How to Grow and Care For Lycaste Orchids

If you love caring for orchids, you will love the Lycaste orchid. Known for their large, fragrant flowers, Lycaste orchids are easy to care for. Here is all you need to know to care for one of these orchids.

A close-up showcasing yellow Lycaste orchids, their petals gently unfurling, revealing intricate details amidst lush green leaves. The yellow blooms boast striking deep red centers, adding a captivating contrast that draws the eye into their exquisite, delicate beauty.

Contents

Lycaste orchids are a small genus of orchids best known for their large, attractive flowers, most of which are pleasantly fragrant. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew recognizes 31 species of Lycaste, as well as two subspecies and three natural hybrids. Natural hybrids are created when two species bloom simultaneously and share the same pollinators. 

These beautiful plants are less common than some of the more widespread genera of orchids, such as Phalaenopsis, Vanda, and Dendrobium. However, they are gaining popularity and availability due to their easy-going nature. These orchids are great for breeders and collectors, as well. 

Lycaste Orchid Overview

A close-up of delicate pink lycaste orchids showcasing their intricate spathe and velvety petals. The light dances on the surface, highlighting the gentle curvature of each petal. These orchids exude a soft, ethereal allure, inviting admiration for their powdery texture.
Plant Type Sympodial Epiphyte
Family Orchidaceae
Genus Lycaste
Species 30+
Native Area Central America
Exposure Bright Indirect Light
Height up to 2’
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests and Diseases Aphids, Caterpillars, Botrytis, Root Rot
Maintenance Moderate
Soil Type Orchid Bark
Soil pH Neutral to Acidic

History

A pink-white Lycaste orchid dangles gracefully from its slender stem, displaying its intricate petals in gentle folds. The blurred backdrop reveals a verdant tapestry of lengthy, vibrant leaves, enhancing the allure of the solitary orchid in exquisite contrast.
The plant was named by botanist John Lindley in 1843.

The first species of Lycaste orchid was discovered in 1798 but gained most of its popularity during the Victorian Era. English botanist John Lindley named the genus for the Trojan princess and daughter of King Priam of Greek mythology

Native Area

A close-up of a luminous white lycaste orchid, petals aglow in the radiant light. The vivid yellow center serves as a captivating focal point against the soft, blurred backdrop of lush foliage.
They thrive across Central America, the West Indies, and the South American Andes.

Lycaste orchids are native primarily to Central America but can also be found in the West Indies and the South American Andes. They are adaptable in terms of environment and can be found from lowland areas to elevations of up to 6,000 feet. L. skinneri, which is the most popular species, is typically found growing at higher elevations

Characteristics

Yellow sweet scented lycaste orchids rise elegantly, their slender stems reaching skyward in delicate poise. A blurred backdrop unveils muted green orchid roots, a serene canvas enhancing the orchids' vibrant beauty.
Lycaste orchids exhibit a unique mix of evergreen and deciduous varieties, all with large, fragrant flowers.

Lycaste orchids have a unique characteristic not often seen in orchids. Some plants are evergreen, like most orchids, but others are deciduous, losing their leaves and flowering on leafless stems. Some varieties of dendrobium orchids are deciduous, but as a whole, the family is largely evergreen.

These orchids are cultivated specifically for their flowers, as most orchids are. Lycaste orchids are well known for their flower spikes, which hold large, wonderfully fragrant flowers. Their blooming period is during winter and spring.

A single plant can produce several flower spikes, each producing more than one flower. The flowers are large (three to six inches) and are very colorful and showy. The flowers are triangular and have a waxy texture. They are known for being long-lasting as well as fragrant. 

Lycaste orchids are considered sympodial epiphytes. Epiphytic plants grow in trees or other sparse environments and derive their moisture and nutrients from the rain and the humidity in the air. Their roots are exposed to the air. In cultivation, epiphytes need good drainage and air circulation around their roots. Otherwise, they are likely to rot. 

Sympodial orchids grow horizontally along a central rhizome, which produces pseudobulbs. Each pseudobulb produces its own leaves and flowers, and then when it is spent, the nutrients contained within the bulb are useful for the rest of the plant to produce new growth and support flowering. 

Uses

A close-up of a purple lycaste orchid, displaying delicate veining and a velvety texture on its petals. The intricate patterns draw focus, while a soft blur reveals hints of another orchid and lush green leaves in the background.
Lycaste orchids are primarily cultivated for their ornamental beauty.

Except for the vanilla orchid, most orchids are only cultivated for ornamental purposes. All orchids are edible, and the flowers can be used as a beautiful garnish. For the most part, Lycaste orchids are grown expressly for their beauty and ornamental purposes.

Planting

An orchid graces a wooden table, revealing its intricate roots shaped like a container, set for transplantation. Nearby, purple pots and a basin of bark chips add contrasting hues and textures.
Evergreen Lycaste orchids thrive indoors in zones outside 9-12, while deciduous varieties tolerate outdoor growth.

Most orchids can be grown outdoors in zones 9-12. Evergreen lycaste orchids prefer consistency in their climate, so they should be kept indoors all year outside of those climate zones. Deciduous types can handle larger temperature fluctuations, so they can be grown outdoors and only brought indoors when cold weather comes to visit.

There are three different types of commercially available pots made specifically for orchids. These pots have extra drainage holes to allow air to circulate around an orchid’s roots.

  1. Hanging Orchid Baskets – These wide-slatted hanging baskets do a great job of mimicking an orchid’s natural environment. They allow for maximum drainage and airflow to the plant’s roots. However, they can be a bit messy, and the potting medium will tend to fall through the openings, making this less than ideal for indoor orchids.
  2. Terracotta Orchid Pots – These look just like standard terracotta pots, but they have more drainage holes in the bottom and, often, the sides. The clay is good at wicking moisture away from the roots, so these are great for root health.
  3. Ceramic Orchid Pots – These are by far the most visually appealing and decorative of the three types, and if you are on top of your watering game, they work great. Sadly, they don’t wick moisture in the same way as an unglazed clay pot will, so they do tend to create a higher risk of root rot.

How to Grow

If you have succeeded in growing other orchid types, Lycaste orchids shouldn’t be a problem. As long as their needs are met, these are easy orchids to care for. Deciduous types will be a bit sturdier and easier to care for, but Lycaste orchids are generally not considered high maintenance. 

Light

A close-up showcasing a lycaste orchid in full bloom, standing out against a backdrop of lush, blurred leaves. The delicate petals boast a captivating pink hue adorned with intricate, deep pink spots.
The deciduous varieties require more sunlight, around 50% shade, while evergreen types thrive in 60-80% shade.

The preferred lighting conditions for orchids vary based on type. Deciduous Lycaste orchids need significantly more light than the evergreen types. Deciduous types need a similar exposure to orchids in the Cattleya genus, which is significantly more than most orchids. 

While they prefer the light they get to be indirect, deciduous Lycaste orchids need about 50% shade. You can give them direct sun as long as it occurs during the early hours of the day. To produce flowers, these orchids need a significant amount of sunlight. They should, however, be protected from direct sun in the afternoon. 

Evergreen Lycaste orchids need significantly less light. These are more similar to Phalaenopsis orchids in terms of their exposure needs. If your Lycaste orchid is evergreen, it will thrive in 60-80% shade and shouldn’t get any direct sunlight.

In general, most orchids prefer their sunlight filtered. They grow in trees in the wild, receiving light filtered through the tree canopy. A sheer curtain is a great way to give your orchids the right type of sunlight. I find that mine do well on the inside of a privacy glass window in the bathroom. 

Water

A hand gently grips a slender white spray bottle. It spritzes a fine mist of water over the glossy green leaves of a potted orchid, droplets glistening like morning dew on its supple surface.
They require more frequent watering during their growth and blooming periods.

Your Lycaste orchids should be watered more frequently during their growing and flowering periods. Orchids typically need their potting medium to dry between waterings, but these orchids like a bit more water and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely during the growth phase.

In the summer, you may need to water every three days to meet your orchid’s needs. Ensure that the container and potting mix drain freely, as this will help prevent any fungal root rot from setting in.

In the winter, after your orchid has bloomed, you can drastically reduce watering. Deciduous Lycaste orchids need little to no water while they are dormant. Evergreen types should be watered sparingly. Every seven to ten days is more than enough during the cooler months. 

Soil

A close-up of an orchid soil mix. The mix consists of fine-grade bark chips. Its porous texture facilitates proper water retention without causing excessive saturation, creating an optimal environment for healthy orchid growth.
Use a well-draining potting mix like specialty orchid bark to prevent root rot in orchids.

Orchid roots are delicate and very susceptible to root rot. For this reason, a standard potting mix is not appropriate for these plants, as it holds too much water. Specialty orchid bark is widely available at most plant retailers. This mixture of bark, charcoal, and, typically, perlite is a great combination for keeping your plant’s roots healthy.

If you prefer to mix your own potting medium, two parts bark to one part charcoal, pumice, or perlite is a good place to start. Just make sure that your potting mix drains freely.

When your potting medium stays wet, the organic materials decay, inviting fungus to step in and make a mess of things. Keeping everything draining well is the best way to combat root rot. 

Temperature and Humidity

A stunning close-up captures the delicate pink Lycaste orchids in full bloom, glistening with fresh water droplets, enhancing their ethereal beauty. Nestled beside these blossoms, ferns add a touch of verdant elegance.
Evergreen orchids prefer stable temperatures between 60-80°F, avoiding extremes of heat.

Regarding temperature, there is a difference between the needs of deciduous and evergreen orchids. Evergreen types prefer lower light conditions and do not like extreme heat. These orchids prefer temperatures to be consistent and stay in the range of 60-80°F.

Deciduous Lycaste orchids are a bit tougher when it comes to temperatures and can tolerate much more heat. Up to 95°F is okay for these orchids. They also tolerate larger temperature shifts and are fine down to 50°F when dormant. 

All types of Lycaste orchids need a fair amount of humidity. Keeping the air around them in the 50-80% humidity range will keep these plants looking and performing their best. You can use a pebble tray or humidifier to achieve this. 

I keep my indoor orchids in a bathroom window, as this is the most humid room in the house and doesn’t require supplemental moisture. It is very important to maintain good air circulation around your humidity-loving plants to prevent fungus from growing.

Fertilizing

A close-up of careful hands cradling blue artificial fertilizer granules, highlighting the attention to detail in their application. The blurry grassy backdrop suggests an outdoor setting, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between the fertilizer and the lush greenery it supports.
All Lycaste orchid varieties thrive in 50-80% humidity, achievable through methods like pebble trays or humidifiers.

Orchids are heavy feeders and love to be fertilized. During their growing season, spring and summer, give your Lycaste orchids a fertilizer high in nitrogen to help them produce more pseudobulbs. You can fertilize your orchids every two weeks during this time, and the plant will love you for it. 

In the fall, as pseudobulbs mature, switch to a fertilizer higher in phosphorus, which will help your plant produce more and stronger flowers.

It is also fine to give your orchids an all-purpose fertilizer year-round. A 10-10-10 formula diluted to ½ strength will give them the necessary nutrients. 

Maintenance

A close-up of red Lycaste Tropic Fire orchids display intricate petals against a backdrop of lush green stems, illuminated by the sun's gentle rays. Elegant water droplets delicately adorn the surface of a few flowers.
In spring and summer, use nitrogen-rich fertilizer every two weeks for Lycaste orchids.

Orchids don’t require regular pruning at specific intervals. When leaves are damaged or dying, it’s a good idea to remove them to help prevent rot. Otherwise, these plants only need to be repotted when they outgrow their container, which should be every few years. 

Give these sympodial orchids plenty of room to grow when you pot them. Place the oldest pseudobulbs toward the side of the container, allowing your plant to produce more pseudobulbs and grow horizontally. An occasional application of bonemeal will give your orchids a boost, as well. Just be careful not to overdo it. 

Propagation

A close-up capturing delicate baby leaf orchids, their vibrant green hues accentuated by the transparent pot housing them. Visible roots intertwine within the container, showcasing the plant's growth process, while a soft blur hints at adjacent pots holding similar orchids.
They need occasional pruning for damaged leaves and repotting every few years.

You can propagate orchids from seeds, but the process is long, arduous, and requires very specific conditions. For this reason, most orchids are propagated by division, or keikis, which are offsets that the plant produces. 

Sympodial orchids are easy to divide. When you repot your orchid, you can simply cut through the rhizome, sectioning off clumps of pseudobulbs. Make sure that you leave at least four pseudobulbs on each division, as these hold nutrients that will help produce and support new growth. 

Common Problems

While they are not difficult to care for, some issues could appear with these orchids that are similar to the issues facing other types of orchids

Not Blooming

An Aggregatum orchid, leafy and vibrant, sprawls within a suspended clay pot, its aerial roots peeking out. Around it, a cluster of greenery creates a lush, botanical tableau, showcasing a diverse mix of foliage textures.
Insufficient sunlight or nutrients are common reasons for orchids not blooming.

If your orchid fails to bloom, the culprit is usually a lack of sunlight or a lack of nutrients. You can adjust these elements easily if the plant looks otherwise healthy. If your orchid produces abundant dark green growth but no flowers, the issue is related to sunlight, and your plant needs to be closer to a light source. 

Losing Leaves

A brown pot contains an orchid plant with yellowing leaves, signaling nutrient deficiency. The pot rests on a sturdy wooden table, set against a textured brick wall. The table holds purple orchids and a lone yellow leaf.
Lycaste orchids shed leaves from spent pseudobulbs when they lack nutrients.

It is common for the leaves to fall off of the pseudobulbs of sympodial orchids when they are spent and no longer provide enough nutrients to support growth. In other words, orchids drop leaves, just like most plants, when those leaves have run out of nutrients.

Some Lycaste orchids are deciduous and will lose all their leaves once per year, right before or after blooming. If your leaves are turning yellow and falling off at the wrong time of year, you could have an issue with insects or root rot. Root rot shows up as yellowing at the base of leaves and spreads gradually. 

Shriveled Leaves

A close-up of green orchid leaves adorned with budding flowers. However, the buds, once promising, now display a telltale yellow hue, their graceful form beginning to wilt and shrink.
Overwatering can lead to dried-up, raisin-like leaves in orchids.

If your leaves look like they are drying up like a raisin, that is most likely what is happening. It is easy to create unhealthy watering practices with orchids because of their sensitivity to overwatering. It is much easier to correct an underwatering issue. 

Pests

A close-up reveals small, cotton-like mealybugs congregating on vibrant green orchid leaves. Their tiny, pear-shaped bodies and waxy coating protect them as they feed on the plant's sap, posing a threat to the orchid's health.
Orchids attract sap-sucking insects like spider mites and aphids, leading to nutrient depletion.

Orchids are appealing to insects that like to suck their sweet sap and deplete the plants of nutrients and water. Spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, and scale are some common culprits. Most of these insects can be eliminated with neem oil or insecticidal soaps.

Not only do insects deplete the plant of nutrients, but they also leave behind a sticky excrement, which provides the perfect environment for black sooty mold to grow. Black sooty mold is unsightly, but more than its cosmetic nuisance, it interferes with photosynthesis.

Diseases

Yellowing orchid leaves show signs of disease, exhibiting blotches and discoloration, indicating a potential fungal or bacterial infection. A transparent pot cradles the orchid, revealing its intricate root system entwined within the soil.
Prevent diseases in orchids by maintaining good plant hygiene and using clean tools.

Several fungal and bacterial diseases can affect your orchid. Many of these are waterborne and travel from one infected plant to another by water droplets that splash onto your plant when watering. 

Good plant hygiene and watering practices are the best ways to prevent diseases from affecting your plants. Always clean your tools before cutting any plant tissue, and isolate any plants affected by disease. 

Lycaste skinneri

A Lycaste skinneri orchid showcases delicate, light pink spathe gracefully enfolding creamy white petals, surrounding a radiant yellow center in full bloom. Adjacent, a companion orchid offers a serene visual.
This is widely used in hybridization due to its white color.
botanical-name botanical name Lycaste skinneri or Lycaste virginalis
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
height height 1’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-12

L. skinneri is the most popular species of Lycaste orchid, and it is especially well-liked for its use in hybridization because of its pure white color.

There are many hybrid varieties of this species in different color combinations, with purple being a common accent shade. This is an evergreen orchid, so it doesn’t like direct sunlight and needs fairly consistent temperatures, making it a good houseplant. 

Lycaste macrophylla

Red lycaste macrophylla orchids showcasing deep red spathe amidst lush green leaves in the blurred backdrop. The delicate white petals are adorned with distinct red spots, creating an exquisite contrast.
Lycaste macrophylla boasts large, fragrant flowers spanning up to six inches in diameter.
botanical-name botanical name Lycaste macrophylla
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
height height 1’-2’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-12

Another popular species of Lycaste, L. macrophylla, is named for its extra-large flowers. Some plants can produce flowers that are up to six inches across! Their flowers are fragrant, and they are very long-lasting. 

The flowers are so large on this species that the stems commonly need to be supported to hold up under the weight of these impressive blooms. This type needs very high humidity and thrives best under shaded greenhouse conditions. 

Lycaste aromatica

Lycaste aromatica flowers, vibrant in yellow hues, unfurl in full bloom. Soft light cascades gently, enveloping the blooms in a warm embrace, enhancing their vivid tones and illuminating intricate details.
Fragrant and deciduous, the L. aromatica orchid yields numerous cinnamon-scented, yellow blooms.
botanical-name botanical name Lycaste aromatica
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial sun
height height 12”-18”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-12

You can probably tell from this species’ name that it is a fragrant orchid. L. aromatica produces abundant bright yellow blooms that smell like cinnamon when they open.

These are deciduous species, so they bloom in spring on leafless stems. They tolerate more sun and temperature fluctuations than evergreen species, making them a good outdoor option. 

Lycaste tricolor

A close-up showcases the exquisite lycaste tricolor orchid adorned with dew drops. The snowy-white petals and green spathe create a captivating visual contrast. The blurred leafy background enhances the orchid's elegance and allure.
Lycaste tricolor orchids boast red, green, and white hues on individual flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Lycaste tricolor
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
height height 1’-2’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-12

L. tricolor is named for its tryptic of shades, usually red, green, and white, appearing on a single flower. This species is usually, but not always, deciduous and can tolerate a bit more sun. When kept indoors, it may behave as an evergreen. The flowers are small and plentiful on this plant, which also prefers high humidity. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Lycaste orchids expensive?

They can be, but some varieties are more expensive than others. The price is determined by the rarity of the variety, with more common plants landing in the affordable range of $25-$50 for a specimen that is of blooming age.

Are Lycaste orchids safe for animals?

All orchids are pet-safe, with the entire plant being edible. Eating a large quantity of pseudobulbs may cause some stomach issues, but beyond some discomfort, these plants will cause no significant or lasting harm to an animal that consumes them.

How long do Lycaste orchid flowers last?

Lycaste orchids are known for the longevity of their flowers. It is common for one of these orchids to hold onto their flowers for two months, and occasionally longer.

Final Thoughts

This stunning and sweet-smelling species of orchid makes a wonderful starter plant and a gorgeous addition to any orchid collection. Its ease of care and large, fragrant, long-lasting flowers make this a highly desirable and sought-after orchid for collectors and those who enjoy hybridization.

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