Cattleya (KAT-ley-ah) orchids are perhaps the most iconic of all orchids. Even if you don’t know much about orchids, you’ve seen Cattleyas. They’re often used in wedding corsages, and they’re the national flower of Colombia, Costa Rica and Fiji (although they’re not native to the island). There’s likely no kind of orchid that’s more recognized than the Cattleya, but what are these orchids?
What Are Cattleya Orchids?
Cattleya is a genus of orchids named for William Cattley, who was the first European (he was a British botanist) to successfully propagate one. Since Cattley’s first success with the plant shortly after its discovery in 1817, the genus has grown to around 120 species and thousands of official varietals. (Varietals are registered with the American Orchid Society.) Today, it’s one of the most diverse of all orchid genera.
What Are Cattleyas’ Flowers Like?
The flowers that made the Cattleya genus famous are large blossoms that can reach 8 inches. The largest flowers of any orchid, they’re well suited for corsages -- and they’re what caught the eye of Fiji’s government.
In any genus with around 120 species and thousands of varietals, though, there will be great variety among the plants’ flowers. Large blossoms are just one of the many features you can find in Cattleyas. Within the genus, there are orchids that have:
Where do Cattleyas Grow?
In nature, Cattleyas are found on trees from Costa Rica down through Argentina and Brazil. They’re epiphytes: they grow on another plant without harming it. In the dense rainforests of Central and South America, anchoring themselves to tree trunks and branches both helps them get sunlight and keeps their roots out of soggy soil. Like many orchids, Cattleyas love indirect light, and their roots will rot if the roots sit in water.
In homes, Cattleyas need the same things they need in forests: plenty of indirect light and excellent drainage. Their need for good drainage has little impact on where they’re placed, as a well-draining medium can be placed in almost any potting container. Their need for lots of indirect light, however, does affect what areas in a home Cattleyas are suited for. They often excel in:
It’s appropriate that Cattleyas are the most iconic orchids, because they capture the world of orchids. They’re easy enough to care for that a novice gardener can grow them, and yet the genus is so varied that the most knowledgeable orchid grower can still discover new kinds of Cattleya orchids.
If you would like to learn more about caring for Cattleyas, visit our care instructions here.