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Articles About Orchids
   "A name is just a name" - unless it belongs to an orchid. Because I have received many questions concerning the names of orchids and what they mean, I have decided to visit this topic.

   Let's try to figure out what all this "name calling" is all about. When I first started in this fascinating hobby, one of the main problems I had was with "TAGS." Now these are not just ordinary tags found in pots that read "Orchid Plant," these tags had names as long as the best-registered hound dog might have!
   Any orchid grower or serious hobbyist will tell you the first thing is to NEVER lose the tag! Why all the excitement over a silly name tag? Because loosing a tag is like losing the plants' birth certificate or pedigree... placing the orchid's parentage in the ...ah... not quite so "legitimate" category. Reducing the status of your plant from an expensive pure bred star to just another unidentifiable pound mutt.

   BLC Malworth 'Orchidglade' FCC/AOS sounds very pretty but what does this entire name mean, and more importantly, what is it telling you about your orchid? With a little help I am going to explain a little about the why, where, and what is in the orchid name.
   Orchid names use a binomial naming system -- a system using two names developed by Linnaeus. Each orchid has a first name and a last name much like most people. The sequence of the names, however, is written with the LAST name first which is always the name of the orchid's genus. The genus is the orchid's unique plant grouping. The second part of the name is either the species name within the group or a hybrid name. The species name is usually related to the discoverer of the species, or related to some aspect of the plant. The developer of the variation arbitrarily selects hybrid names. Using this system, you can always identify at least the orchid genus and species or hybrids, allowing you to know what type of orchid you have. If this was all there was to the orchid names, we would all know all about our orchid, we would have reached the end of this article, and everyone would be happy. But there's more!
   A species that is just a little different than the original species -- but not enough to call it a different name, however -- also needs to be distinguished. In this case, you will see 'var' in the name: "Laelia flava var. aurantiaca" for example.
    Some orchids will also include a clonal or cultivar name, also called a nickname following the species or hybrid name. Although a clonal name is not part of the official name, it is useful to designate the difference between a particular clone of a cross from all of the other clones from the same cross (grex). The clonal name originates from the grower and will follow the plant whenever it is divided or meristems are made. The clonal name should always appear within single quotes.
   Here is an example of what we have just learned:
Laelia flava var. aurantiaca 'My Beauty'
Laelia = genus flava = species var. aurantiaca = a variety of flava called aurantiaca 'My Beauty' = clonal name (notice the single quotes around the name)
   Now that we have the basics of orchid naming down, there are specific ways to write these names in an attempt to make them easier to understand. Genus names start with a capital letter and are italicized or underscored. When abbreviated, a single capital letter and a period is used. Each genus has an official abbreviation. For example:
  C. (or Catt.) = Cattleya B. (or Brass.) = Brassavola O. = Oncidium D. = Dendrobium
The name of the species is always written in small letters and italicized:
   Brassia verrucosa (or B. verrucosa) = verrucosa is a species of the genus Brassia
   Are you all still with me? Fun huh?!? Now come the hybridizers!
   Hybridizers are growers that mix and match all of the different orchid genera to create crosses into one plant thereby creating a new hybrid. As each genus is used, the abbreviation for the genus is added to the new orchid's name. For example, if you were to cross the genus Cattleya with Laelia you would have the new generic hybrid Laeliocattleya and then crossing this new hybrid with genus Brassavola, you would end up a generic hybrid called Brassolaeliocattleya. To shorten the name, Brassolaeliocattleya is often abbreviated to "Blc."
   This system works fine until hybridizers start using more than three genera to create their hybrid which creates generic names far too large to be manageable. When more than three different genera are part of the orchid's heritage, a new name is often given to these complex hybrids using usually the persons name who first registers the new hybrid and then adding the Latin ending "ara" to the name. To distinguish the name as a hybrid genus from a natural genus, an "X" is often placed before the hybrid name. For example:
Beallara (or X Beallara) is a Brassia X Cochlioda X Miltonia X Odontoglossum hybrid created by Beall and is abbreviated Bllra.
   As time and the knowledge of hybridizers increases, so do the creation of new and even more complex hybrids. Six or more different genera are present in some modern hybrids. Each created hybrid is registered with the Royal Horticultural Society then the new hybrids are published in regular periodicals and, in every five years, in the Sander's Complete List of Orchid Hybrids.
   If you are still confused by some of the "fancy" words used in the plant world then visit my Orchid Flower Anatomy page.

   An extensive list of the more common hybrids is compiled into a free e-book you may download and run on your computer even when you are off-line is available.

   Click on the graphics at right, below or here.