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Growth Patterns of Monopodial and Sympodial Orchids 

Knowing this will help you better water and pot your orchids.

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cattleya orchid in bloom

There are two basic types of orchids: monopodial and sympodial. Understanding the differences will have a big impact on how you care for your orchid and what you can expect from your orchid in terms of FLOWERS. Monopodial and sympodial describes the growth pattern of different types of orchids. Growth pattern simply refers to the way the orchid grows. This includes everything from the root system to the leaves and flower stalks.

Fascinating learn about your orchids growth cycle

Monopodial and Sympodial Orchids

Monopodial

The most common types of monopodial orchids includes the Phalaenopsis and Vanda. These orchids grow off a central, vertical stem with leaves growing off each side. Each year your orchid should grow 1 or 2 more leaves. Watch for new flower spikes emerging 2 or 3 leaves down from the newest leaves. Even if your orchid is not currently in bloom, but it is growing leaves then smile because you know that these leaves signal future flowers. As your orchid matures you may eventually see a flower spike growing on either side of the central stem–at the same time!

new flower stalks - orchid growth cycle

New flower stalks grow from a central flower stem on these mini phalaenopsis.

The Monopodial Base

The base of a monopodial orchid is an interesting place to keep an eye on. The base is where flower stalks and aerial roots emerge. And, it’s also the place where small nodes, develop keikis- or baby orchids. These types of keikis are called “basal keikis.” This type of keiki should not be separated from the mother plant because this type of keiki share the same root system with the mother plant.

keki part of the orchid growth cycle

This keiki is growing off of a clipped flower stalk.  Soon it will develop its own roots. When the keiki’s roots are about 3 inches long the keiki can be separated from the parent plant. If the keiki were growing from the base of the orchid rather than a flower stalk I would leave it in place.

Sympodial

Unlike monopodial orchids that grow from a single stem, sympodial orchids have multiple stalks or more accurately, pseudobulbs, which increase in number every year. These orchids grow from a horizontal stem. Usually these new pseudobulbs emerge from the side of an older pseudobulb. Once your sympodial orchid has finished flowering watch for the emergence of new pseudobulbs which should grow even larger that the older pseudobulb. These new bigger pseudobulbs indicate where new flower stalks will grow. Pseudobulbs serve another purpose as well, water storage. Try to keep your orchids’ pseudobulbs nice and plump, not withered and dry.

growth cycle cymbidium

New pseudobulbs emerge from the outside of an older pseudobulb. These new pseudobulbs will increase in size and flower stalks will soon begin to grow.

Sympodial orchids usually flower once a year, but can put on a real show when they do bloom because several flower stalks will shoot up at once, producing a profusion of flowers.

oncidium flowering - growth cycle

Throughout the past year I watched as new pseudobulbs grew and developed on this Oncidium. After a long wait, the flower stalks are loaded and ready to burst open with a fragrant abundance of blooms.

dendrobium growth cycle

Happy day! The new pseudobulb on this Dendrobium tells me that the high light requirements of this orchid are being met. Soon I will be rewarded with flowers.

It’s All About Growth Patterns

Now that you understand the growth pattern of your orchids, you’ll be that much better at caring for your orchids. The growth pattern tells you when to expect flowers, and when to expect root and leaf development.

Orchid Anatomy and Terminology

Help for Defining Orchid Terms

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How to Understand Those Curious Orchid Roots

Healthy Roots = Healthy Orchids

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The Why and The When of Repotting Orchids

Pottting at the right time vastly improves how well your orchid will adapt.

Read

How to RePot an Orchid: A Beginners Guide

For optimum health, repot your orchid every 1-2 years. Come learn how.

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good orchid care begins with understanding their growth cycle

14 Comments
  1. Jamie says:

    Very informative! And great pictures!!

    1. Anna says:

      Thanks for your feedback Jamie.
      Anna

  2. Eamonn says:

    Very helpful. I’ll revisit soon. There’s a lot I need to learn.

    1. Anna says:

      I’ts great hearing from you and I’m glad you’ll be back. I’m happy to answer any questions.
      Anna

  3. Jane Marinello says:

    If leaves have withered and died, can I cut them off?

    1. Anna says:

      Jane,
      Yes you can certainly remove older, dying leaves. It is perfectly normal for the lower leaves on a Phalaenopis orchid to turn yellow, wither and die. Be sure to sterilize your scissors with rubbing alcohol or with heat. I use a butane torch to sterilize my shears.
      Let me know if you have any more questions.
      Anna

  4. LAVAL says:

    I LOVE MY ORCHIDS AND AM ALWAYS GLAD TO SEE A NEW SPIKE, I AM NEW AT THIS AND ANY INFO YOU GIVE IS APPRECIATED .
    THANK YOU

    1. Anna says:

      You’re welcome Laval! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have a question about caring for your orchids.
      Anna

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the great pictures and information. This is very helpful to me as a beginner. However as I am in Australia some conditions may have to change.
    Thank you Jenny

    1. Anna says:

      Jenny,
      You have a good point. Growing conditions certainly depend on the environment. For instance, I’m in the middle of spring, while you’re enjoying fall.
      Have a great day!
      Anna

  6. Dr. Hingmire B.S. says:

    Very useful information for bigger like me

    1. Anna says:

      Dr. Hingmire,
      Thank you! Let me know if I can help you with any problems you may encounter growing your orchids!
      Anna

  7. Alison says:

    My orchid is getting bigger. I want to re pot, though this is a first for me. Normally after my orchids are done blooming it dies. I have never been able to keep one alive, but was able to this time. I realized they don’t need much water at all . My orchid is planted in wood chips only. Can it be potted in soil or do I need to just get wood chips?

    1. Anna says:

      Alison,
      First off, congratulations on keeping your orchid alive and on figuring out a good watering schedule! To repot your orchid, I recommend using a Douglas fir bark based potting medium. Here is a link for the potting medium I use and recommend. Also, if you purchase through this link, I receive a commission, at no additional cost to you.
      Orchid Potting Mix
      Thanks for reaching out!
      Anna

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START HERE to Learn More About Caring for Orchids

Find Out What I Wish I Knew When I First Started Caring for Orchids

YES! THANK YOU!