Orchid Identification Chart: Know the Plant by the Subfamily

Orchid identification chart is a way that flower enthusiasts interested in orchid care, including you, tend to familiarize themselves with this chart to differentiate each plant. It’s an essential procedure to help you keep proper track and work with all plants in the Orchidaceae family.

Orchid Identification Chart

Identifying all orchid species means learning about the subfamilies and tribes that each plant belongs to and understanding their traits. Now, let’s look at the five subfamilies and their multiple tribes to teach you how to identify orchid by leaves and other traits.

Cypripedioideae Orchid Identification Chart With Every Detail

The subfamily, Cypripedioideae is one you can identify in certain places with the distinct appearance of its flowers. Its flowers have the appearance of a pouch-shaped slipper, which was called “lady slipper orchids.”

The slipper flowers are also large and showy, with their lip being formed with two spotted or striped petals attracting insects. You can also identify orchids in this category using their sympodial trait of growing with pseudobulbs or lateral shoots, and this the way that you would easily tell that this orchid belongs to this family.

In addition to this manner, the cypripedieae is the most prominent tribe under the Cypripedioideae subfamily and houses most genera common as favorites of several enthusiasts. It takes the slipper appearance from Cypripedioideae and houses three genera which are Cypripedium, Mexipedium, and Selenipedium having different traits. A common orchid under this tribe is the Paphiopedilum plant, also called the Venus slipper.

Cypripedium is the most common and houses the most prominent orchid species under the Cypripedioideae tribe, with the main traits of the subfamily, as they are quite similar. On the other hand, Mexipedium and Selenipedium have the same traits but here, the difference is that the former has smaller flowers with a reddish-pink color. Moreover, the latter also has a different color pattern, with its dorsal sepal being brown or purple and its slipper lip having a yellow or white color.

– Vanilloideae

The Vanilloideae is a subfamily that consists of orchid species, prominent for their uses as ornamentals and flavoring in different ways. It’s distinct for having a single leaf growing from the base of the stem with showy and spiky orchid flowers.

In addition to this, the significance here is that they also attract insects with its labellum, which is modified to aid pollination with nectar spur transformation. The subfamily is especially common for the vanilla orchid specie used in sweetening and still has other prominent orchids under it.

– Vanilleae

Vanilleae is a tribe under the Vanilloideae subfamily with several genera classified under it, including the prominent vanilla genus. The genera under this tribe take the epiphytic nature of its subfamily with its showy and large flower traits.

However, it’s challenging to maintain their optimal growth in homes due to their strict conditions despite their beauty. You can recognize plants in this tribe with their succulent and thick long vines and no spur on their lips; this is a way that you will easily know the genus.

– Pogonieae

The Pogonieae tribe spans about 400 species classified under 29+ genera and deviates from the epiphytic nature of most orchids. It exists as a terrestrial plant meaning that they grow out of the ground, and it’s common to notice them during wild orchid identification because of the features that is has.

You can also recognize them with their jagged or fringed lip margin along with their distinct purple or pink hue. The orchid genera commonly classified under this tribe are Istoria, known as an ornamental, and Vanilla for its sweetening trait, as they would also grow and thrive in a beautiful way.

– Orchidoideae

Orchidoideae is a subfamily of orchids with a genera count of over 100 and a specie count of over 4000, and this signifies that so many belong to this family.  It’s common to find plants under this subfamily in different regions, but they are most common in temperate regions.

Their flowers appear to be bilaterally symmetric and most plants in this category have just one fertile antler. They mostly have three sepals and petals, specialized lip patterns, and appearance based on color, shape, and texture. In addition to this, it is a key way to know how this plant is unique and also significant.

– Diceratosteleae

The Diceratosteleae tribe brings forward only two genera heading up to 20 species having terrestrial traits, unlike the general orchid habit. Plants in this tribe are usually of small to medium sizes, with their leaves having an elliptical shape similar to a lance head.

In addition to this matter, the leaves of this orchid variety are mostly thin or come with a texture similar to leather, as they have flowers structured in a densely clustered arrangement. Their colors also vary and come in either pink, green, white, or purple depending on the specie that it falls under.

– Cranichideae

Cranichideae counts among the subfamilies having the largest orchid number count, going over 100 genera and 2000 species. Plants categorized under this subfamily are either epiphytic or terrestrial having varying shapes, sizes, and colors with mottled or speckled patterns.

When it comes to this orchid, you should remember how the leaves mostly have a basal rosette-like arrangement around the stem, with the flowers having three petals and sepals each. Some have showy flowers while others have theirs to be inconspicuous, on the other hand all have a distinctive lip appearance, as this is their key feature.

– Codonorchideae

Among the tribes in the Orchidoideae subfamily is Codonorchideae with a small population count having only two genera under it. The plants in this orchid tribe have their habitat in high-altitude locations with succulent, basal leaves.

Remember how you can distinguish orchids in this tribe with their small distinct flowers and the hood-like appearance of the sepals and petals. Only two orchids in this tribe are popular, so you might try to find many details in any orchid identifier online and this is one of the factors that will pop up.

– Diurideae

The Diurideae tribe of orchids is prominent in New Zealand, and Australia, along with some African and Southern Asian regions; in short, this is their favorite region to grow in, so when you are cultivating them, note that you must mimic the same climate. It has over 40 genera producing 1500+ species of orchids, either terrestrial, saprophytic, or epiphytic.

The orchids in this tribe have a distinct flower appearance, with the sepals and petals being small or medium-sized and looking similar. Their bulbs can also be prominent or pull less attention and the leaves have a basal arrangement with a leather-like feel.

– Orchideae

Dominating its subfamily is the Orchideae tribe holding the largest number of orchid genera and species with its habitat spanning tropical and temperate regions. One way of identifying plants in this tribe is their three-lobed lip, but this trait isn’t common in all.

Some have one of the petals experience modification into a labellum to attract pollinators with the flowers varying in color patterns. The growth habits of plants in this tribe are either lithophytic, terrestrial, or epiphytic, which also determines their habitat.

– Diseae

Most orchids growing in Southern Africa and Madagascar belong to the Diseae tribe. You can identify plants in the Diseae tribe by checking if their petals and sepals are three each with most having long or oval leaves.

They mostly grow on rocks and other plants depending on the specie. If you are wondering how to identify orchids without flowers, you must also remember that the plants in this orchid tribe also vary in color and patterns that they have.

The Family of Epidendroideae Orchids

The Epidendroideae subfamily is the largest in the orchid classification, producing over 10,000 species under 580+ genera. This is what makes it filled with so many varieties, kinds, and even specifications. In addition to this, it’s also known for producing most of the beautiful household ornamental plants for interior decoration use.

The significance of this orchid is that you can easily identify plants in this subfamily if their leaves are dipole but have a fleshy texture making them appear thick. When you wish to grow it, you can go ahead and check how the plants in this subfamily also have a unique column-like structure in their flowers due to having both male and female reproductive organs.

Family of Epidendroideae Orchids

They have the ability to produce up to 5000 species under the Epidendroideae subfamily the Epidenndreae tribe as they start to grow with some unique characteristics showing variations. In short, the plants that are members of this tribe vary in size from large to minute that can fit in your hands, and that is their special feature.

They have similar but slightly unique color patterns, with most plants giving off special fragrances, increasing their ornamental value. Some prominent orchids used as ornamentals in this tribe are miniature Cattleya, Cattleya Orchids, Cockleshell Orchid, Epidendrum, Brassavola Orchids, and Masdevallia Orchids.

– Tropidieae

The Tropidieae tribe of orchids is one that comprises mostly epiphytic-type plants with a few being terrestrial. If you wish to identify the types of orchids with pictures and names, it is easy to search them and check their flower traits.

When doing so, you will see that most Tropidieae have just one showy flower twisted and opening upside down, with the lower petal staying on top. You will also notice an elongated nectar spur that the plants use to attract pollinators.

– Neottieae

Different species in this tribe have their unique traits but still, take some from the Epidendroideae subfamily. Identifying plants in this tribe comes slightly easy due to their slender roots that have a fleshy texture.

Moreover, they are common in temperate regions, and their roots appear like a bird’s nest, hence the name. However, some species in this category exist to be mycoheterotrophic making them derive their nutrients from fungi rather than chlorophyll. This matter is how they will grow, produce, and propagate in the long run.

– Malaxideae

The Malaxideae tribe has its home to several orchid species that are both epiphytic and terrestrial taking the traits of its subfamily. However, most of the plants in this tribe have tiny flowers growing at the tip of their stems called inflorescence.

These flowers can vary in color, with the single leaves on the plant’s leaves being fleshy and shaped like a strap. Depending on the plant variant, the inflorescence on the stem tips might have a custard arrangement or look like a spike.

– Calypsoeae

Orchids in this tribe are prominent for their terrestrial nature and are limited in number and classified under two known genera. They have a single leaf that mostly appears spotted or mottled trailing up from the stem base.

Notice how some species also have an inflorescence with only one flower while others tend to have three per stem, and through these stems, they will develop and strive for new blooms during their growing season. The flower’s lip also has a bright color with patterns and is usually shaped like a pouch.

– Collabieae

The Collabieae tribe has a limited number of orchid plants under it which are approximately 100 in number. It’s a tribe of orchids that are either lithophytic or epiphytic and common to the Asian and tropical African regions.

Plants in this tribe mostly have one or more leaves appearing in a rosette-like arrangement, and their inflorescence looks either spiky or branching out. The plants also vary in size, with some being very small and others having a larger appearance showing unique patterns.

– Podochileae

Podochileae is also an orchid tribe with less population in terms of genera and species compared to many other tribes. The orchid population in this tribe is barely over 200, and they take traits from their root subfamily along with other varying traits.

These beautiful podochileae orchids typically have a single leaf, sometimes multiple, arranged in a rosette with flowers forming a five-edged star. The length of the flower petals varies in appearance with some being curved and folded white and others being spiky.

– Coelogyneae

A tribe experiencing frequent expansion is the Coelogyneae tribe, with its prominent habitats being in Asian, Pacific, and Australian regions. It’s a tribe that is home to about 200 species with varying colors, sizes, and shapes but mostly lithophytic or epiphytic.

What is so special in this case are the leaves, because they are usually long and not too slender but thick, while the flowers are elliptical with three sepals and petals, and this is a way that you would easily tell that the following belongs to this family. Even though Some variants of orchids in this tribe also tend to trap insects to guarantee pollination based on the adaptation that they have experienced over time.

– Sobralieae

The Sobralieae tribe brings several beautifully colored orchids to the mainstream, all having unique traits while retaining those for the root subfamily. They mostly have slender, long leaves which might be either thick or thin depending on the specie.

It’s especially noticed in Sobralia with its purple flowers, while Elleanthus has slightly broader and brighter leaves with pink-purple color. You should know that in this tribe, some are stuck between being either epiphytic or terrestrial with more varying bright colors to show their beauty with this variation.

– Arethuseae

Arethuseae experiences several changes over classification disputes, but it doesn’t take away the beauty and traits of the orchids here. Most members of this tribe have their leaves to be slender and thick with flowers mostly maintaining a purple color.

On another note, some orchids in this category have varying shades, with some lighter and others being darker. The flower shape maintains an oval structure, with some, like Arethusa having slender-like leaves and others with short leaves.

– Dendrobieae

The Dendrobium tribe has a mostly tropical and subtropical habitat in the Asian, Pacific, and Australian regions. Most orchids in this tribe tend to be epiphytic, with a few of them being terrestrial and lithophytic.

These types are known for having beautiful, spread-out flowers which vary in colors, with one prominent genus being Dendrobium orchids. You will also observe the varying color when performing a dendrobium orchid identification in comparison with other members of this tribe.

Identifying the Different Higher Epidendroideae Orchids

Extracted from the Epidendroideae to create a distinction is the Higher Epidendroideae tribe having three major tribes producing many prominent ornamentals. They contain over 5000 species of orchids, with most being epiphytes, but that doesn’t count for all members.

Identifying the Different Higher Epidendroideae Orchids

The plants in this subfamily are also noted to have their main stem growing in one direction with flower colors that vary depending on the specie. Prominent tribes that exist in this subfamily are Cymbidieae, Vandeae, and Maxillarieae with others sharing similar traits to these three.

– Cymbidieae

The Cymbidieae tribe produces several orchids, prominent for their use as ornamentals due to their beautiful colors and sizes. Plants in this tribe retain subfamily traits but also have a unique appearance on their leaves and flowers.

These are unique with their colors and even the way that they look, so much that some are ones that have a border-like pattern formed with two colors; on the contrary, others have different colors on different sections of their flowers. Prominent examples of members in this tribe are the dancing lady Oncidium orchids, the boat orchid, and the miniature Cymbidium orchid.

– Vandeae

Producing several exotic ornamentals is the Vandea tribe with its subfamily traits and the unique appearance of different species. Most plants in this tribe tend to attract attention with their bright colors or glitter-like pattern that exists on their flowers.

You should remember how most of these orchids are shaped like a star with curved edges while some have slightly pointed edges with less separated petals. Examples of orchids in this tribe are the Phalaenopsis orchids, the moth orchids, and lastly, Vanda orchids. When purchasing one, you can also see more details with a moth orchid and Phalaenopsis orchid identification map.

– Maxillarieae

The final one of the tribe is the Maxillaria and the Butterfly orchid to enthusiasts which is the Maxillarieae tribe. The species under this classification have unique traits, especially three petals spread out like wings and other flowers in a funnel-like appearance, as they would begin to bloom with their gentle flowers.

Most have a plain pattern with few spots on certain sections and maintain two to three colors, including bright shades. They are also common to the American region, with most being epiphytic and a few being either terrestrial or lithophytic.


Orchids aren’t just prominent as ornamentals; you probably won’t know many of them. However, you can identify them by doing the following:

  • Different flowers from the Cymbidieae tribe are ones that will show various colors in addition their beautiful borders
  • The Tropidieae are the family that has elongated, twisted, and stems as they produce flowers that are rich in their nectar, attracting various pollinators.
  • Make sure you would know the right variety you are growing to provide the same environment as they would grow in.

You can now get through accumulating your favorite orchid list to map out the image you have for your interiors. It’s also a great way to start out as an orchid enthusiast going head first into the field.

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