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Mexico is home to over 1200 kinds (species) of orchids! This country’s diverse and mellow climates and ample sunshine provide perfect homes for these plants with dazzling flowers. Orchids have, and still do, form an integral part of the Mexican culture and are lavishly displayed in many of their special holiday celebrations.

The Vanilla orchid (Tlixochitl is the Mexican name for it), that produces one of the most popular flavors and fragrances in the world, is a native to Mexico. It has been treasured by indigenous people even before the Mayans and Aztecs and was actually used as a form of currency. Vanilla is also a crucial component of the most loved confectionery in the world, chocolate, and, as a result, its popularity increased exponentially during the Conquest period of Mexican history, when it was exported to the finest courts in Europe and where the French first perfected the chocolate industry.

Choice and Easy to Grow Natives

For most orchid lovers, though, it is the unparalleled beauty of the orchid flowers, rather than their culinary uses that makes orchids reign as nature’s masterpieces. There are many gems that deserve a place in your outdoor orchid garden (if you live in frost- free environment) or greenhouse. Prosthechea ciliare has spidery, fringed flowers that emits a delightful evening fragrance while a relative, Prosthechea vitellina, shouts at you with its flaming orange flowers. Prosthechea citrina, is a delightful small growing species that grows “upside-down” and produces tulip-shaped flowers with a citrus perfume.

Rhyncholaelia glauca , a handsome very compact growing species, and Rhycholaelia digbyana with is fringed green flower that is intoxicatingly fragrant in the evening, both relish the bright sunlight that Mexico provides so are at home in anny sunny windowsill. A multitude of honey scented, long-lasting purple bloom are displayed on Encyclia cordigera. Barkerias are another group of stellar Mexican natives that show off their plethora of brilliantly colored pink to purple flowers in the fall.

There is no more carefree orchid than the native Epidendrum radicans. Its flowers are flaming oranges, yellows, and reds plus various shades of lavender and pink. This orchid asks only for a spot in full to partial sun and occasional watering to put on a continuous show of clustered bright and cheery flowers. Smaller plants of it rapidly grow into large handsome specimens as large as shrubs.

Oncidiums, commonly called “dancing ladies" because their colorfully marked flowers resemble ornate ethnic dresses, are well represented. Many like Oncidium varicosum display scores of sunny, cheerful flowers. One or the other of these types of orchids can be found showing off their flowers year around.

Laelias, the Queens of the Mexican Natives

Mexico is highly fortunate to be home to a broad range of impressive orchids, but it is the showy Laelias, close relatives to the elegant hybrid cattleyas used for corsages, that standout and are usually most sought after. They put on a spectacular display of pink to rose to white flowers in the fall. One of the most stunning is, Laelia anceps, which plays a central role in the Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) celebrations since they display their flowers at the same time as this important holiday. Probably the most common laelia found in the Mexican state of Jalisco is Laelia autumnalis, another rosy pink beauty. Both of these species are very easy to grow outdoors and only require morning or afternoon direct light.

Exotic Orchids Are Also Welcome in Mexico

In addition to native orchids, others imported from different parts of the world have found homes in Mexico. The phalaenopsis or moth orchid, the one always featured in home decorating magazines because of its incomparable elegance and the exquisite arching flower spike is frequently offered at local nurseries (viveros) and even in home supply centers. Fortunately for the aspiring orchid grower, this type of orchid is also one of the easiest to grow with the longest lasting flowers. A mature plant can be in bloom for months. Phalaenopsis are found in a broad range of flower colors, from the traditional whites, stripes, and pinks to the newer reds and yellows, and have attractive, glossy-green, strap-shaped, dark green foliage. This orchid performs best in diffused, bright light, normal human room temperatures and moderate humidity.

The Corsage Orchids -Cattleyas

No group of orchids can match this one for bright, colorful and frequently sensuously fragrant flowers. When many people envision what a typical orchid looks like this is the type comes to mind. It was the one given to grandmothers and sweethearts for Mother’s Day or prom corsages. Year ago, when these were primarily grown as cut flowers, the plants were large and unruly and usually only grown by those folks with plenty of greenhouse space. Thanks to efforts of modern orchid breeders, many of today’s cattleya hybrids are compact growers, yet still maintain their array of colors and delightful fragrances. Look for some of the “minicatts”. These are the dwarf growing beauties that fit on any windowsill. Cattleyas grow in about the same locations as the laelias with just a bit less light. Morning or afternoon light suits them fine, but keep them out of hot midday direct sunlight. Other orchids of all types, that also love Mexico’s climate are beginning to show up at viveros with regularity like relatives of the oncidiums—beallaras, miltassias, odontobrassias, miltonidiums and others.

Whether you are a novice or an aficionado you will find Mexico is the place to be to see, enjoy and grow a wide range of orchids. The ones mentioned in this article are just a sampling of the rich and diverse group of these glorious plants that you will find in Mexico. Their gorgeous flowers are a perfect tribute to the color and happiness that exemplifies this beautiful country and its warm, friendly people.

For More Information…

To learn more about native Mexican orchids check out the handsome and impressive book, Orchids of Mexico, published by Productos Farmacéuticos, S.A. de C.V. in Mexico City. It was authored by many well respected botanists in Mexico, Costa Rica and the US. There is also a superb CD, by the same name, that compliments this book. It is in Spanish and English, is easy to use, and displays superb photography of almost all orchids that are found in Mexico.

For general orchid cultural information you may find my book, Orchids for Dummies, helpful. Also, consult the American Orchid Society’s Website at:

Laelia anceps
Epidendrum radicans
Beallara Flying High