Orchid Names

With over 30,000 species of orchids identified world wide and more being discovered each year, a complex grouping and naming protocol has been developed by botanists over the years. The recent use of DNA technology has greatly helped in identification of family groupings and their relationships.

For the novice, a few things are important to know. The genus name (first word) is the ‘group’ name, written in italics and always capitalized. The ‘species’ name (second word) is the name of the plant’s species, italicized, and the first letter of the species name is always in lower case. If the second name starts with a capital letter, it is then a hybrid orchid, which is a cross between two individual species or hybrids – usually man made.

Genus (Group)Species NameDescriptionGrower's GivenAwards
Cattleyaaclandiaevar. alba‘Mauro Rosin’AM/AOS

The species name in the past was a ‘Latinized’ version of the name of the individual who discovered the orchid, for example aclandia was named in honour of Lady Lydia Elizabeth Ackland.

Following the first two names, a description or version name such as ‘alba’ may be found. The word ‘alba’ indicates that the orchid is an albino form.  As well, a ‘given name’ identifies a highly awarded plant with unique characteristics among its siblings, and may even recognize a family member, like ‘Mary’.

Finally, there may follow a series of abbreviations in capital letters. These are indications that the plant has been judged and has received awards by orchid judges. When purchasing an orchid, the more awards the better, such as AM /AOS.  When shopping for orchids, the purchaser should be aware that awarded orchids are more expensive than unawarded ones of the same orchid.

On plant labels, two orchid names separated by an ‘X’ may be present. This indicates that two plants have been bred together. The mother, or seed pod parent is named first, and the father, or pollen giving parent is named second. This cross can be registered with a single last name that is capitalized, such as Cattleya Mary’s Choice.