Fabulous and fragrant orchids

By Julie Francke, Curator of Horticulture Education


While orchids are best known for their beauty, some orchids are also wonderfully fragrant.  Perhaps the orchid best known for its fragrance is the Cattleya, with large flowers and a heavy, sweet fragrance. It is one of the most popular flower for corsages; if you ever received one, a single sniff can instantly take you back to that moment. Fragrance can do this—our sense of smell is the best memory trigger.

A variety of other orchids are also fragrant, with essences that vary from fruity, spicy and pungent to minty, chocolaty or musky. Some emit their fragrance all day, while others are fragrant for specific periods of time.


The Angraecum orchid, with pure white flowers, releases a jasmine-like fragrance only at night. Others release their scents for just a few hours in the morning while many reach their peak in the middle of the day.  The timing and characteristics of the scent can be tied directly to the type of pollinator the orchid is trying to attract—bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and even gnats and flies. The Angraecum attracts a night-flying moth.

In the past, orchid breeders largely ignored fragrance and instead selected for other traits—flower size, shape, number and color. Many breeders are now recognizing that fragrance is a quality that many people value and are creating more crosses with this in mind.

Oncidium 'Sharry Baby'

If you would like to purchase a fragrant orchid be sure to find out how much light it requires. In Michigan, our short, cloudy winter days can make it difficult to provide enough light for orchids requiring high levels of light, such as many cattleya orchids. Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’ is easy to grow and produces a sweet, luscious chocolate scent. Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) are one of the best choices for beginners with low to medium light conditions.  While many lack fragrance there are some varieties with a light or spicy scent.

With hundreds of gorgeous orchids available for purchase at the upcoming Orchid Show, there is bound to be one that will capture your attention with its beauty and fragrance.  The orchid vendors can help ensure it is also a good match for your home.  The Orchid Show, presented in collaboration with the Grand Valley Orchid Society, will take place at Meijer Gardens on January 28 and 29, 2012.

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