Oncidium Orchids: Meet the Dancing Lady Orchids

Oncidium Orchids: Meet the Dancing Lady Orchids


Facts About Oncidium Orchids

Botanical Name: Oncidium (on-SID-dee-um)
Abbreviation: Onc.
Popular names: Dancing lady orchids, tiger orchids

Tribe: Oncidieae
Subtribe: Oncidiinae
Number of recognized species: About 300, according to AOS

Origin: Central and South America
Blooming season: Depends, but mostly autumn to winter
Colors: Mostly yellow, brown, white but also available in red, pink, and purple
Growing classification: Mostly epiphytes with some lithophytes and terrestrial

History and Origin of Oncidium Orchids

Oncidium orchids were first officially described by Olaf Swartz, a Swedish botanist, in the year 1800. The name was taken from the Greek word “onkos” which means “swelling or mass,” referring to the uniquely shaped bump on the lips of its flowers.

Some florists fondly call Oncidium orchids as spray orchids. However, they are more popularly known for nicknames dancing lady orchids and tiger orchids. The first name because it resembles the swirling skirts of dancing maidens during the Victorian era.

Oncidium orchids are native to the lush, wild jungles of Central and South America. In their natural habitat, they can be seen thrive on trees and on top of rocks both on coastal areas and high up the mountains, up to 8,000 feet in the Andes. Oncidium orchids have also been spotted throughout the tropics, from Florida in the U.S. all the way to Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina.

Description Oncidium Orchids

Flowers usually blossom in many sprays in multiple long spikes and can grow seriously long, normally up to 10 feet in height and spread up to 2 feet. A couple of exceptional varieties, Oncidium altissimum and Oncidium baueri can reach up to 15 feet.

These dazzling orchid plants come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. Although the majority of Oncidium orchids are more commonly available in shades of yellow and brown, stunning sprays in white, pink, red, green, and purple are now emerging. Some orchid species from this genera are also blessed with a pleasant scent.

Like other epiphytic orchids, Oncidium orchids are usually planted onto the bark of trees, such as oaks and palms. They are not parasitic and do not take away minerals from the tree, but absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. On the other hand, there are also some terrestrial Oncidium orchid species that have been seen living on forest floors.

Oncidium Orchids Species

Image: Kew Science 

Oncidium orchid is a member of the Oncidium Alliance.

An alliance is a group of different orchid genera that possess a lot of similarities and that can be crossbred.  The Oncidium Alliance, in particular, is comprised of over 1,200 orchid species from as many as 70 orchid genera.

The biggest number of delegates are orchid species from the Oncidium and Odontoglossum genera. Other well-known orchid genera that belong to the Oncidium Alliance include Brassia, Miltonia, Miltoniopsis, Psychopsis, Trichopilia, and, Tolumnia among others.

According to the American Orchid Society (AOS), there are, at least, 300 accepted names of Oncidium orchid species. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Oncidium leucochilum
  • Oncidium tigrinum
  • Oncidium sarcodes
  • Oncidium varicosum
  • Oncidium concolor 'Mother Teresa'
  • Oncidium gutfreundianum 'Gigi'
  • Oncidium ampliatum
  • Oncidium crispum
  • Oncidium carthagenense
  • Oncidium luridum
  • Oncidium splendidum
  • Oncidium ornithorhynchum
  • Oncidium cheirophorum
  • Oncidium sphacelatum
  • Oncidium aberrans
  • Oncidium abortivum
  • Oncidium abruptum
  • Oncidium acinaceum
  • Oncidium acrochordonia
  • Oncidium adelaidae
  • Oncidium raniferum
  • Oncidium reductum
  • Oncidium reflexum
  • Oncidium reichenbachii
  • Oncidium remotiflorum
  • Oncidium retusum
  • Oncidium rhinoceros
  • Oncidium riograndense
  • Oncidium riopalenqueanum
  • Oncidium riviereanum
  • Oncidium robustissimum
  • Oncidium rodrigoi

Oncidium Orchid Hybrids

Hybrids are orchids produced by crossing orchid species from the same genus or closely related orchid genera.

Meanwhile, based on Julia Stewart’s book, Orchid Care for Beginners, the first Oncidium orchid hybrid was first registered in 1909. The hybrid was named Oncidium Illustre, which was a cross between Oncidium laucochilum and Oncidium maculatum by Charlesworth and Co.

Today, there are perhaps over a thousand Oncidium orchid hybrids.Extremely favored by orchid aficionados, some notable Oncidium orchid hybrids you should know are:

  • Oncidium Sherry Baby – An excellent indoor orchid, which is a cross between Oncidium Jamie Sutton and Oncidium Honolulu.
  • Oncidium Gower – A prolific bloomer, this orchid hybrid is a product of Oncidium Goldiana and Guinea Gold
  • Oncidium Twinkle – Created by a Hawaiian pioneer in orchid hybridization, this petite orchid beauty was conceived using Oncidium cheirophorum and Oncidium ornithorhynchum.

Oncidium Intergeneric Hybrids

Intergeneric Hybrids are created by crossing orchids from different, unrelated genera.

An excellent example of this would be Oncostele Wildcat, formerly known as Colmanara Wildcat. It is an intricate intergeneric orchid hybrid made of Oncidium, Miltonia, and Odontoglossum. Burrageara Nelly Isler and Odontocidium Mitsuishi are other recognized intergeneric hybrids.

Orchid Care: How to Maintain Oncidium Orchids

As with other amazingly large and diverse orchid genera, Oncidium orchids can grow and adapt in a wide variety of habitats and under different environments and conditions. Each specific orchid species has its own distinct characteristic that sets it apart from another.

However, Oncidium orchids are no diva and are known to be easier to take care of and propagate compared to their half-brothers and sisters from the Odontoglossum and Miltoniopsis genera.

They won’t be damaged by occasional changes in temperature and can forgive you if you forget to water them every once in a while. That being said, they make excellent starter orchid plants for neophytes to growing orchids.

Here are a few orchid care pointers to succeed in caring for your Oncidium orchids:

  • Oncidium orchids can tolerate shaded to bright indirect light.
    As always, we recommend putting your orchids in a South-facing window with sheer curtains that can shelter them from the intense afternoon heat.
  • Use leaves as an indicator if your orchid is getting an adequate amount of light. Leaves should be a grassy light green color. Yellowing leaves means too much light exposure and dark green leaves suggest it’s getting too little light.
  • Give your orchid plant constant level of humidity and air movement.
  • It’s not advisable to cut the spike of your Oncidium orchid after its flowers fall off.
    Some species of Oncidium are known to produce flowers in the same spike for many years.
  • Make sure to allow the roots to dry in between watering session.
  • Water every 7 days during warmer months and growing season. During winter, you can cut back on your watering sessions. Don’t worry because Oncidiums are drought-resistant orchids and have huge pseudobulbs that serve as its water tank. Check for wrinkled pseudobulbs indicate a lack of water.
  • Check the leaves to know watering frequency.
    Thin-leaved Oncidium orchids, such as Oncidium sphacelatum, should be water more frequently compared to species with thick, fleshy leaves. For example, Oncidium carthagenense.
  • Plant in a well-draining medium.
  • Feed your Oncidium orchid plant while it’s in an active growing phase.
    The AOS recommends 30-10-10 formulations twice a month if your orchid is in a bark-based potting medium.
  • Be careful with fertilization, as it can burn your orchid’s fragile roots.
  • Do not repot unless necessary.
    Orchids have thin, sensitive roots that can be damaged when moved aggressively. Usually, orchids don’t need to be transferred to another pot at least after two years.

As epiphytes, Oncidium orchids thrive when mounted on a plaque or bark of wood. It can be driftwood or tree fern. Put a small amount of sphagnum moss under the roots to keep the wood moist and to encourage the roots to attach to it. They also look captivating when grown in hanging baskets because they tend to produce impressive sprays of cascading flowers.

Oncidium Sharry Baby orchids, Oncidium spachelatum Sunbeam orchids, and Oncidium kramerianum are some fine-looking varieties that are proven to adapt to indoor environments.

Also read: How to Maintain Your Orchids Indoors

Oncidium Orchids in Los Angeles

Oncidium orchids can grow in almost any environment, whether in the coast or at high altitudes. With enormously diverse and unique orchid species native to Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina, these dainty dancing lady orchids can also grow in the United States.

As a matter of fact, there are Oncidium orchid varieties spotted in Florida. To see rare and exotic orchid species, you can visit the Smithsonian Gardens is home to a rich collection of nearly 9,000 live orchid plants.

Since it’s almost always bright and sunny in L.A., your chances of bringing home and successfully propagating Oncidium orchids are remarkably high. Many parks and botanical gardens also display gorgeous orchid species for public viewings, such as the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, Descanso Gardens, and South Botanic Garden.

However, if you want your own Oncidium orchid blooming for your personal viewing pleasure, you can also check out Orchid Republic’s stunning orchid arrangement collection. Located conveniently in the heart of Studio City, Orchid Republic offers flower delivery anywhere in Los Angeles and Orange County.

American Orchid Society
Complete Guide to Orchids by Ortho Books, 2005

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