The stem of an orchid determines the habit of the species. Each type of stem can grow in one of these two ways:
- monopodial ("one-footed") growth. The new shoots grow upwards from a single stem, originating in the end bud of the old shoots. It then produces leaves and flowers along this stem. The stem of these orchids can reach a length of several meters (as in the genera Vanda and Vanilla).
- sympodial ("many-footed") growth. The plant produces a series of adjacent shoots which grow to a certain size, bloom, and then stop growing, to be replaced by the next growth. Plants of this type grow laterally rather than vertically, following the surface of their support. The growth continues by development of new leads (with their own leaves and roots) sprouting from or next to those of the previous year (as in the genus Cattleya). While this lead is developing, the rhizome may start its growth again, this time from an 'eye', or undeveloped bud, thereby causing the rhizome to branch.