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

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Monopodial and Sympodial Orchids

Monopodial Orchids

The most common types of monopodial orchids include 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 this 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 shares 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 Orchids

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 than 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. 

Discover More About Orchids

Orchid Anatomy and Terminology

Help for Defining Orchid Terms


How to Understand Those Curious Orchid Roots

Healthy Roots = Healthy Orchids


Why Re-Pot Orchids – Plus 4 Clues that Tell You When to RePot Orchids

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



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

  1. Jamie says:

    Very informative! And great pictures!!

    1. Anna says:

      Thanks for your feedback Jamie.

  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.

  3. Jane Marinello says:

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

    1. Anna says:

      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.

  4. LAVAL says:


    1. Anna says:

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

  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:

      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!

  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!

  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:

      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!

  8. Shirley says:

    Should I cut the flower stem off after the flowers die off? I am new to taking care of orchids. I have 2 done flowering. Both 1 yr old with their stems intact. I did not cut off as they are still plump and healthy looking.

    1. Anna says:

      You can cut the flower stem off after the last flower and there is about a 50% chance that more flowers will grow on the stalk. My recommendation is to cut the stalk off about an inch up from the base. This will give the orchid time to rejuvenate and will, in the long run, produce larger, more abundant flowers.

      Follow this link for a helpful article on cutting your orchid’s flower spike:


  9. John says:

    A very helpful article and the pictures make everything beautifully clear. Many thanks.

    1. Anna says:

      Thank you, John!

  10. Jessie E Stephens says:

    Hi Anna,
    I’ve had my Phalaenopsis Orchids for some time now. I really loved the flowers and they lasted for a long time. After the last one dropped we cut the stem an inch up from the base. They’ve been putting out new roots and leaves, but there’s still no sign of new flower spikes. Is there something else that I should do to encourage it to put out new spikes?

    1. Anna says:

      It sounds like you are taking good care of your orchid. Yes, there are a couple more things you can do to initiate blooming. Orchids need both the right amount of light and the right temperatures to bloom again. Also, remember that it will take at least a few months for the orchid before the orchid starts growing a new flower spike.

      Here is a helpful article that discusses how to re-bloom an orchid.


      Thanks for commenting!
      I wish you the best in re-blooming your orchid,

  11. Reba Betz says:

    None of my orchids are showing any air roots. Is that because they were improperly potted?

    1. Anna says:

      I wouldn’t worry about a lack of air roots. When your orchid wants to grow air roots, it will. Your orchids are likely getting all they need from the potting medium.
      All my best,

  12. Yolinda says:

    Hi Anna
    My one Cattleya has a leaf attached to the stalk that is yellowing and turning brown.
    Is there a remedy to save my orchid.
    Thank you for all your great and wise tips
    Warm Regards
    South Africa

    1. Anna says:

      It was great to hear from you! Here is a helpful article on treating yellowing orchid leaves:


      All my best to you and your cattleya,

  13. Kathy Stearn says:

    Is there a way I can send you a picture. I have 2 different orchids beside the 7 Phalaenopsis orchids. I am not sure what kind either of the 2 orchids are. And I need help with them. Thank you so very much. Love your website.

  14. Fran Smith says:

    Under my care I often see my dendrobiums and oncidiums thrive well enough to send up new pseudobulb stalks only to watch the new stalks turn yellow and wither, without producing any spike. Any advice on what I’m doing wrong?

    1. Anna says:

      Augh! I hate it when that happens! Here is a link to an article on preventing bud blast. This post will tell you about environmental factors that can trigger failure to bloom.


      Wishing you all the best,

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Are your orchid leaves limp and wrinkly?

Get your FREE cheat sheet on how to prevent limp orchid leaves.