Logan and District Orchid Society  -  Epidendrum Orchids

Thelymitra ixioides

Spotted Sun Orchid

Epidendrum  abbreviated Epi. in the horticultural trade,is a large neotropical genus of the orchid family. With more than 1,100 species, some authors describe it as a mega-genus. The genus name (from Greek epi and, dendron, "upon trees") refers to its epiphytic growth habit.

When Carolus Linnaeus named this genus in 1763, he included in this genus all the epiphytic orchids known to him. Although few of these orchids are still included in the genus Epidendrum, some species of Epidendrum are nevertheless not epiphytic.

Distribution and ecology

They are native to the tropics and subtropical regions of the American continents, from North Carolina to Argentina. Their habitat can be as epiphytic, terrestrial (such as E. fulgens), or even lithophytic (growing on bare rock, such as E. calanthm and E. saxatile). Many are grown in the Andes, at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 m. Their habitats include humid jungles, dry tropical forests, sunny grassy slopes, cool cloud forests, and sandy barrier islands.

Members of this genus can be very aggressive colonizers of disturbed habitat, and many species which were once rare in this genus have become more common as the result of human activities. For example, some of these plants can be found in greater abundance growing terrestrially along road cuts throughout their native ranges as the result of road construction.

Many of these species are relatively easy to grow in rich humus compost with some sand. The plants resemble Dendrobiums in form and habit typically, although they tend to be terrestrial rather than lithophytic and epiphytic, and do better in a humus rich, well aerated substrate.

Most of the high altitude members of this genus from cloud forests defy cultivation outside their habitat, and it is reported that even moving a plant from one location to another on the same host tree in habitat will result in the death of the plant, possibly due to dependency on a specific mycorrhizal fungal symbiont.    Full article on topic  can be read here.


They are quite varied in flower size and appearance. They grow in tufts, in racemose inflorescences, sometimes in corymbs or panicles. The apical, lateral or basal flowers are mostly small to medium in size and frequently are not marked by a conspicuous display. The inflorescences are frequently dense. Many species are fragrant. The flowers may be produced only once, or during several years from the same or new inflorescences. The ellipsoid fruits are 3-ribbed capsules.

This genus has the following characteristics:


Initially, European taxonomists applied the generic epithet Epidendrum to all newly discovered epiphytic orchids. Gradually, many of these "Epidendrums" were recognized as being quite diverse and deserving of different generic epithets—many belong to different tribes or subtribes (e.g. Vanda). To add to the confusion, however, many descriptions of closely related species were published with different generic epithets.  Full article on topic  can be read here.


Epidendrum sensu lato is a huge genus, embracing more than 2,000 binomials (about 1,100 accepted names and the rest have become synonyms of other species). More than 1,000 have been split off into new or resurrected genera. However, it is estimated that there are more than 2,000 Epidendrum orchids, many of which still have to be discovered. More than 400 new species have lately been described by Eric Hágsater and colleagues.


Only a few natural hybrids have been named, such as Epidendrum × doroteae, Epidendrum × gransabanense and Epidendrum × purpureum.
Epidendrum orchids hybridize readily with members of the genus Cattleya (Epicattleya is the accepted nothogenus for such a hybrid) and other related genera such as Brassavola (producing a Brassoepidendrum). There are also multi-generic hybrids, for example, Adamara is the nothogenus for hybrids containing ancestor species from each of the genera Brassavola, Cattleya, Epidendrum, and Laelia, but no others. (For several decades, the nothogeneric epithet Yamadara was commonly used to mean Adamara.)


The flowers of many Epidendrum species are small, but some such as E. ibaguense are showy, and many are widely cultivated, such as E. cinnabarinum, E. ibaguense, E. nocturnum, E. radicans, E. secundum, and a multitude of hybrids of these species.

Most Epidendrum species require cool or intermediate to warm conditions for culture, and the commonly cultivated species, such as E. radicans grow in typically cool conditions. Some, such as E. magnoliae (syn. E. conopseum) can even tolerate extended freezing conditions. In Auckland and other sub-tropical regions of New Zealand, the cool growing plants will flower all year round. While they are normally grown in pots, it is also possible to grow them in a bark garden or on a tree, although the plants prefer a humus rich well-aerated media.


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OrchidMail  Culture Sheet

Reprint of AOS  ‘Orchids’ magazine article by Andy Phillips and Cynthia Hill

Reed-Stem Epidendrums

AOS - Culture page

Plant Profile: Epidendrum

ABC Program “Gardening Australia”

Epidendrum Orchid Care

Orchids made easy - Ryan Leveresque


Epidendrum secundum

Crucifix orchid.

Wiñay Wayna, Peru

Photo credit: Filipe Fortes

Seattle USA

Epidendrum medusae

Photo credit: orchids.wikia.com

E. radicans

in the wild

Tziscao, Chiapas, Mexico.

Photo credit: Sanfelipe en.wikipedia