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If there is one orchid with universal appeal in this country and for many parts of the world, then it must be Cymbidiums. Many societies in this country (New Zealand) are renowned for the "other" orchids grown by members, but for many growers it was the cymbidium that got them into the orchid growing habit in the first place, and the genus they identify with most. While cymbidium growing may be going through a difficult period at present, at least for commercial growers, the cheapness and widespread availability of these plants will ensure their wide distribution, especially amongst those who are not traditional orchid growers.

Most of the plants in common cultivation are the advanced hybrids. These are made up of the species to varying degrees, and the study of the genetic makeup of a hybrid can be a fascinating study. The Sander's Lists of Orchid Hybrids is essential reading in this regard. From these lists, the species included, and the extent to which they contribute to the hybrid can be ascertained. Knowledge of the individual species can assist in improving culture, as the hybrid will generally show the cultural requirements of the species, in proportion to the contribution of that species to the hybrid. If cultural difficulties are being experienced, than the culture relevant to the constituent species can be tried, as sometimes the culture of one species will dominate. A knowledge of the species, their natural habitats and growing conditions, all contribute towards that pool of information that is finally expressed in the successful growing and flowering of all plants.

The following discussion is intended to widen the understanding of the main cymbidium species. I hope that all growers will find information of inter eat and assistance in perfecting their growing techniques.

There is a lot of information available about these interesting plants. The most authorities is that by David Du Puy and Phillip Cribb - The Genus Cymbidium - but many of the older books, such as The Orchid Growers Manual by B. S. Williams and the Manual of Orchidaceous Plants by James Veitch and Sons contains much useful information. There are many regional floras that contain much information on species specific to a particular region; many of the good orchid magazines also often contain good articles on the species.

In the discussion on the cymbidium species, the system of classification followed by Du Puy and Cribb will be followed.  . The botanical system of classification does group plants having certain affinities, not only in their flowers and vegetative form, but also culturally, and therefore following such a classification does have certain practical advantages.  The aim of this review is not to present a botanical treatise. If such information and detail is sought then the references noted can be consulted. The aim is to consider each species, to give a brief description of the plant and flower form, and to discuss the relevant habitat and cultural information. For those wishing to make specific specimen identification, the keys and tables included in The Genus Cymbidium are essential references. It is hoped that a companion series will be published in due course, discussing the importance of each species in hybridising, both historically and their place in modern plant breeding programmes.

Many species have been given different names over the years since their discovery. The synonyms will be listed, but the main reference by Du Puy and Cribb should be consulted if you wish to obtain more information on this aspect of the particular plant. A full identification key of the species is published in the main reference. For convenience the genus is broken down to a number of sub-genera and sections and the details of these will be noted where appropriate.

The genus Cymbidium was established by Swartz in 1799, based on Cymbidium (then Epidendrum) aloifolium. There have been a number of changes to the species considered valid in this genus, with the recent study by Du Puy and Cribb being the most recent and authoritative. Many individual species have been given a number of different names over the years since their discovery. This can cause confusion for all involved. The above study has reached a number of conclusions regarding the valid species contained within the genus. Such a study forms the basis for informed comment, but good growers will develop their own opinions and conclusions based on the information available, and their own experience. This study will not be the final word on this genus, but does form an informed foundation for further study.

It is interesting to look at an overall description of the genus, as it gives an indication of the variability that can be seen between the different species.

The plants naturally grow either as epiphytes (on trees), lithophytes (grow on rocks), or as terrestrials (growing naturally on the ground). The vegetative growth arises from the base of the lower nodes of the persistent pseudobulbs, which are usually produced annually, but which may persist for two or occasionally for many years. The pseudobulb is usually spindle shaped, only occasionally absent in which it is replaced by a slender stem. The roots are typically thick white velamen covered, branching, usually arising from the base of the new growth. Up to 13 leaves are produced. The inflorescence is a raceme, den sly to laxly flowered, erect, arching or pendulous. One to many flowers are produced, which are often large, showy and sometimes fragrant. The species are naturally distributed from the North West Himalayas to Japan, and south through Indochina and Malesia to the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia.

The genus is broken into three sub-genera and 15 sections as follows. It is not necessary to know the names of the individual sections, but as plants within each section have similar cultural requirements, the groupings can further ones understanding of the genus: -


1.         Cymbidium subgenus Cymbidium   

 a.     Cymbidium

b.    Borneense

c.    Himantophyllum

d.    Austrocymbidium

e.    Floribundum

f.    Bigibbarium

2.         Cymbidium subgenus Cyperorchis

a.        Iridorchis

b.    Eburnea

c.    Annamaea

d.    Cyperorchis

e.    Parishiella

3.         Cymbidium subgenus Jensoa

a.        Jensoa

b.    Maxillarianthe

c.    Geocymbidium


I have included a number of photographs of the main species in this series. Because there were some sections for which I did not have photographs, I have included some individual flowers taken from the plant and spike painings of Claire Smith, as published in The Genus Cymbidium by David Du Puy and Phillip Cribb. The paintings in therei entirety are excellent, and well worth purchasing the book for. In addition the book contains much further information, including many pen illustrations and photographs, habitat maps and more. The publication is highly recommended.
Published by Timber Press ISBN 0-88192-119-X

Index of frames series

Return to main Site Index
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Other index including culture pages

Cymbidium culture

Cattleya Alliance
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Dendrobium species and sections
Questions and answers to commonly asked cultural questions
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Site established 9th May 1998