Cattleya Orchids Plant Profile

potted cattleya orchids

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

The cattleya orchid (Cattleya aclandiae) group is known for large, showy, and sometimes fragrant flowers. The gigantic blossoms on these stunning orchids can measure up to 8 inches across, and they come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Their stems are tall and smooth, and their leaves are a vibrant green. Cattleya is a sympodial orchid that grows from an underground rhizome. They are slow growers—it takes about four to seven years for the orchids to mature when planted by seed.

Growing Cattleya Orchids
Botanical Name Cattleya aclandiae
Common Name  Cattleya orchid
Plant Type Perennial epiphytes 
Mature Size 2 feet tall 
Sun Exposure Partial, diffused sun
Soil Type Orchid mix
Soil pH  Slightly acidic (between 5.5 and 6.5)
Bloom Time Spring and fall 
Flower Color Pink, white, purple, orange, red, yellow, and blue
Hardiness Zones 10–12
Native Area Tropics of Asia and Australia
closeup of cattleya orchids
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
base of a cattleya orchid
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

How to Grow

Cattleya orchids are not difficult to care for. They make lovely houseplants, but they can also live outside year-round in tropical climates and during the late spring and summer months in areas that experience frost.

The biggest mistake most people make with cattleyas is providing improper amounts of water and light. Keeping an eye on the pseudobulbs (swollen stems that save water and nutrients that allow the orchid to withstand periods of drought) can give you clues about your plant's health. A plump lead pseudobulb indicates a happy, well-hydrated plant.

Light

Cattleya orchids like bright light and will not flower without enough exposure. They can be acclimated to some direct sunlight as long as the foliage does not get too hot, and if there's enough humidity and air circulation. An ideal amount of light for these delicate flowers is somewhat diffused—many people like to place them next to a window that's covered with a sheer curtain to lessen the intensity of the rays.

In the right light conditions, the leaves are apple green. Darker leaves can indicate too little light, while yellow or brown leaves can mean too much direct sunlight. Since they're a bit fickle, it may take some experimentation before you find the best place in your house for your orchid.

Soil

Cattleya orchids will do well in most orchid mix soils, including pine bark, clay pellets, perlite, charcoal, or any well-draining medium soil. When grown outdoors, cattleya can be slab-mounted—a technique in which the orchid is manually attached to a tree host. To mount the orchid, wrap the roots in moss, wire the plant on top of a shelf (made of organic materials such as driftwood or cork bark), and attach it to a tree fern, tree trunk, or log. 

Water

Water heavily during the growing season, but do not allow them to sit in water. Cut water back when the flowers begin to emerge from their sheaths, as extra moisture that collects the buds will rot the immature flowers.

Temperature and Humidity

Temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 27 degrees Centigrade) are ideal for orchids. They can tolerate occasional periods of hot temperatures of above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Centigrade) as long as there's enough moisture and partial shade. As for cold weather, they can survive in temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit as long as the leaves remain free from frost.

Fertilizer

Some orchids have been known to grow and even bloom for years without fertilizer, but a minimal, yet consistent weekly feeding will give your plant the nutrients it needs to thrive. Cattleya orchids do well with a basic 20-20-20 fertilizer at quarter strength and a 10-10-10 fertilizer at half strength. You can also apply a specialized orchid fertilizer once a week. During the rest period, fertilize every other week.

Erring on the side of too little as opposed to too much is advised when it comes to feeding your cattleyas—excessive fertilizer can encourage foliage overgrowth that may send up stalks that do not produce flowers. If there's too much fertilizer, it will damage the roots and sometimes cause the plant to die.

Blooming

Most cattleya orchids produce one new flush of growth annually, and each new pseudobulb should produce flowers the same growing season, often in late summer or winter. Some of the hybrids might produce two ​blooms annually. Depending on the species, they may produce just a few blossoms or bunches of smaller, waxy flowers. New flower buds are protected by a thin sheath that emerges from the center of the leaf.​ Not all cattleya flowers are fragrant, so confirm with your grower if you prefer one with a scent.

Potting and Repotting 

Cattleya grows by utilizing a branching, creeping rhizome with thick, clinging roots. Repotting is stressful, and a plant will usually take a season to recover, so only transfer your orchids when necessary. When repotting a cattleya, make sure there's enough room for the rhizome to produce at least two new pseudobulbs before it hits the edge of the pot. Typically, repotting is done in spring, at the beginning of the growing season.

Varieties of Cattleya Orchids

In the wild, there are several dozen species of cattleya, but it's unlikely you'll find any of these at local garden centers. Due to their ease of growth and sheer beauty, cattleyas are the most hybridized of all orchids, and there are thousands upon thousands of registered hybrids. When shopping for a cattleya, consider a clone awarded by the American Orchid Society.

purple and yellow cattleya orchids
 sKrisda / Getty Images
red cattleya orchids
Corey O'Hara / Getty Images