South Africa has many indigenous epiphytic orchids but unlike the Asian or American orchids which have large, showy flowers, most have small and inconspicuous flowers.
However, there are a number of exotic epiphytic orchids that can be grown in the garden. These are the ones that occur naturally in a similar latitude to our own such as the Dendrobium Nobile which comes from the foothills of the Himalayas.
Orchid grower, Christian Giesel from G and S Orchid, recommends the following epiphytic orchids for your highveld garden.
1. Laelia anceps and Laelia anceps hybrids will grow well in the highveld as they originate from Mexico and can cope with the same cool, dry winters. They can even take light frost in winter.
2. Dendrobium Nobile and its hybrids originally come from South East Asia and are excellent beginner's plant. It will grow protected under trees in Johannesburg gardens as it likes warm wet summers and cool dry winters.
3. Vanda coerulea and coerulea hybrids are more of a challenge to grow outdoors because they will need a lot of additional watering and misting. The blue-flowered varieties are more cold tolerant and could be grown outdoors. Generally, Vanda's are grown in temperature and humidity-controlled greenhouses.
4. Oncidium hybrids, also known as ‘Dancing Doll’ orchids, produce sprays of yellow flowers. They originate from sub-tropical Brazil and Uruguay should survive a dry, cool winter and will tolerate dryer conditions generally.
5. Cattleya hybrids are more suited to be grown outdoors in the warmer parts of the country as many varieties come from tropical areas of Thailand and Taiwan. The plants with white and pink flowers are best for the outdoors while those with orange, red and green flowers tend to require a bit of additional warmth on the Highveld.
Growing tip: epiphytic orchids grow well in hanging baskets in a loose, well-drained mix such as bark chips added.