cymbidium orchid care

Cymbidium (Boat) Orchids: Types, How to Grow and Care

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Are you fascinated with orchids? If yes, then you’re probably aware of cymbidium orchids or more popularly known as boat orchids.

Boat orchids are one of the most beautiful types of exotic flowers frequently used in flower arrangements and corsages.

Although they are more demanding than the other types of orchids grown as houseplants, their attractive, long-lasting, and large flower spikes won’t make you think twice about including them in your house plant collection. 

Here are some useful facts about cymbidium and a guide on how to grow these orchid flowers

yellow cymbidium orchids

Facts About Cymbidium Orchids

Cymbidium orchids are evergreen plants that originated from Southeast Asia, Australia, and China (1). They are mainly cultivated as potted plants and cut flowers for commercial uses. 

The Cymbidium genus is part of the Orchidaceae botanical family. It has hundreds of cultivars available in a wide range of colors, including white, green, yellow, pink, red, and many others, both in miniature and standard sizes (1).

Plant Description

cymbidium orchid with purplish red center

Cymbidium orchids are mostly terrestrial, but some species are epiphytic. There are two general types of this plant: standard cymbidiums, which are large plants with strap-like leaves, and miniature cymbidiums, which are hybrids and smaller in size than the standard type. 

The flowers of cymbidiums are large, usually measuring up to 10 cm, with five segments of waxy petals and sepals that are more often not brightly-colored. The common name boat orchid refers to the flower’s unusual, boat-like lip or labellum, which features a hollow portion. The genus name originated from the Greek word kymbe that means boat. 

The flowers are showy, grow in clusters on long flower stalks, and last up to 10 weeks. The leaves of boat orchids are green and measure up to at least 35 cm in length (1). They are linear and strap-like, which make them distinct from other types of orchids. They also have large, rounded pseudobulbs, and thick, fleshy roots.

Popular Cymbidium Orchids Species

Noble Orchid (Cymbidium goeringii)

Cymbidium goeringii
Photo by 阿橋 HQ | Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Common names: Noble Orchid, Goering’s Cymbidium, Leek Orchid, Riverstream Orchid, Korean Spring Orchid

Noble Orchids are evergreen small species of cymbidium native to East Asia, including Japan, Korea, India, Bhutan, and China. They are widely cultivated for their beautiful flowers that are not only long-lasting but also fragrant (2). Because of their strong musk fragrance, the flowers have become popularly used as tea flavorings in Japan. 

Among the noteworthy features of Cymbidium goeringii are long and grass-like leaves with serrated edges, underground flattened pseudobulbs, and fleshy, thick roots. The solitary to few (up to three) flowers bloom during the winter and spring on a short inflorescence. 

This type of cymbidium orchid is cold-tolerant, which makes them popular in China and Japan since the 14th century. Its extract is used in herbal medicine. 

Here are some of the most recognized varieties of noble cymbidiums:

  • Cymbidium goeringii var. longibracteatum
  • Cymbidium goeringii var. goeringii 
  • Cymbidium goeringii var. tortisepalum
  • Cymbidium goeringii var. gracillimum

Four-Season Orchid (Cymbidium ensifolium)

cymbidium ensifolium
Cymbidium ensifolium by 阿橋 HQ | Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Common names: Four-Season Orchids, Sword-Leaf Orchids, Rock Orchids, Burned-Apex Orchids, Spring Orchids, Day’s Cymbidium

C. ensifolium, or more popularly known as four-season orchid, is another oriental orchid recognized for its fragrant and elegant flowers. It is widely cultivated worldwide, including the Philippines, New Guinea, Borneo, Japan, and China. It showcases beautiful blooms multiple times a year (3). 

Four-season orchids are part of the miniature cymbidiums group, growing up to 12” in height. They are also known as the cymbidium with sword-shaped leaves, primarily because of the appearance of the foliage which is straw-yellow to green and grass-like. In fact, the species name ensifolium comes from the Latin words ensis and folium, meaning sword and leaf, respectively. 

C. ensifolium ‘Iron Bone’, C. ensifolium ‘Jin He’, and C. ensifolium ‘Su Sin Lan’ are some of the most recognized varieties of this cymbidium orchid.

Chinese Cymbidium (Cymbidium sinense)

Cymbidium sinense 'Green Petal'
Cymbidium sinense ‘Green Petal’ by 阿橋 HQ | Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Common name: The Chinese Cymbidium

Chinese cymbidium orchids (C. sinense) are terrestrial orchids endemic to Northern Vietnam and Southern China. Lovely clusters of more or less 20 flowers per inflorescence show an exquisite display during fall to spring. Each flower grows up to 5 cm in width and oozes with fragrance.

This perennial orchid typically grows up to 12 to 18 inches in height with yellow, green, or burgundy flowers and green, strap-like leaves. The leaves emerge from a pseudobulb. 

Cymbidium sinense ‘Chin Hua Shan’ is one of the many cultivars of this species. While this compact cultivar produces fewer flowers compared to other popular cultivars of Chinese cymbidiums, the sweet fragrance and overall quality of its flowers outweigh this. Also, the leaves of this cultivar feature variegated edges that make it unique. 

Cold Growing Cymbidium (Cymbidium kanran)

Cymbidium kanran
Photo by 阿橋 HQ | Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Common names: The Cold-Growing Cymbidium, Winter Orchid

C. kanran, also known as the cold-growing orchid, thrives well under cold conditions and a native from China, Japan, and Taiwan. This species of cymbidium orchids is a medium- to a large-sized type that grows from long, large, and cylindrical roots and narrowly ovoid pseudobulbs. It is highly valued as an ornamental primarily because of its delicate scent and attractive blooms.

The leaves of this species are linear-elliptic, dark green, and often feature serrulate edges towards the tip of the leaf blade. Also, these plants have narrow leaves and petals compared to Chinese cymbidiums, and their flower bracts are longer.

Finlayson’s Cymbidium (Cymbidium finlaysonianum)

Cymbidium finlaysonianum
Photo by Jungle Rebel | Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Common name: Finlayson’s Cymbidium

Finlayson’s Cymbidium is a sympodial epiphytic or terrestrial herbaceous orchid that can be found throughout Asia, particularly in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam (4).

A renowned ornamental plant, this type of cymbidium orchids features leathery, strap-like leaves that grow up to 80 cm in length and 4 cm in width. Its flowers can grow up to 5 cm in diameter with a three-lobed lip and curved column (4). The flowers of this orchid range in color from red to white and yellow.

Growing Cymbidium Orchids

white cymbidium orchid

Because of their appealing flowers with unique shape and irresistible fragrance, this type of orchid plays an important role in the world of ornamentals. One of the most recognized types of orchid flowers, cymbidiums are highly-valued not just as ornamental plants for flower arrangements, but also as garden and house plants. Below are some useful tips on how to grow and care for cymbidiums.


Cymbidium orchids are light-loving plants. When taking care of them indoors, place them near an east-facing window or a south window, but not under direct sunlight. Exposure of cymbidiums in full sun all day would make the colors of the flowers fade.

As with other orchids types, the leaves are a good indication if the plant is getting sufficient light or not. Darker than usual leaves mean that the plant is not getting enough light source, while leaves that are slightly red mean that it is getting too much (5). Plants with insufficient light often fail to re-bloom. 

Temperature and Humidity

Compared to other popular orchids like phalaenopsis and delphiniums, cymbidiums are more tolerant of cold weather conditions. These plants require a day temperature of about 75° F and a night temperature between 50-60° F to induce flowering. Miniature cymbidiums, on the other hand, initiate flower spiking at 5-10° F warmer conditions (5).

Humidity is another factor worth considering. For cymbidiums to produce exquisite flowers, the ideal humidity should be around 50% (5). The plants should be kept moist but not drenched. 


Orchids, in general, prefer moist conditions, and cymbidiums are no exception. These plants require consistent watering with tepid water during the spring and summer but make sure to avoid overwatering them. Too much watering may result in damage to the plant. Reduce the frequency of watering during the late summer through winter.


Fertilize cymbidium orchid plants weekly after watering with a half-strength balanced fertilizer (20-20-20). 

Growing Media and Pot Size

Grow cymbidium orchids in a bark-based potting media with excellent drainage. Repotting should be made after flowering in spring, ideally every two to three years, but make sure that the new shoots are about 5 to 6 inches long. Transfer to a larger pot when the root ball is in good condition. 

Pest and Diseases

Though not commonly infested with pests and diseases, cymbidiums can be prone to aphids, mites, and viral diseases. 


Reference List:

  1. (2020). Cymbidium Orchid. [online] Available at:  
  2. Park, H., Kang, K., Kim, D., and Sivanesan, I. (2018). In vitro propagation of Cymbidium goeringii Reichenbach fil. through direct adventitious shoot regeneration. Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, 24(2), pp.307-313.
  3. Wei, Y., Jin, J., Yao, X., Lu, C., Zhu, G., and Yang, F. (2020). Transcriptome Analysis Reveals Clues into leaf-like flower mutant in Chinese orchid Cymbidium ensifolium. Plant Diversity, 42(2), pp.92-101.
  4. (2020). [online] Available at:
  5. Smithsonian Gardens. (2020). Care of Cymbidium – Smithsonian Gardens. [online] Available at: 


*Photo by hurricanehank/depositphotos

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