Thursday, April 16, 2009

Getting to Know Your Orchids by Name

Probably one of the most intimidating hurdles that the beginning orchid grower faces is the complex names given to orchids. When you realize what an immense group of plants this is, you’ll soon come to realize why most orchids are referred to by their Latin name rather than a common name. Actually, very few orchids even have a common name. In this book, I always use the Latin name, because that’s the universally accepted name, and I add a common name when there is one.

If you struggled through high school Latin classes as I did, you may have thought (and hoped) that this language died with the Romans. Alas, it is alive and well in the natural-science world, and it’s the standard language used to name flora and fauna. You’ll start to make friends with Latin as its use become more familiar and comfortable to you.

Taking the name a little at a time makes it easier to digest. In the following sections, I show you the names, one word at a time, of a species orchid and then a hybrid.

Species orchid names
Plants that are sold as they were created by nature, not hybridized by man, are referred to as species orchids. They have two names: the genus name, which comes first and is capitalized, and the species name, which comes second and is lowercase. Both names are in Latin, so they’re italicized (which is just the way foreign languages are usually treated).

You may see a third part to the name, the botanical variety, after the species name. This is a name given to an orchid that varies somewhat — it could be a larger flower or one with slightly different coloration — from the standard species. It will be preceded by the letters “var.” and will be in lowercase and in Latin.

The genus name is much like your last name and the species name is like your first name. In other words, orchid naming is backward to the way you say your own name. If my name were written as an orchid’s is, I would be Frowine steven.

Here’s an example of the name of a species orchid: Cattleya walkeriana var. semialba. Table 1-2 explains the orchid’s name.




Hybrid orchid names
Oh, it would be so simple if naming stopped here, but man got mixed up in all this and started developing hybrids. Hybrids result from crossing two species (taking the pollen from one orchid to use it to “mate” with another). A marvelous thing happens when two different species of orchids are crossed or mated to each other. Their progeny is usually stronger, easier to grow, and frequently produces larger flowers than either of its parents — which is why hybrids are so desirable and popular.

Here’s an example of a hybrid orchid name: Brassocattleya Cynthia ‘Pink Lady’ HCC/AOS. (See the color section for a photograph of this orchid.) Table 1-3 breaks down the name and explains its various parts.



Orchid hybridizing can produce plants with quite complex names, especially in some of the very large groups like the cattleyas and the oncidiums. In these chapters,
I deal with their names in more detail.

You don’t have to be an expert in orchid names in order to enjoy and grow orchids. You’ll catch onto many other name nuances after you’re drawn further into the orchid web. For now, don’t worry about them much — they’re only names!

Turn to the Cheat Sheet at the front of this book for a list of common genera names that you’re likely to run into, along with their abbreviations and pronunciations. Tear out the Cheat Sheet and take it with you when you go shopping for orchids.

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