What does an orchid smell like? The question really should be, what doesn’t an orchid smell like!
With around 30,000 species the orchid family comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and scents.
Some have no scent, some smell disgusting, but some emit beautiful smells ranging from cherry pie to vanilla, from chocolate to cinnamon.
In this article, we are going to try and shed more light on the various scents orchids have.
So if you want a beautiful smelling orchid, read on!
What Does An Orchid Smell Like?
They smell like rose, citrus, jasmine, raspberry, pina coladas, coconut, cloves, vanilla, chocolate… In fact practically anything. With almost 30,000 species of orchids there are literally thousands of different scents, including a few rather disgusting ones. Some are strong, some are mild and there are some that don’t smell at all.
Alongside the sunflower family (Asteraceae), the orchid family (Orchidaceae) is the largest family of flowering plants on earth.
However, unlike sunflowers, which generally don’t smell too much, the aroma of orchids is as wide and varied as you can get.
There aren’t many families of flowers that range from the smell of excrement and rotting fish to the smell of spiced cookies and peppermint!
Let’s take a look at some of the best-smelling orchids out there.
Orchids With a Beautiful Scent
This section is based on personal experience alongside the experience of others. I have grown many, but not all of these.
Remember that many orchids’ fragrancies vary depending upon the time of the day, the weather conditions and their maturity.
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Also as a caveat, our sense of smell varies from person to person, so if you have grown one of the below varieties and think it smells nothing like the description I have given, then we will have to agree to disagree!
- Brassocattleya ‘Hawaii Stars’: A mix of rose, citrus and jasmine
- Calauthron Bicornutum: An unusual scent that is hard to describe, but somewhat similar to fruit and candies.
- Chinese Cymbidiums: Very powerful, sweet and floral smell.
- Clowesia Rebecca Northen ‘Mikabi-Schanz: A very medicinal smell, almost like Vick’s Vaporub, in the morning, with a cinnamony smell in the afternoon.
- Cycnoches Wine Delight: A mild peppery smell balanced by a stronger sweet scent.
- Dendrobium Anosmum: A understated raspberry scent
- Dendrobium Curtis Twinkle: Cherry twizzlers!
- Epidendrum Falcatum: A delicate jasmine smell in the morning, a stronger scent like Easter lilies in the afternoon.
- Iwanagara Apple Blossom: Yep you guessed it! A gorgeous, delicate smell of apple blossom.
- Leptotes Bicolor: Like pina coladas? This has a scent like a cross between the cocktail and vanilla and emits its scent in the early morning.
- Lycaste Locusta: The color and scent of granny-smith apples.
- Masdevallia Glandulosa: Lovely smell of sweet cloves.
- Maxillaria Tenuifolia: A cross between coconut and suntan lotion.
- Miltoniopsis Herralexander: A beautiful smell akin to roses and citrus.
- Miltonia Spectabilis and Moreliana: A blend of cloves, cinnamon, licorice, and an overarching floral smell that remains strongly fragrant all day.
- Oncidium Sharry Baby: One of the most popular scented orchids out there, beautiful combination of chocolate and vanilla and as a bonus, it is quite easy to care for.
- Oncidium Sotoanum: A relative of Oncidium Sharry Baby, this has an intense chocolatey smell.
- Oncidium Twinkle: A beautiful display to go alongside a lovely vanilla fragrance.
- Phalaenopsis Bellina: A very floral and citrusy scent.
- Phalaenopsis Corningiana: A strong mix of grape candy, lemon and mint, that is fragrant in the morning.
- Phalaenopsis Violacea: Think of freshly baked Christmas cookies!
- Phragmipedium Schlimii: Mild undertones of raspberries and roses.
- Potinara Burana Beauty Burana: A lovely rose and citrus combination.
- Rhynchostylis Coelestis: Smells like soft fabric conditioner
- Stanhopeas: An intriguing chocolate-peppermint smell, that usually lasts for around three days.
- Trichopilia Suavis: This one fills the room and has a musky, rose-like smell.
- Zygopetalum Intermedium: A cross between roses and lilacs.
Orchids With a Disgusting Scent
In the interests of fairness, I have to admit there are some extremely unpleasant-smelling orchids out there!
Generally, these fall within the Bulbophyllum species although there are some Phalaenopsis hybrids I have grown that are reminiscent of the smell of burning rubber!
Bulbophyllums are generally red and a bit hairy! Their unusual scent is an attempt to attract insects that thrive on decaying matter.
- Bulbophyllum Beccarii: Smells of rotting animal flesh.
- Bulbophyllum Echinolabium: Smells of dog excrement.
- Bulbophyllum Orientale: Smells of rotting apples and bananas.
- Bulbophyllum Carunculatum: Smells of very old brie cheese.
- Bulbophyllum Psychoon: Smells of rotting fish or pond scum.
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Orchids Without a Scent
There are many big-box orchids you will find in supermarkets that aren’t fragrant at all.
This is because sellers have enhanced the blossoming time, the size of the flowers and placed less emphasis on the aroma, as that will often be the least obvious thing to someone looking to buy an orchid.
Orchids that grow in the wild do have a scent however.
Orchid Scents by Variety
I know we have gone over some specific examples of fragrant orchids above, but I wanted to give a bit of an overview of the most popular varieties of orchid and their scents.
There will be a bit of crossover with the list above, but here goes:
Cattleya orchids and their hybrids are usually quite highly scented, especially their bigger more flamboyant ones.
Expect some real tropical smells, mixed in with fruity, spicy, citrusy notes.
Within this genus you will generally find extremely pleasantly scented orchids, covering a variety of fragrances.
Brassavola Little Stars is particularly sweet, whilst Brassavola Nodosa, is akin to the lily of the valley. For a fruity fragrance try Dendrobium Anosmum or for something traditionally floral Dendrobium Nobile is a good bet.
Oncidiums such as Twinkle Fragrance Fantasy and Sharry Baby are really popular for their intense chocolate and vanilla scents.
It used to be that if you picked up this popular variety of orchid from a store, it had no fragrance. But that has definitely changed.
Hybrid phals do have scents, although they are often unpredictable.
These strongest scent Phals include Phalaenopsis Bellina and Phalaenopsis Violacea, whereas Phalaenopsis Venosa apparently smells like bacon, although I cannot vouch for that!
Do Orchids Smell Like Vanilla?
Yes, some orchids do smell like vanilla.
For instance, Cattleya Walkeriana Semi Alba smells like cinnamon and vanilla and Encyclia Alata has a tropical scent of coconut and vanilla.
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There are plenty of orchids that have vanilla notes in their fragrances.
Perhaps the most notable is Vanilla plantifolia, also known as the Vanilla bean orchid.
This orchid, as you might imagine, emits a lovely vanilla smell and is widely used in perfumes and flavoring.
They look great too, although they are difficult to grow…
So do orchids have a scent?
Very much so!
What does an orchid smell like?
Well, that depends on the variety.
With so many species out there, there are a huge variety of scents available to your smell buds (sorry not sure if that is a word, but I liked it).
There are a lot of orchids with fruity and floral smells, and some with some really intriguing smells that catch you off guard, Christmas cookies anyone!?
I think the good news is, if you are buying or growing an orchid for its scent there is bound to be something you like out there for you.