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Comprehensive Description

The genus Cymbidium (the boat orchids) includes approximately 52 species of sympodial, pseudobulbous, herbaceous orchids. They are native to the Old World and were first described by Olof Swartz in 1799. The name is derived from the Greek word kumbos, meaning "hole" or "cavity", a reference to the hollow boat-shaped lip.

The vigorous plants are variously epiphytic, terrestrial, or lithophytic and occur as far north as the Korean Peninsula, with species found in Japan, China, India, the Himalayas (including Bhutan and Assam) and through Southeast Asia and Indonesia to Australia. They are easily recognizable by their ovoid pseudobulbs and basal inforescences. Many species bear spectacular flowers.

The thousands of hybrid cymbidiums are among the most popular cultivated orchids due to their adaptability, cold tolerance, and spectacular flowers in a wide array of colors. Cymbidiums have replaced the cattleya as the most popular cut flower orchid for corsages and arrangements, making them of great commercial and economic importance.

Most of the large-flowered hybrids are derived from cool to cold growing species from the Himalayas and require cool winter night time temperatures (in the 40's F) in order to bloom. Inability to supply cool temperatures to the plants is the main reason for blooming failures with these hybrids.

Some of the smaller cymbidiums from China Japan, Korea, India, and Southeast Asia were collected and grown by Chinese scholars for many centuries and were likely the first cultivated orchids. Often prized more for their foliage than for the flowers, various variegated forms were selected and meticulously cultivated by these scholars.

Referred to as "Lan" in Chinese, these orchids were considered to be emblematic of the scholarly and virtuous man. Poetry and paintings depicting these revered orchids can be found in ancient literature and artwork. The gift of such an orchid was considered a supreme compliment and is still considered so today.

The five best known species cultivated in China are C. ensifolium, C. kanran, C. goeringii, C. sinense, and C. faberi.

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In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / feeds on
Colletotrichum coelomycetous anamorph of Colletotrichum crassipes feeds on Cymbidium

Foodplant / pathogen
Cymbidium Mosaic virus infects and damages streaked leaf of Cymbidium

Plant / resting place / on
Dichromothrips orchidis may be found on live flower stalk of Cymbidium

Foodplant / sap sucker
Lepidosaphes pinnaeformis sucks sap of live leaf of Cymbidium


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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 73
Specimens with Sequences: 85
Specimens with Barcodes: 81
Species: 27
Species With Barcodes: 26
Public Records: 68
Public Species: 26
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Barcode data

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For the brachiopod genus, see Cymbidium (brachiopod).
Cymbidium Clarisse 'Best Pink'
Cymbidium Hybrid
Golden Leaf-edge Orchid
(Cymbidium floribundum)

Cymbidium /sɪmˈbɪdiəm/,[1] or boat orchid, is a genus of 52 evergreen species in the orchid family Orchidaceae. The new Latin genus name is derived from the Latin cymba meaning boat. Its first known use was in1815.


This genus is distributed in tropical and subtropical Asia (such as northern India, China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Borneo) and northern Australia. The larger flowered species from which the large flowered hybrids are derived grow at high altitudes.[2]

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".[3][4][5] 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).


Cymbidium plants are sympodial and grow to a height of 60 cm and the racemes as high as 90 cm. The raceme grows from the base of the most recent pseudobulb. Each flower can have a diameter of 5 to 10 cm, according to the species. They bloom during the winter, and each plant can have up to fifteen or more flowers. The fantastic range of colors for this genus include white, green, yellowish-green, cream, yellow, brown, pink, and red [and orange] and black (and there may be markings of other color shades at the same time), but not blue. The flowers last about ten weeks. They have a waxy texture. The rounded sepals and petals have about the same dimensions.

There are fragrant varieties as well, notably the Chinese cymbidiums. They have been cultivated for thousands of years, especially in China. Cymbidiums became popular in Europe during the Victorian era. One feature that makes the plant so popular is the fact that it can survive during cold temperatures (as low as 7˚ C or 45˚ F) [Actually they will survive at temperatures below 32˚F for short periods and even as low as 28˚F].


Natural Hybrids[edit]

Asian Cymbidium[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:


Cymbidiums are susceptible to the Tobacco mosaic virus and Cymbidium mosaic potexvirus.


  1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  2. ^ Cribb, P and du Puy, D The Genus Cymbidium Kew Publishing ISBN 978-1-84246-147-1, 2007.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
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