Orchids make up the largest plant family in the world and range across much of the globe. Many of the more familiar types are native to tropical areas, but there are orchids that grow on trees, in bogs, on rocks, in soil, and very likely some that grow right where you live.

Orchids have been an important cut flower for many decades and it was common to find cut orchid growers as recently as the 1990s. Increased heating costs and competition from imports made commercial cut orchid production less viable. Floral trends deemed orchids old-fashioned as well, and they fell by the wayside. There are parts of Florida, Hawaii, and California that have been traditionally well suited to commercial orchid production, but with a changing climate and warmer winters there is a good possibility that more of us can grow orchids than we previously would have imagined. I have dabbled in orchids off and on for the last 20 years, but in the last year, thanks to a new heated conservatory on our house, I’m fully addicted once more. Commercial cut orchids may not be the most logical choice for Northern Vermont, but there are in fact species that tolerate cool temperatures, and even those that are fully hardy even in zone 3. Here is an overview of some of the traditional favorites as well as some worth considering for the true plant nerd.

Cattleya “Corsage orchid” is the traditional name of this group of orchids, and in fact they were locally produced and very popular all over the U.S. even in the 50s and 60s. Like dahlias they fell out of fashion, and deserve a renaissance. The range of colors and sizes has increased dramatically in the last 50 years and there is untapped potential in this genus.

Cymbidium Cymbidiums are still commercially produced globally, mostly in Holland but also New Zealand and parts of South America. There are some folks dabbling with them in the U.S. as well. They are commonly seen in Easter corsages, but are equally at home in modern and garden style floral design. They have the advantage of preferring cool winters, so the heating cost may be more manageable for those in more northerly climes. In fact, they require a cool winter to bloom, so are a poor choice for those with very warm winters.

 

Cattleya

Dendrobium Dendrobiums were the epitome of late 90s elegance! It would be hard to count the number of cascading dendrobium wedding bouquets I made back in the day. They tend to have small flowers borne on long sprays. The individual flowers are the perfect little boutonniere bloom. Dendrobiums are produced in huge numbers in Thailand for export which has made them very affordable on the international market. There is still cut production in Hawaii as well. I would look at other genera if making money is a goal. This is an enormous genus, so there are probably species and hybrids out there with cutting potential that have yet to be brought to market.

Oncidium These orchids and their hybrids range in size from very tiny to 3-4” across, often borne on airy branching sprays. Similar to dendrobiums, they are in large-scale production internationally and can be quite cheap. Some of the more advanced hybrids have untapped potential, and many of them can take a cool winter.

Vanda

Vanda One of my favorites! Vandas bloom in spikes of 6 to 9, or more, flowers, each reaching 3-5” across. While they are produced in Thailand for export, the best have been grown in Holland for the last 15-20 years and sell for $3-5 per bloom (making them as much as $45-50 per stem!). Vandas love heat and need to be kept warm even at night, so they aren’t so practical for the North. They do very well in Florida and with minimal heat would love the coastal South. They come in an exceptional range of colors and sizes. Some smaller-flowered Vanda hybrids are commonly imported at low prices, but the large-flowered types still command good prices.

Paphiopedilum The Asian lady slipper orchid is seen commonly as a potted plant, but is also used as a cut flower. They are grown in Asia, Holland, and Italy for cutting, and in Hawaii for potted plants. Their exotic shapes and long-lasting characteristics make them a captivating addition to floral design. On a recent trip to Madeira, Portugal I was shocked to find them being used as a Christmas cut flower! They were for sale on every corner, and many patios across the island have several pots of them happily blooming.

Phalaenopsis It’s hard to go into a supermarket or Walmart without seeing a Phalaenopsis. Their success is a detriment to their marketability as an upscale cut flower, but there is nothing more elegant than a long spray of white Phalaenopsis. They are being grown in Vietnam for export at a very high standard. Some of the smaller hybrids in novelty colors may find a niche in the cut flower market. They are long lasting, easily programmable, and widely available.

Cypripedium This genus occurs across all of the northern hemisphere. If you have lady slippers in your woods, these are Cypripediums. DO NOT CUT THEM. They are very slow growing and quite endangered in most of their range. That said, newer hybrids between North American and Asian species are proving to be vigorous and easily cultivated in shady wooded areas. This is a crop just waiting to be commercialized. They are fully hardy in northern conditions.

Disa These rare beauties are finicky, requiring cool conditions all year. They must also be stood in pure water (rainwater or reverse osmosis) at all times, as they come from bog-like areas of South Africa. If you can meet their needs, there is a market to be had for Disa. They can last more than a month after cutting, their colors are simply outrageous, in shades of orange, red, hot pink, yellow and white, and their shape is unlike anything else I can think of. There have been attempts to grow Disa commercially in Holland, New Zealand, South Africa and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., but to date nobody has fully cracked the code. I’m working on it, but I hope somebody else beats me to it.

There is never a reason to be bored with flower growing! The only limitation is our imagination. And winter!

Disa

Bailey Hale

Ardelia Farm & Co.

Contact him at [email protected]