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Orchids are probably best known for their unmatched array of fantastically colored flowers but few folks realize how many of them also offer a huge range of delightful fragrances---even more than roses! They have fragrances that range from spices, including cinnamon and vanilla, to foods like chocolate and citrus, to fragrances mimicking other flowers like roses and hyacinths.
Here are some of my favorites that are commonly found and not particularly difficult to grow on the windowsill or under lights.
Brassavola nodosa is frequently called “Lady of the Night” because its white flowers emanate an enchanting evening fragrance of freesia or lily-of-the-valley that will fill an entire room.
The flowers of Rhynchostylis gigantea or the Foxtail Orchid sport a range of colors from pristine white, to white with spotted red flowers to burgundy red to peach. No matter the color form they are all sweetly fragrant with the scent of citrus.
The genus Cattleya probably offers the widest number of orchids that are very fragrant. One species that is particularly noteworthy for its strong vanilla and cinnamon scent is a darling dwarf species that is found in various color forms, Cattleya walkeriana. Many of the Brassolaeliocattleya hybrids inherit a pleasing scent from their fragrant flowering parents.
Encyclia cordigera is a beauty from Mexico and Central America that has a honey and vanilla scent.
Dendrobium kingianum, an Australian native is found in many different color forms and plant sizes but all share the delightful characteristic of the heavenly fragrance of hyacinth, lilac or honey.
Most of the Miltonias and Miltoniopsis species and hybrids are fragrant. One I really like is Miltoniopisis santanaei. Its adorable pansy-like flowers smell like a rose.
Oncidium ornithorrhychium, with a tongue-twister of a name, is an easy-to-grow dwarf orchid that has a sweet complex scent that has been variously described as being like vanilla, baby powder, grape-like, spicy, cinnamon, or cocoa. Another closely related species with similar scents is Oncidium cheirophorum.
A favorite Japanese native orchid, Neofinetia falcata, is another charmer. It has delicate white flowers on a dwarf plant that have the fragrance of vanilla and jasmine.
Most phalaenopsis are not fragrant but there are some wonderful exceptions. Two especially sweet-smelling species are Phalanopsis bellina and Phalaenopis violacea. There has been quite a bit of attention paid to these two species and their hybrids recently so some stunning “blue” forms are starting to show up on the market. All have a freesia or citrus-like fragrance and display very attractive, glossy green foliage.
It would be difficult when discussing fragrant orchids not to mention Zygopetalums. Their heady sweet perfume of hyacinths just has to be experienced.
Most all of the Angraecums have a delicious scent but many of them are very large growers so are not easy to handle for home growers. One fine exception is is Angraecum leonis, a miniature grower from Madagascar, that smells like jasmine. Like all Angraecums that are night pollinated it has waxy white flowers that are fragrant in the evening.
Some phalaenopsis hybrids have carried forward fragrance from their parents and a very popular one that is sometimes found is Phalaenopsis Orchid World.
Sedirea japonica, now called Phalaenopsis japonica, another miniature from Japan and Korea, has a delicate lemon scent.
Coelogne ochracea hails from India and its white flowers have a pleasant musky fragrance as does its relative Coelogyne lawrenceana.
A few orchids that perhaps are lesser known are Bifrenaria harrisoniae from Brazil that has waxy, long-lasting flowers with a fruity fragrance and Cochleathes amazonica that has the very strong aroma of candy, roses, narcissus and verbena.
Sometimes the Latin name of an orchid gives you a clue that it is fragrant. One example is Lycaste aromatica, a Mexican native that has a spicy, cinnamon scent. It is worth trying out some of the other lycastes since many of the other species and hybrids have wide array of fruity fragrances.
Except for some of the white flowered orchids that are night-pollinated so have an evening fragrance, most orchids reach their peak intensity of fragrance in the afternoon when the air is warm, still, and humid. Do not expect much scent when it is cold or rainy. Some of the flowers will not emit their best scent until they have been open for at least a few days. Frequently the particular scent of the flowers may vary or change depending on the time of day or the maturity of the flower.
You may have noticed that the descriptions of scent that I have given vary quite a bit. This is because everyone perceives and describes scent in different ways. What one person my think is a pleasant, sweet, scent another might find cloying or repugnant. Also, there is a great deal of variation is people’s ability to detect scent. In general, age decreases our sensitivity to scent and females seem to be more sensitive and perceptive of scent than males.
Give fragrant orchids a try. It is just another fascinating and rewarding facet of growing orchids. I think you will be astonished how many orchids have tantalizing fragrances. It is no coincidence that perfume houses depend quite a bit on the essences of orchids for their finest fragrances.
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