Along with the Asteraceae, they are one of the two largest families of flowering plants. The Orchidaceae have about 28,000 currently accepted species, distributed in about 763 genera. The determination of which family is larger is still under debate, because verified data on the members of such enormous families are continually in flux. Regardless, the number of orchid species nearly equals the number of bony fishes and is more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. The family also encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species).
The family also includes Vanilla (the genus of the vanilla plant), Orchis (type genus), and many commonly cultivated plants such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
Orchids are easily distinguished from other plants, as they share some very evident, shared derived characteristics, or "apomorphies". Among these are: bilateral symmetry of the flower (zygomorphism), many resupinate flowers, a nearly always highly modified petal (labellum), fused stamens and carpels, and extremely small seeds.