While the beauty of orchids is both fascinating and breathtaking, learning about them can be overwhelming. Orchids are found in almost every conceivable location around the world. There are endless varieties and types that have adapted to the many different climates and locations they are found in. In addition, botanists have evidence that orchids have been in existence for at least several hundred years, making them one of the longest growing plants found on the earth.
Worldwide there are about 25, 000-30,000 different species of orchids that are arranged into about 850 genera or sub categories. The family of orchids is known as the orchidaceae and is one of the largest families of flowering plants. In addition, orchidists are creating new genera by creating intergeneric hybrids that involve two or more natural genera. Because a simple listing is so large for the entire species of orchids we will examine the basic meaning of the genera of orchids to begin our understanding of this exotic plant.
The list of genera in the orchid family originally was published according to The Families of Flowering Plants by L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz. The list is updated on a regular basis with changes that are published in the Orchid Research Newsletter that is published twice a year by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This list undergoes constant change and evolves rapidly, mainly through evidence from DNA study. At this time, orchids are mostly defined by morphological similarity (structure of their flowers and other parts). In addition, each year about another 150 new species are being discovered. The list of genera listings alone currently stands just short of 1000 entries.
So why is it so important to have all the orchids named? The bottom line is that lots of information can be imparted in the naming of the orchid. Orchid labels tell us about the “family tree” where it has come from and it’s parentage. Just as humans’ DNA carry dominant characteristics or genes from either side of their family, so it is with orchids. Naming and labels help us to understand what kind of orchid it is and what its specific traits are. Such information is helpful when learning cultural cues about any particular orchid.
The process of naming orchids is a complex system based on families, tribes, subtribes, genera, and even individual orchid traits. The specialists in the field are known as taxonomists and botanists. These type of scientists use Latin for their language. While this can be interesting for the home grower, a more basic understanding of what your orchid labels means may be more helpful.
Most of the time an orchid label consists of two names or words. The first word is the name of the genus. Having a genus provides a way of grouping the similar type orchids with common characteristics. The first word is usually printed in italics (because it is a foreign language, usually Latin) and begins with a capital letter. The second name refers to the specific name or species. All genus is divided into species. Species names are also in italics and are in lower case point. The species name can be used to denote specific characteristics like where a plant originates, a specific color, or appearance.
And just when you thought this might get easy, it gets a little more complicated! Sometimes orchids in a species share certain traits that set them apart from the other species. Since this difference may not be significant enough to warrant categorizing them with a different species name, there is a method in place to list them. These particular type of plants are then called varieties.Varietal species are designated by var. on the label.
By knowing what these simple labels really say you can glean a great deal of information about your orchid. Knowing what genus your orchid belongs to can provide clues to its basic growing habits. In addition, knowing the genus of orchids can help you choose orchids that are the most suited for your growing climate.