

While the name of this genus translates from Greek to mean ‘upon trees’, referring to orchids that exclusively grow on other plants such as trees, not all epidendrum orchids are epiphytes. 

As there are so many types of epidendrum orchids around, they can be found in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world, growing on other plants, in the ground, or on rock.

You’ll also see them labeled as star orchids, reed orchids, and crucifix orchids. 

Not only are they very attractive plants which come in a huge range of colors, epidendrum orchids are among the easiest to look after, after the jewel orchid.

Once they have finished flowering, some epidendrum orchids go dormant for a few weeks after putting on an impressive display. So if you see no signs of new growth after the flowers have finished, don’t worry!

How to Recognize an Epidendrum Orchid

The most recognizable feature of epidendrum orchids is the flower. Also called the crucifix flower, most types produce clusters of flowers, each bloom featuring three lobes which resemble a crucifix. 

The flowers are usually found in red, white, yellow, and orange, though you can get other colors, too. As an added bonus, these stunning orchids put on a real display with up to 40 flowers per spike.

The stems are often reed-like, hence the name reed orchid, but others feature large pseudobulbs (see also Oncidium Orchid Guide) which take up most of the space in the pot. 

Some epidendrums can get as stately as six feet tall, while others are dwarf varieties which are no less beautiful for growing in a much more compact form. 

The leaves are typically thick and leathery, featuring much more densely-packed foliage than the average orchid. 

It’s worth knowing that because there are so many orchids within the genus, it can be divided into two types: orchids which feature pseudobulbs, and those which produce long, reed-like stems.

Those which grow pseudobulbs need to be kept damp at all times during the flowering season. These epidendrums noticeably go dormant after they finish flowering for a few weeks.

Epidendrums which grow reed-like stems instead of pseudobulbs are repeat bloomers. They are often grown for cut flowers and foliage, as both add a lot of interest and form into any cut flower arrangement.

Reed epidendrum orchids are much taller than their pseudobulb counterparts, so keep this in mind when choosing which epidendrums to grow in your own home. 

How to Grow Epidendrum Orchids Yourself

While epidendrum orchids can look a little overwhelming because they don’t resemble what we might consider a ‘typical’ orchid, they are one of the easiest types to look after.

While individual care can vary slightly depending on the type of epidendrum orchid you pick, there are some overarching tips that will help you get the very best out of your orchids.

Here’s everything you need to know to make sure your own epidendrum orchids thrive under your care.

Sunlight and Position

One of the most important factors in making sure your epidendrum orchids thrive is to keep them under the right amount of sunlight. Luckily, the plant has a way of telling you if it’s not getting the right amount of light.

Foliage turning brown is the plant telling you that it’s getting too much light. If you see no flowers during its usual flowering season in spring and summer, it may not be getting enough light in order to produce their beautiful blooms.

As with most orchid types, bright but indirect light is best. They will love a bright position, so long as there’s no direct sunlight scorching the plant. 

Like other orchid types, epidendrum orchids will not appreciate being close to a radiator, or sources of drafts. So keep them away from your fireplaces (even inactive ones, think of the drafts!), sources of heat or cold for best results.

Potting Media

Like any other orchid, an epidendrum needs to sit in something that’s well-draining. Any water that you give your orchid must be able to drain freely, away from the delicate roots as freely as possible.

Depending on the type of epidendrum, this may be bark, specialist orchid compost, or sustainably-sourced sphagnum moss. 

If the epidendrum you choose is an epiphyte, you could even use specialist orchid glue to attach the plant to a beautiful living display of drama and color.

Temperature and Humidity

The specific temperature and humidity requirements depend on the type of epidendrum orchid you go for. Most are pretty resilient, but none will handle freezing temperatures.

The ideal range for many epidendrum orchids is usually in the 70-75°F (21-23°C) during the day, dropping no lower than 55°F (13°C) at night.

In terms of humidity, the ideal range is between 50-70%, which is achievable even if you don’t plan on growing your epidendrum under glass or in your bathroom or kitchen.

If the air in your home is a little drier, your orchid will benefit from sitting on a gravel tray filled with water (making sure that the water cannot wick up into the potting media and soaking the roots).

As the water evaporates, this will increase the level of humidity around your epidendrum orchid.

When to Water an Epidendrum Orchid

When you water an orchid will either kill your plant, or keep it alive. In terms of watering an epidendrum, this is one of the easiest to keep alive, as these orchids prefer their ‘feet’ (roots) completely drying out between watering.

During spring and summer, allowing at least four days between watering will help the roots dry out at least a little, but it’s always worth checking the roots before you do give your epidendrum orchid a good drink.

Luckily, with orchid roots, it’s easy to tell at a glance if they want water. If the roots are a little shrunken or appear silvery, they are drying out, and it may be time to give your orchid water.

Never water your orchid at night, as this can cause problems with excess moisture. Instead, aim to water them early in the morning, and through the heat of the day any excess should have evaporated by nightfall.

Should You Feed an Epidendrum Orchid?

Epidendrum orchids do benefit from fertilizer during their growing season, as the potting media usually doesn’t contain a lot of nutrients to help sustain the plant’s growth. 

Feed them every other watering, using a weak dose of balanced orchid fertilizer. Do not feed them when they are dormant, or during the winter months.

Epidendrum Orchids: Common Problems to Watch Out For

Most issues that plague epidendrum orchids are fungal diseases. The worst one of all, which is likely to result in plant death, is root rot. 

They can also suffer from mosaic virus, or leaf-spot disease, both of which are easy to recognize.

When it comes to pests, spider mites, thrips, and mealybugs are the most common villains you’ll see attacking your epidendrums. 

Luckily, if you keep your epidendrum orchids in the right growing conditions, they should see very little pests, if any.

Types of Epidendrum Orchids You Should Grow At Least Once

Epidendrum ibaguense ‘Crucifix Orchid’

One of the most widely-grown epidendrum orchids as a houseplant, Epidendrum ibaguense, or the crucifix orchid, hails from parts of Trinidad, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, among others.

Typically, a crucifix orchid can reach 3 feet tall once mature, if it’s given the right growing conditions. 

These orchids feature reed stems, which are long and very narrow, suitable for cut flowers and foliage alike. The leaves are thick and leathery, and each flower which blooms on a crucifix orchid lasts for quite a while. 

Crucifix orchids can be terrestrial or epiphytic, and the flowers typically get to about just under 3cm wide. The blooms are usually in warm tones such as yellow, orange, or red, and the lip of each flower has frilled edges.

Epidendrum fimbriatum ‘Fringed Epidendrum’

Mostly a terrestrial type of orchid, the fringed epidendrum can also be an epiphyte, but this is much rarer. It’s native to parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, among other places, only found in high altitudes in the wild.

It features reed-like stems and no pseudobulbs, producing large leathery leaves which reach about 6cm long. The flowers on this particular type of orchid are much smaller than other epidendrum types, typically reaching just under 1cm. 

Epidendrum nocturnum ‘Night Scented Orchid’

One of the most striking epidendrums available is Epidendrum nocturnum, which produces a gorgeous, signature scent at night. It hails from parts of northern South America, Central America, Mexico, and Florida.

This striking epiphytic orchid has many names, including the night scented orchid, Epidendrum carolinianum, Epidendrum carpophorum, and Nychosma Nocturna

This is an orchid which reaches 100cm tall when it matures, featuring deep green leaves and pale yellow flowers. 

These stunning flowers can grow in clusters of five, and will stay open for several months at a time. Each flower is capable of reaching 12cm wide, making for a dramatic display.

It’s important to mention that this particular orchid is classified as endangered in Florida, so if you do go for this specific epidendrum, make sure to get it from a reputable source.

Epidendrum parkinsonianum ‘Dagger Orchid’

Often confused with Epidendrum nocturnum, the flowers may look similar, but the dagger orchid has recently been reclassified as Coilostylis parkinsoniana

This is a much taller orchid which is capable of growing well over 200cm tall, making for a dramatic statement in any home.

It comes from parts of southern Mexico and Central America, preferring cooler temperatures. The dagger orchid features large pseudobulbs which carry a single leaf each. These leaves can reach just under 50cm long.

This particular orchid is a repeat bloomer, producing an inflorescence from the base of the leaf, each capable of producing up to 3 flowers. 

These flowers, like the night scented orchid, are highly fragrant, and can reach over 15cm wide.

The flowers are usually white, featuring a ‘dagger’-like shape, with a pointed tip, and a yellow heart at the center of the flower. 

It’s worth noting that the humidity needs to be higher for these beauties to thrive, at around 70% during the summer and early fall, reducing in winter and spring to a maximum of 60%. 

In terms of temperature, the dagger epidendrum orchid requires highs of about 78°F (26°C) in summer during the day, falling to 55°F (13°C) at night. 

Conclusion

While epidendrums might not be the first must-have orchid on your indoor plant list, they certainly deserve a place as they are so easy to care for, and aren’t as demanding as moth or slipper orchids. 

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