Welcome to the AOS Beginner's Newsletter. We will be sending you monthly tips on how to grow orchids and help you get them to bloom again. In addition to the information presented here, we invite you to visit the AOS website at www.aos.org and check out the information found under ORCHID INFORMATION > ORCHID BASICS.
A Few Words About Scientific Names
Although the scientific names of many orchids may look Greek to you, the system of naming them is very logical and not all that confusing. In 1753, the Swedish natural scientist, Carl Linnaeus, began using his two-name system in his Species Plantarum. Today all living things are named using binomial nomenclature, literally, two-named naming. The system is very similar to the way that we are all named, but the names are reversed. The Monroe family might have dad, James, mom Marilyn and children Bill, Bob, and Ben. They are all tied together as a family, but each is an individual. So, if mom were an orchid, instead of being Marilyn Monroe she would be Monroe Marilyn, or more correctly, Monroe marilynii because scientific names are always latinized, even if they are Greek words! The name of the genus (or family) implies similar characteristics that link the family members together. The species (family member) name recognizes characteristics that distinguish the family members from each other. As with people's names, a name can tell us something about an orchid. For instance, aurantiaca means orange-colored, flava means yellow-colored, fragrans means fragrant, gigantea means large, skinneri commerates George Ure Skinner and maculata means spotted. A name can tell you something about an orchid without even seeing a picture.
Guarianthe aurantiaca has orange flowers.
Sometimes species can be remarkably consistent across all individuals, or there can be variation. If certain members of a species exhibit characteristics that are distinct enough, they may require a varietal name to further identify them. The varietal name that most of you are familiar with is alba, which identifies species whose flowers are lacking pigment. Other familiar varietal names would be coerulea (bluish flowers), semi-alba (white flowers with a colored lip) and rubra (reddish flowers). So we might have Cattleya gaskelliana variety alba. Note that both names of a species are in italics as is the variety name, while the genus name is capitalized and the species name is not.
Hybrids follow much the same naming system, with the genus name in italics but the hybrid name is not. As with species, the hybrid genus name begins with a capital letter but the hybrid name itself can be any name (within reason!) written any way the registrant specifies. So you would write, Rhyncholaeliocattleya George King.
We'll finish this discussion of orchid names with clonal names. Clonal names can add one more layer of description to an orchid. A clonal name is usually applied to a particular plant when it recieves an award but it can be given at any time. There will always be some variation in a population of a species and even more so in the offspring of a hybrid cross. Clonal names are used to set those variations apart and are written in single quotes, In our hybrid example aboove there are two well known clones: Rhyncholaeliocattleya George King 'Serendipity' and Rhyncholaeliocattleya George King 'Southern Cross'. Both of these clones have recieved an Award of Merit from the American Orchid Society so abbreviations for those awards are appended to the name: Rhyncholaeliocattleya George King 'Serendipity' AM/AOS (shown at right). An example of the full name of an orchid species could be Phalaenopsis violacea var. coerulea 'Krull-Smith' AM/AOS. Clonal names stay with all vegetative divisions of orchids. In other words, if you divide your plant of Rlc. George King 'Serendipity' AM/AOS and give a piece to a friend, that full name should be on their name tag too.
The whole idea behind any language system is to explain things, events and concepts. By learning the basics of orchid names you are more able to discuss them with anyone and once you get the hang of it, you'll see that they are no more difficult that the names of your friends and relatives.
For a list and explanation of AOS awards see - www.aos.org