Orchid Names

Orchid names follow a standard format, with the genus name first and then the species or hybrid name, often followed by the name of the specific cultivar, any awards or polyploidy information, and sometimes the plant's parentage information. The genus name is often abbreviated, and these abbreviations are somewhat standardized. The Royal Horticultural Society in England is largely responsible for maintaining these standards, and maintains the International Orchid Register, which keeps track of the name of each type of hybrid orchid.

Let's look at an example of an orchid name:

Onc. Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance' AM/AOS (Onc. Jamie Sutton × Onc. Honolulu)

This plant is in the Oncidium genus (abbreviated as Onc.,) and it's a hybrid named Sharry Baby, which is a cross between Onc. Jamie Sutton and Onc. Honolulu. The plant's cultivar name (i.e., the particular plant and its divisions or clones) is 'Sweet Fragrance' and it has received an Award of Merit from the American Orchid Society (AM/AOS).

Wild species and naturally-occurring hybrids have the species name in Latin, lowercase, and italicized (e.g. Phrag. besseae) while manmade hybrids have uppercase names in English, not italicized (e.g. Onc. Sharry Baby). The people that register these hybrids often choose to name them after themselves or people they care about. If a cross is between two different genera, the International Orchid Register maintains a list of hybrid genus names. For example, a cross between a Cattleya and an Epidendrum would be an Epicattleya.

I hope the naming conventions for orchids make a bit more sense now! There are a few other details that show up from time to time, but you have to be really nerdy to care. Let me give you an example:

Rarely, after a plant's name you will see "(2N)", "(3N)", or "(4N)". These indicate the plant's chromosome count. The first means it is diploid (two versions of each chromosome), the second means triploid (three versions) and the third means it is tetraploid (four versions.) Tetraploid plants often have bigger flowers than diploid versions, but may grow more slowly. If you cross a diploid plant with a tetraploid plant, you typically get a triploid plant, which is somewhere in between but usually less fertile. Crossing a triploid plant with a diploid or tetraploid plant makes an anuploid plant which is typically sterile. This is the sort of obscure detail you don't need to care about unless you intend to propagate orchids from seed.

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