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Understanding Orchid Hybrids

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Learn to Understand Orchid Hybrids

With tens of thousands of species, orchids are the most prolific plant family on Earth, but humans still find a lot of room for "improvement."

Maybe it's because orchids are so easy to breed, or maybe it's because growing is so creative and demanding, but orchid breeders have introduced hundreds of thousands of named hybrids. In fact, the vast majority of plants for sale in the trade today are hybrids that some breeders dreamed of and turned into reality.

Human Creativity and Orchid Variety

Producing hybrid orchid flowers is relatively easy and relatively difficult. The plants themselves easily interbreed with other orchid species and genera (in many cases), making it especially easy to find wonderful new combinations.

However, as a general rule of thumb, growing orchids from seed is a difficult and specialized task, whether you are hybridizing or not. Orchid seeds are tiny, almost microscopic, and must be grown in sterile jars on a sterile substrate.

An orchid seed growing operation is more like a pharmaceutical laboratory, with its rows of sealed jars filled with tiny seedlings than a typical greenhouse.

But the results of these breeding operations may surprise orchid lovers, even those of us who are not interested in hybridizing plants. Once a breeder has produced and stabilized a new strain, he can apply for registration of the new plant with the Royal Horticultural Society, the world's repository for new orchid breeds.

Understanding Orchid Labels

One of the most challenging aspects for new orchid owners is proper orchid label reading. Without studying the label of the plant, it is impossible to know what you are growing. For any type of collector, orchid labels provide the critical information they need to catalog their collection.

Depending on the orchid (and the center of the garden), you can find numerous descriptions on the label. The two most common plants, of course, are the phalaenopsis and dendrobium orchids.

These two plants are by far the most popular orchids, and the orchid table in your local garden will almost certainly be filled exclusively with hybrid flowers.

In the case of phalaenopsis, breeders strive to produce large, round, flat-petalled flowers in the purest white, purple or striped. False whites owe their color and shape to P. amabilis (species) or P. aphrodite (another species). Purple Phals owes its coloration to P. sanderiana or P. schilleriana.

Other species have been extensively crossed and re-crossed to create the impressive array of phalaenopsis orchids that we have today. True species are harder to find and are usually only found in collectors' greenhouses.

The same goes for dendrobium orchids, the vast majority of which on the market today are hybrid plants. There are around 1200 species in the Dendrobium genus, covering an incredible variety of flower and plant types.

However, the vast majority of dendrobium hybrids are descended from the noble group of sugarcane dendrobiums. The Phalaenanthes group, including the very popular Phalaenopsis Dendrobiums, are the common florist dendrobiums.

Outside of these two popular genres, things can get confusing, especially when you're new to orchid naming. In their search for the perfect flowers, breeders delve into orchid genetics, resulting in tens of thousands of named plants.

But luckily, the naming protocol for orchids is standardized, so it always makes sense. For example, the plant name Bulbophyllum sumatrum "Rainbow" contains a lot of information.

  • Genus: Bulbophyllum (always italicized)
  • Species: sumatrum (always italicized)
  • Cultivar: "Rainbow"

Cultivars are stable variants of the same plant. You can be sure that the Rainbow variety of this plant will be identical to all other Rainbow varieties of the same plant. All variations were created by him.

You can also see labels like Vascostylis Viboon Velvet "Fluffy Cloud". In this case, the tag means:

  • Genus: Vascostylis
  • Species: Viboon Velvet (note that it is capitalized and not italicized; this means it is a hybrid species. Unlike natural species names, named species are capitalized and in plain text. They are also called grex in the orchid world).
  • Cultivar: "fluffy cloud"

Finally, breeders sometimes include the parents of a hybrid in parentheses after the plant name, such as Phragmipedium Eric Young (besseae x longifolium).

In this case, he now knows that the plant comes from the genus Phragmipedium; it is a hybrid species called Eric Young; and derives from a cross between the besseae and longifolium species, within the genus Phragmipedium.

Orchid Abbreviations

Lastly, to make matters more confusing, breeders generally don't include the full genus name on the plant label, especially with more complicated hybrids, which can mix three genera and have long genus names.

For these plants, abbreviations are standard, and understanding of orchid abbreviations comes with the territory.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About Orchid Species Vs. Hybrids - Differences, the good & the bad!

Source: MissOrchidGirl

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