The Cymbidium Challenge

There’s nothing worse than being tempted by something you can’t have. Or shouldn’t have.

Welcome to the world of Cymbidiums.

Few orchids compare to this genus when it comes to wow factor. A single plant can have 3 - 4 flower spikes, each carrying up to 15 tennis ball-sized blossoms. Colorwise, expect even more drama as there isn’t a muted hue in the lot. 

Even the flower’s anatomy (sepals and petals) are intimidating, being thick and waxy like complex lady slippers. Other popular orchids including Phalaenopsis have a thin and delicate texture.

Then, there’s the foliage. There is so much of it that a single plant can be the focal point in an estate entrance hall. Dozens of long and pointed leaves emerge from the base.  Specimens can be challenging to carry.

Finally, the root system is like no other with tentacles that wrap around and around inside the pot leaving no air pockets. Often, the pseudo-bulbs, themselves, are lifted several inches above the media by the expanding root ball.

It goes without saying that a sizeable ceramic or stoneware container is recommended to keep these top heavy orchids from falling over.

Every year, about this time, floral departments of fine grocery stores tempt shoppers with Cymbidiums. These plants have travelled thousands of miles and arrive busting out with buds and blooms. The displays are stunning, the prices are affordable, and even casual observers stop in their tracks.

Cymbidiums are grown commercially in California where they receive bright light and cool temperatures most of the year. Herein lies the problem. Duplicating these conditions in other parts of the country has proven to be challenging.


The genus has 52 species and is native to the subtropical highlands of Southeast Asia where they get a lot of sun, just short of burning. Leaves are a good indicator of solar exposure and they should be light to medium green in color, never dark. For the hobbyist, this means providing thin shading, far less than what most other orchids require.   


During the summer and fall, Cymbidiums like warm days and cool nights. 50 degree lows are required to initiate and develop flower spikes. And not just for three weeks like Phalaenopsis. Try three months.

Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 17:45