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Pink rock orchid, Dendrobium kingianum
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Tribe: Dendrobieae
Subtribe: Dendrobiinae
Genus: Dendrobium

About 1,200; see List of Dendrobium species


Dendrobium is a genus of mostly epiphytic and lithophytic orchids in the family Orchidaceae. It is a very large genus, containing more than 1,800 species that are found in diverse habitats throughout much of south, east and southeast Asia, including China, Japan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, Vietnam and many of the islands of the Pacific. Orchids in this genus have roots that creep over the surface of trees or rocks, rarely having their roots in soil. Up to six leaves develop in a tuft at the tip of a shoot and from one to a large number of flowers are arranged along an unbranched flowering stem. Several attempts have been made to separate Dendrobium into smaller genera, but most have not been accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.


Dendrobium species are either epiphytic, or occasionally lithophytic. They have adapted to a wide variety of habitats, from the high altitudes in the Himalayan mountains to lowland tropical forests and even to the dry climate of the Australian desert.

This genus of sympodial orchids develop pseudobulbs, which vary in length from under a centimetre (e.g. Dendrobium leucocyanum) to several metres long (e.g. Dendrobium discolor), resembling canes. A few grow into long reedlike stems. Leaf bases form sheaths that completely envelope the stem. In the section Formosae (e.g. Dendrobium infundibulum), the sheaths and undersides of leaves are covered with fine short black hairs. Other species (e.g. Dendrobium senile), are covered with fine white hairs.

In selected species, the short, ovate leaves grow alternately over the whole length of the stems, in others, the leaves are bunched towards the apex of the stem (e.g. Dendrobium tetragonum). The axillary inflorescence vary in length from insignificant to 1 metre long, and can carry from a few (1-4) (e.g. Dendrobium nobile) to as many as 100 (e.g. Dendrobium speciosum) flowers. Deciduous species carry their leaves for one to two years then typically flower on leafless canes, while canes of evergreen species usually flower in the second year and can continue to flower for a number of years (e.g. Dendrobium densiflorum).

These orchids grow quickly throughout summer, but take a rest during winter. Dormant buds erupt into shoots from the base of the pseudobulb mainly in spring, and a few species in autumn. This is then followed by rapid growth of new roots. Reproduction is usually through seed, but a few species reproduce asexually through keikis produced along the stem, usually after flowering and sometimes as a result of injury to the growing tip.

The 1889 book 'The Useful Native Plants of Australia records that Dendrobium canaliculatum was called "Yamberin" by the Indigenous People of Queensland, Australia and that "The bulbous stems, after being deprived of the old leaves are edible (Thozet)."[2]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

The genus Dendrobium was first formally described in 1799 by Olof Swartz and the description was published in Nova Acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum Upsaliensis.[1][3] The name Dendrobium is derived from the Ancient Greek words dendron meaning "tree"[4]:813 and bios meaning "tree".[4]:478

In 1981, Friedrich Brieger reclassified all terete-leaved dendrobiums from Australia and New Guinea into a new genus, Dockrillia and in 2002 David Jones and Mark Clements separated the genus into smaller genera, including Thelychiton, Tropilis, Vappodes and Winika but all of these genera are regarded as synonyms by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.[1]

Selected species[edit]

The following list includes some of the species accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families as at November 2018:[1]

In horticulture[edit]

Dendrobium is commonly abbreviated as Den in horticulture. Some species are in great demand by orchid lovers. This has resulted in numerous varieties and hybrids, such as the Noble Dendrobium (D. nobile) breeds, which have greatly extended the range of colors of the original plant from the Himalayas. The flowers of Cuthbertson's Dendrobium (D. cuthbertsonii) have been reported to last up to ten months each.

Many Dendrobium species are known to vigorously remove toluene and xylene from the air.[5]

Several hybrids in this genus have been registered and named after notable persons and institutions:

Other uses by humans[edit]

Noble Dendrobium, Dendrobium nobile hybrid[verification needed]

Some Dendrobium species are cultivated as medicinal plants.[6] The Noble Dendrobium (D. nobile) for example is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as shí hú () or shí hú lán ().

Many species and cultivars of this genus are well-known floral emblems and have been figured in artwork. Among the former are:

The Cooktown orchid was figured on Australian stamps in 1968 and 1998, and flowers of several Dendrobium greges are depicted on the obverse side of the Singapore Orchid Series currency notes issued between 1967 and 1976:

  • Dendrobium Marjorie Ho – S$10[9]
  • Dendrobium Shangri-La – S$500[10]
  • Dendrobium Kimiyo Kondo – S$1000[11]

The golden-bow dendrobium (D. chrysotoxum), colloquially called fried-egg orchid was one of the species grown by the fictional private detective and orchid fancier Nero Wolfe, and plays a role in The Final Deduction.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Dendrobium". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  2. ^ J. H. Maiden (1889). The useful native plants of Australia : Including Tasmania. Turner and Henderson, Sydney.
  3. ^ Swartz, Olof (1799). "Dianome Epidendri Generis Linn". Nova Acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum Upsaliensis. 6: 82. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  4. ^ a b Brown, Roland Wilbur (1956). The Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  5. ^ Wolverton (1996)
  6. ^
  7. ^ Soediono, Noes, Arditti, Joseph and Soediono, Rubismo. Kimilsungia: How an Indonesian Orchid Became a Revered Symbol in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea After Its Name was Changed. Plant Science Bulletin 75 3 pp. 103-113
  8. ^ "Dendrobium utile J.J.Sm". Plants of the World Online.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  • Clements, M.A. (1989): Catalogue of Australian Orchidaceae. Australian Orchid Research 1: 1–62. PDF fulltext
  • Wolverton, B.C. (1996): How to Grow Fresh Air. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Lavarack, B., Harris, W., Stocker, G. (2006): Dendrobium and Its Relatives. Australia: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
  • Burke, J.M., Bayly, M.J., Adams, P.B., Ladiges, P.Y.: (2008) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Dendrobium (Orchidaceae), with emphasis on the Australian section Dendrocoryne, and implications for generic classification. Australian Systematic Botany 21: 1-14. Abstract

External links[edit]