Orchid Names and Naming

Orchid Tag — Don’t Lose That Name!

In the orchid world, your orchid’s name means everything. Fortunes can be made when a plant with a certain name receives an award, and, without its name, your orchid’s value can be seriously diminished.
Unless your orchid plant is one that has been mass produced for quick sale, it will have retained in its pot the grower’s label which sets forth the plant’s identification. This “dog tag” is vital, but how do you read it?

Let’s look at an orchid’s ID tag. Each part conveys a piece of information that lets you pick out not only your plant’s name, but its heritage and, if it’s awarded, the award it received.
A fully written-out label will look something like this, and the order is important:

Paph. Hsinying Macasar ‘Divinity’
(Macabre ‘HOF’ HCC/AOS X Paph. Pulsar ‘Fang Pacific’)

The first word, “Paph.”, is the abbreviation for your plant’s genus name, in this case, Paphiopedilum. This tells you that your plant is part of the ladyslipper group. There are hundreds and hundreds of orchid genera (the plural of the word genus) and our website has a listing of several of the more common ones, found here: RVO Orchid Genus Listings.

Following the plant’s genus name is the plant’s grex name–in this case, Hsinying Macasar. Here, the first letters of this name are capitalized, letting you know that this particular plant is a hybrid, a cross that has been artificially produced and does not occur naturally in the wild. If the first letter of the grex name had been in lowercase, as in lowii, this would have identified the plant as a naturally occurring, wild species. To recap, lowercase first letter in the grex means species. Uppercase first letter in the grex means hybrid.

Next comes the cultivar name, or clonal epithet: ‘Divinity’. This name uniquely identifies the plant’s genetic makeup. In other words, many hybridizers may have propagated the grex Hsinying Macasar by crossing the parents which produce it. But the only plants that can bear the ‘Divinity’ cultivar are those which are genetically identical to the original ‘Divinity’ orchid when it was first named: either vegetative divisions of the original plant, or cellular clones of the original plant. The clonal epithet or cultivar name is always enclosed in single quotation marks.

In cases where the plant’s parentage is not commonly known, the cross which produced this offspring will be listed next, in parentheses. The pod parent (the parent which carried the fruit and produced the seed) is always listed first, followed by the pollinating parent, the plant whose pollen was used to make the cross. In this case, the pod parent is Macabre (a hybrid) ‘HOF’, and this parent has received an HCC award from the American Orchid Society, hence the abbreviations HCC (Highly Commended Certificate) / AOS. Then, the pollinating parent is listed following an “X”, meaning, “these two plants have been crossed.”

A list of awards given by the American Orchid Society is set out below. Plants that have earned these awards are much more desirable to own and, very often, are much higher in price as well, depending on the number produced. Recent developments in cloning have put awarded orchids (which at one time would have only been accessible to the very wealthy) into the hands of the general public at reasonable prices. But nobody will ever know what orchid you have unless your orchid’s tag remains with its pot, and plants with no identification are not allowed entry into AOS sanctioned shows for judging.

So, use your orchid’s label to tell you what it is, who its parents are, and how to grow it (different genera have different growing requirements), and, whatever you do, don’t lose that name!

Good growing!

As printed on the American Orchid Society website, the AOS confers the following Quality Awards:

  • AD (Award of Distinction) and AQ (Award of Quality)
    These awards for breeding recognize worthy new trends and improved quality, respectively.
  • AM (Award of Merit)
    A flower scoring 80 to 89 points on a 100-point scale. This flower-quality award is a fine though lesser achievement than the FCC.
  • CBR (Certificate of Botanical Recognition)
    Awarded to rare and unusual species with educational interest.
  • CCM (Certificate of Cultural Merit)
    The beginning orchid grower may hope to attain this award because it recognizes the grower, rather than flower quality. The CCM/AOS may be given more than once if the plant continues to thrive and increase in both the size and number of flowers.
  • CCE (Certificate of Cultural Excellence)
    Certificate of Cultural Excellence – This award further distinguishes growers of plants that exhibit an extreme degree of skill in cultivation, having received 90 points or more on the scale that has been used for the Certificate of Cultural Merit (CCM).
  • CHM (Certificate of Horticultural Merit)
    Awarded to a well-grown and well-flowered species or natural hybrid with characteristics that contribute to the horticultural aspects of orchidology, such as aesthetic appeal.
  • FCC (First Class Certificate)
    The highest flower-quality award, given to flowers scoring 90 points or more on a 100-point scale.
  • HCC (Highly Commended Certificate)
    The HCC is granted to a flower scoring 75 to 79 points on a 100-point scale. The great majority of awarded orchids receive this award, which implies that, while the flower is outstanding, there is room for improvement.
  • JC (Judges’ Commendation)
    Given for distinctive characteristics that the judges unanimously feel should be recognized but cannot be scored in the customary ways

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Quality Awards text Copyright © 2004 The American Orchid Society

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