How to Care For Encyclia Orchids

Close up of a purple Encyclia Orchid

Simon McGill / Getty Images

 

Encyclia, a genus of epiphytic orchids, comes from the Greek word enkyklein, which refers to the lip that encircles a column. The Encyclia Orchid (Encyclia cochleata) is also known as a cockleshell, clamshell or cochleata orchid.

There are about 160 species and many natural hybrids of Encyclia Orchids distributed in Florida, Mexico, Central America, South America, and to Argentina.

Plants can be anywhere from two inches long to very large pseudobulbs with leaves two feet long. The bract of the pseudobulb is usually a bright green. Typically, two or three leaves come from the top of the bulb. Longer than wide with a pointed tip, the leaves are thick to hold moisture. The lip, while not connected completely to the column, unfolds from it in a different color than the rest of the flower; it can be ruffled like a Cattleya or flat and broad like an Oncidium.

Encyclia Orchids always seem to be in bloom. They are able to bloom for several months at a time. Clam-shaped flowers have intricate colors and markings. While some horticulturalists believe this type of orchid looks like a clam, others compare it to the shape of an octopus as the petals and sepals dangle freely. Yellowish-green petals hang down and create tentacles of sorts.

Botanical Name Encyclia cochleata
Common Names Encyclia orchid, Cockleshell or cochleata orchid, clamshell orchid
Plant Type Epiphyte
Mature Size Up to two feet tall depending on the variety
Sun Exposure Indirect, medium to bright
Soil Type Well-drained mix such as fir bark, lava rock, river rocks or hardwood charcoal
Soil pH 5.5-6.5 
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Purple, brown, yellow, green and fuchsia
Hardiness Zones 9, 10, 11
Native Area Damp forests, woodlands and swamps of southern Florida, Mexico, the West Indies, and Central and South America

Encyclia Orchid Care

The care of Encyclia Orchids can vary considerably depending on which species you select. They can be rather particular about the light and water they receive but are such beautiful plants that they are worth the effort.

Light

Place Encyclia Orchids in bright, indirect, filtered light (even brighter than is needed for Cattleya). They will grow under florescent bulbs, but natural light is best.

An east-facing window provides ideal morning sunlight and protects the plant from the hot afternoon sun, which could scorch the leaves. Shade hot afternoon sun from the south with a sheer curtain.

Encyclia, like Epidendrum, can also grow especially well beneath a house screening such as a pool or patio.

Soil

Pot in an exceptionally well-drained potting mix. Coarse fir bark, lava rock, river rocks, hardwood charcoal, bits of broken pottery and chunks of tree fern are all good options that will encourage the roots to be wet and then dry quickly.

Water

To welcome moderate humid air, place the pot atop damp pebbles and mist occasionally with a spray bottle.

Encyclia Orchids are native to damp and warm forests, woodlands and swamps where they can be found growing on tree trunks and branches by absorbing moisture and nutrients from rain, air and water.

South American species require very little water because they retrieve moisture from high humidity. Brazilian species don't need to be watered often either, only if the pseudobulbs shrivel.

For species from Florida and the Caribbean, water every five to seven days in the warm months with tepid water or rainwater. Allow roots to dry between waterings. Water at the most every two weeks when the orchid goes dormant in winter. Begin watering more regularly as new growth appears.

Central American species need a little less water than these species but more than their relatives from South America and Brazil.

Temperature and Humidity

Most orchids are hardy in USDA Zones 9 through 11 where conditions are at least semi-tropical.

Maintain a warm, but not hot, daytime temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, open the window nearby and move the orchid to a place that is closer to 70 degrees. Such cooler temperatures will encourage the orchid to bloom.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer should be the same as the potting medium. Use 20-20-20 with tree fern or charcoal. Use 30-10-10 with fir bark. Feed the plant non-urea based fertilizer at half strength weekly, when the soil is moist in the warm months. Fertilize once a month or less in winter.

Propagating Encyclia Orchids

Divide into parts of four pseudobulbs or stems. Remove dead roots and set divisions aside. A week later, new root growth will likely emerge. Repot the new plants and place in slightly lower light for a few weeks.

Are Encyclia Orchids Toxic?

According to the ASPCA, the Florida Butterfly Orchid (E. tampensis) is non-toxic to cats, dogs and horses.

Encyclia Orchid Varieties

Just a few of the many varieties of this orchid type include:

  • Encyclia cordigeravar. rosea 'Dragon's Mouth': creates a rosy fuschia bloom from a maroon base.
  • E. tampense 'Florida Butterfly Orchid': delicately accented by pink and white.
  • E. randii 'La Selva': has petals that are brown, white and pink emerging from a green center.
  • E. alata 'Sunset Valley Orchids': comes in a rustic brown and green topped with cool white dotted by subtle stripes.

Potting and Repotting

Neither Epidendrum nor Encyclia Orchids like being disturbed, so avoid repotting unless necessary. If needed, repot after flowering has stopped. Soak in warm water for 10 minutes to reduce the risk of root damage.

Pot in a clay container, or if the humidity is high the orchid may also thrive in a wooden basket to allow for airflow over the roots and minimize overwatering issues. Plastic is okay too, though water evaporates slower in clay.