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For the brachiopod genus, see Cymbidium (brachiopod).

Boat orchids
Cymbidium iridioides-1-bsi-yercaud-salem-India.jpg
Cymbidium iridioides
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Tribe: Cymbidieae
Subtribe: Cymbidiinae
Genus: Cymbidium

See text.

  • Jensoa Raf.
  • Cyperorchis Blume
  • Iridorchis Blume nom. illeg.
  • Arethusantha Finet
  • Pachyrhizanthe (Schltr.) Nakai
  • × Cyperocymbidium A.D.Hawkes
  • Liuguishania Z.J.Liu & J.N.Zhang
  • Wutongshania Z.J.Liu & J.N.Zhang
  • Cymbidiopsis H.J.Chowdhery
Labelled image of Cymbidium aloifolium
Cymbidium Clarisse 'Best Pink'
Cymbidium hybrid
Golden Leaf-edge Orchid
(Cymbidium floribundum)

Cymbidium, /sɪmˈbɪdiəm/,[2] commonly known as boat orchids, is a genus of evergreen flowering plants in the orchid family Orchidaceae. Orchids in this genus are epiphytic, lithophytic, terrestrial or rarely leafless saprophytic herbs usually with pseudobulbs. There are usually between three and twelve leaves arranged in two ranks on each pseudobulb or shoot and lasting for several years. From one to a large number of flowers are arranged on an unbranched flowering stem arising from the base of the pseudobulb. The sepals and petals are all free from and similar to each other. The labellum is significantly different from the other petals and the sepals and has three lobes. There are about fifty five species and sixteen further natural hybrids occurring in the wild from tropical and subtropical Asia to Australia. Cymbidiums are well known in horticulture and many cultivars have been developed.


Plants in the genus Cymbidium are epiphytic, lithophytic or terrestrial plants, or rarely leafless saprophytes. All are sympodial evergreen herbs. Some species have thin stems but in most species the stems are modified as pseudobulbs. When present, there are from three to twelve leaves arrange in two ranks and last for several years. The leaf bases remain after the leaf has withered, forming a sheath around the pseudobulb. The flowers are arranged on an unbranched flowering stem which arises from the base of the pseudobulb or rarely from a leaf axil. The sepals and petals are usually thin and fleshy, free from and more or less similar to each other. The labellum (as in other orchids, a highly modified third petal) is significantly different from the other petals and sepals. It is sometimes hinged to the column, or otherwise fused to it. The labellum has three lobes, the side lobes erect, sometimes surrounding the column and the middle lobe often curving downwards. After pollination a glabrous capsule containing a large number of light coloured seeds is produced.[3][4][5]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

The genus Cymbidium was first formally described in 1799 by Olof Swartz who published the description in Nova acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum Upsaliensis.[1][6] The genus name Cymbidium is derived from the Latin word cymba meaning "cup" "bowl" or "boat"[7]:243 with the diminutive suffix -idium,[7]:491 hence "little boat", apparently in reference to the shape of the labellum in some species.[5]

Species list[edit]

The following is a list of Cymbidium species accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families as at January 2019:[1]

Cymbidium hybrid
Cymbidium hybrid
Cymbidium hybrid
Cymbidium hybrid

Natural Hybrids[edit]

  • Cymbidium × ballianum (= Cym. eburneum × Cym. mastersii) (Myanmar)
  • Cymbidium × baoshanense (= Cym. lowianum × Cym. tigrinum) (SC. Yunnan)
  • Cymbidium × chiu-lih(?) (= Cym. lancifolium × Cym. ensifolium) (China)
  • Cymbidium × nishiuchianum (= Cym. goeringii × Cym. kanran) (Taiwan)
  • Cymbidium × nishiuchianum (= Cym. goeringii subsp. goeringii var. formosanum × Cym. kanran) (Taiwan)
  • Cymbidium × florinda (= Cym. erythrostylum × Cym. iridioides. Cyperorchis × florinda) (Vietnam)
  • Cymbidium × gammieanum (= Cym. elegans × Cym. erythraeum. Cyperorchis × gammieana) (Nepal to Sikkim)
  • Cymbidium × glebelandensis (= Cym. insigne × Cym. schroederi) (Vietnam)
  • Cymbidium × jy-shiang(?) (= Cym. lancifolium × Cym. sinense) (China)
  • Cymbidium × rosefieldense (= Cym. hookerianum × Cym. tracyanum. Cyperorchis × rosefieldensis) (Vietnam)
  • Cymbidium × woodlandense (= Cym. mastersii × Cym. tracyanum. Cyperorchis × woodlandensis) (Myanmar)


This genus is distributed in tropical and subtropical Asia (such as northern India, China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Borneo) and Australia[8]. The larger flowered species from which the large flowered hybrids are derived grow at high altitudes.[9]

Culinary usage[edit]

The species Cymbidium hookerianum is considered a delicacy in Bhutan where it is traditionally cooked in a spicy curry or stew and called "olatshe" or "olachoto".[10] It is sometimes confused with Cyclanthera pedata, another local delicacy (the nomenclature has not been clearly established; there are indications that "olatshe" usually refers to Cymb. and "olachoto" to Cycl., although not consistently).

Asian Cymbidiums[edit]

Asian Cymbidiums or Chinese Cymbidiums refer to mainly five species of cymbidiums orchids that are found throughout East Asia in areas of China, Korea, Japan, India, and in parts of Thailand and Vietnam. These species are usually grown for their variegated leaves. But plants are also grown for their fragrant flowers and peloric flower structure. Plants are usually grown in long and thin vase like pots. The five species are:

  • Cymbidium ensifolium
  • Cymbidium faberi
  • Cymbidium goeringii (all the varieties like v. longibracteatum, v. lianpan, subsp. gracillimum are treated as different groups in the culture traditionally) Image
  • Cymbidium kanran
  • Cymbidium sinense


Cymbidiums are susceptible to a number of viruses and diseases, including:


  1. ^ a b c "Cymbidium". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  2. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. ^ Jones, David L. (2006). A complete guide to native orchids of Australia including the island territories. Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.: New Holland. p. 461. ISBN 1877069124.
  4. ^ "Cymbidium". Flora of China. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Cymbidium"". Trin keys. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  6. ^ Swartz, Olof (1799). Nova acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum Upsaliensis. Uppsala. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b Brown, Roland Wilbur (1956). The Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  8. ^ "Cymbidium suave". PlantNET - NSW Flora Online. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  9. ^ Cribb, P and du Puy, D The Genus Cymbidium Kew Publishing ISBN 978-1-84246-147-1, 2007.
  10. ^ Thapa, Laxmi. "Theresearch project on edible wild plants of Bhutan and their associated traditional knowledge" (PDF). Shinshu University, Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture. Retrieved 11 January 2019.

External links[edit]