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 kingianum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
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 species are mostly epiphytic, or lithophytic although a few species are terrestrial. They are sympodial herbs with cylindrical roots usually arising from the base of a pseudobulb. The pseudobulbs, when present, are hard, sometimes cane-like, cylindrical or cone-shaped and more or less covered with the bases of the leaves. There are from one to many leaves arranged in two ranks, the leaves varying in shape from linear to oblong, sometimes cylindrical but never channelled or grooved. They are usually much longer than wide and last for only a single season. Between one and a large number of resupinate or non-resupinate flowers are arranged along an unbranched flowering stem and may be short or long-lived. The flowers may be white, green, yellow, or pink to purple, often with contrasting colours in the labellum. The sepals and petals are usually free from and more or less similar to each other but markedly different from the labellum. The labellum is more or less egg-shaped, with the narrower end towards the base and flanks the column. There is often a callus consisting of narrow, parallel ridges, in the centre of the labellum.[2][3][4]

Taxonomy and naming

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][5] The name Dendrobium is derived from the Ancient Greek words dendron meaning "tree"[6]:813 and bios meaning "life",[6]:478 referring to the epiphytic habit of most species.[4]

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]

Distribution and habitat

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.

In horticulture

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 (Den. nobile) breeds, which have greatly extended the range of colors of the original plant from the Himalayas. The flowers of Cuthbertson's Dendrobium (Den. 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.[7]

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

Other uses by humans

Some Dendrobium species are cultivated as medicinal plants.[8] 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 ().

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)."[9]

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[12]
  • Dendrobium Shangri-La S$500[13]
  • Dendrobium Kimiyo Kondo S$1000[14]

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. "Dendrobium". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  2. Zhu, Guanghua; Ji, Zhanhe; Wood, Jeffrey J.; Wood, Howard P. "Dendrobium (石斛属 shi hu shu)". Flora of China. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  3. "Genus Dendrobium". Orchids of New Guinea. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  4. "Dendrobium". Trin keys. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  5. Swartz, Olof (1799). "Dianome Epidendri Generis Linn". Nova Acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum Upsaliensis. 6: 82. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  6. Brown, Roland Wilbur (1956). The Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  7. Wolverton (1996)
  9. J. H. Maiden (1889). The useful native plants of Australia : Including Tasmania. Turner and Henderson, Sydney.
  10. 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
  11. "Dendrobium utile J.J.Sm". Plants of the World Online.
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-24. Retrieved 2008-11-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-24. Retrieved 2008-11-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-25. Retrieved 2008-11-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  • Clements, M.A. (1989): Catalogue of Australian Orchidaceae. Australian Orchid Research 1: 45–64.
  • 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
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