How to Enter Orchids in the Plantfiles
Photo by Melody

How to Enter Orchids in the Plantfiles

By Todd Boland (Todd_Boland)August 15, 2008
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Orchids have a complicated naming process, especially for hybrids. With grex and clonal names replacing cultivar names, entering them into the Plantfiles has been a real chore not to mention confusing! However, the DG Admin people now have the situation under control with new fields in the Plantfiles for both the Grex and Clonal Names associated with orchids. Even the database search engine now has a specific field for orchid grex and/or clonal names. This article will explain how orchids are named and the correct procedure for entering orchids in the Plantfiles.

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Perhaps the most important aspect of Dave's Garden are the multitude of Plantfile entries, all entered by the generous volunteer work of our members! Seems that if you do an internet search of just about any plant, you will get a hit to Dave's Garden website. The various fields which need to be filled when entering a new plant are quite straight forward and user friendly...at least for most plants. The one exception are the orchids. Orchids conjure up visions of far away, exotic places. They are often considered the most beautiful flower. Certainly, they are one, if not the, largest plant family in the world. And being so large, they have been extensively hybridized for well over 100 years. And herein lies the problem when entering an orchid hybrid into the Plantfiles.

For those of you who regularly enter new plants into the Plantfiles, you may have noticed that there are two new fields in the Plantfiles entry page: GREX NAME and CLONAL NAME, followed by ‘for orchid entries only'. These terms can cause confusion when placing new orchid entries into the Plantfiles, so the purpose of this article is to explain how orchids are named and how to properly enter them in the database.

If you wish to enter an orchid species (ie. a wild type) into the Plantfiles, the fields are filled in the same way as for any other plant; you simply place the correct names into the genus name field and a species name field. Most orchids do not have common names, so don't worry if you don't have a common name to enter into that field. I simply enter the genus name into the common name field.

Now to hybrids. The naming of orchid hybrids is not the same as for other plants. I'll give you a real example of a non-orchid hybrid first. Among rhododendrons there are the hybrids ‘King Tut' and ‘Koichiro Wada'. Many years ago a hybridizer crossed these two plants and from them obtained many seedlings. He then grew them to maturity and noticed that he had several different yet desirable hybrids from the cross. One had red buds opening to deep pink flowers. He called this hybrid ‘Yaku King'. Another had pale pink flowers with greenish spotting which he called ‘Yaku Princess'. Yet another was pale pink with a yellow blotch, subsequently named ‘Yaku Queen'. So the hybridizer produced three distinct hybrids, all developed from the same cross.

Let's say you have all three of these new rhododendron hybrids and wish to enter them in the Plantfiles. You enter each of these in the Plantfiles by the COMMON NAME Rhododendron, FAMILY Ericaceae, GENUS Rhododendron, SPECIES (left blank since they are hybrids), CULTIVAR NAME Yaku King. When you see the completed entry it will show the COMMON NAME as Rhododendron ‘Yaku King'. Alright, on to the next hybrid where all the fields will be the same except for the CULTIVAR NAME which will be Yaku Princess and/or Yaku Queen. At this point I should note that a plant propagator would take cuttings or tissue cultures of each hybrid and mass produce them so there are thousands of ‘Yaku King', ‘Yaku Queen' and ‘Yaku Princess' with each individual cultivar being genetically identical to each other. So wherever in the world you go, if you purchase a Rhododendron ‘Yaku King' it will be identical to any other ‘Yaku King'.

Now for a real-life orchid example. Let's say you have two Odontocidium hybrids, Odontocidium Rustic Bridge and Odontocidium Crowborough. When crossed they result in a collection of variable-coloured offspring. In the orchid world, ALL of these hybrid offspring are given a GREX name, which in this case is Wildcat.  Ten years later, someone else makes the same cross resulting is yet more variable offspring. These offspring are ALSO given the same GREX name Wildcat.  Going one step further, if you cross Odontodicium Wildcat X Odontocidium Wildcat, ALL of the resulting offspring are ALSO given the GREX name Wildcat.  So while a grex name may appear similar to a cultivar, it is not really the same. Now the next step, the CLONAL name. Let's say among the many Odontocidium Wildcat you have an offspring that has exceptional yellow markings. You wish to mass produce it by tissue culture to create thousands of genetically identical plants. To distinguish this particular plant you can give it a CLONAL name, for example, ‘Yellow Butterfly' (notice there are quotes around a CLONAL name). So this plant's name would be written Odontocidium Wildcat 'Yellow Butterfly' with Wildcat the GREX name and ‘Yellow Butterfly' the CLONAL name. Let's say another offspring from Odontocidium Wildcat has shiny maroon flowers. If it is also mass produced to produce many identical maroon-flowered plants, then that hybrid is given a different CLONAL name, say ‘Bobcat'. So that plant's name would be written Odontocidium Wildcat 'Bobcat'.

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Shown above are two different clones of Odontocidium Wildcat...the first is Odontocidium Wildcat 'Yellow Butterfly' and the second is Odontocidium Wildcat 'Bobcat'

So how do you enter these above orchid examples? If you want to enter just Odontocidium Wildcat, under the COMMON NAME you can enter Odontocidium Wildcat; FAMILY is Orchidaceae; GENUS is Odontocidium; SPECIES field is left blank; CULTIVAR is also left blank. In the GREX field you enter Wildcat.

Under ADDITIONAL CULTIVAR NAMES you can enter Odontocidium Rustic Bridge X Odontocidium Crowborough (this information is available by entering the orchid genus and GREX name in the Royal Horticultural Society Orchid Database).

If you want to enter Odontocidium Wildcat 'Yellow Butterfly', you follow the same steps as above but under the CLONAL field you can place Yellow Butterfly. If you want to enter Odontocidium Wildcat 'Bobcat', then follow the same steps as above but enter Bobcat in the CLONAL field. 

 ImageImage

 Pictured above are two different clones of Vuylstekeara Cambria; the first is Vuylstekeara Cambria 'Caroussel' while the second is Vuylstekeara Cambria 'Plush'

At this point, I need to point out that orchid species can also have a CLONAL name (in ‘regular' plants, this would be the cultivar name but with orchids, cultivar names are always replaced with a clonal name instead). For example, let's say an orchid vendor grows, from seed, a bunch of South American lady slipper's called Phragmipedium besseae. The usual colour is bright red, but an individual crops up among the seedlings which has bright yellow flowers. To distinguish this unique yellow form, the vendor can attach a CLONAL name such as 'Taiyo'.  So the vendor now has a plant named Phragmipedium besseae 'Taiyo'. If you entered this one in the Plantfiles, the common name would be Phragmipedium. In the Genus field you would enter Phragmipedium. In the species field would be placed besseae. Rather than place 'Taiyo' in the cultivar field, you would enter this name in the CLONAL field.

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Pictured above is Phragmipedium besseae and Phragmipedium besseae 'Taiyo'

The other strange thing about orchids is that many of the hybrids are made between different genera and are thus given man-made genera names. For example, cross an Odontoglossum to an Oncidium and you get an Odontocidium (such as in our Odontodicium Wildcat example). Cross an Odontocidium to a Miltonia and you get what is called a Wilsonara. And we wonder why filling in orchid hybrid names is so complicated! However, the entries for these complex hybrids is still the same. The first name after the genus is the GREX name and the second, if present, is the CLONAL (again note that clonal names will be in quotes). The only other problem you might encounter is entering a new man-made genus name which is not currently recognized by the Plantfiles. If that happens, you will get an error message stating the genus is not recognized at which point you can then contact one of the DG Admin people and ask them to enter the new genus.

The last situation you might encounter is an orchid tagged with a cross name, eg. Phalaenopsis Sogo Pearl X Striped Beauty. You can check the Royal Horticultural Society who are the official keepers of orchid names, to see if the cross is registered and if so, enter the plant under its proper hybrid name. If the cross is not registered with the RHS, then I'm afraid, you cannot enter that plant in the Plantfiles. An orchid hybrid must have at least a GREX name for it to be eligible for entry in the Plantfiles.

Finally, one last bit of detail.  Let's assume you use the RHS Orchid database to determine the parentage of the GREX you wish to enter.  On that site will be given information on the parentage of the GREX, the registrant of the GREX, the originator of the GREX and the year of registration.  IF the orchid you wish to enter has just a GREX name and no CLONAL name, then you can enter the parents in the 'Additional Cultivar Names' field; in the 'Hybridizer' field you can enter the Originator of the GREX and finally in the 'Year of Registration' field you can enter the year it was introduced.  If on the other hand, the orchid you wish to enter HAS a CLONAL name, then simply enter the parentage of the GREX but leave the 'Hybridizer' and 'Year of Registration' fields blank.  The RHS does not keep CLONAL name details in the database so we cannot ascertain the details of the clones originator or the year that clone was registered.

The search engine is now also equipped to deal with orchids in regards to GREX and CLONAL names. If you were looking for information on say, Odontoglossum Violetta von Holm ‘Bianca', you can enter the name Violetta von Holm OR Bianca in the ‘Orchid Grex or Clonal Name' and get a hit!

If you have any other specific questions or need additional help, please feel free to d-mail me. Hopefully, this will clear up how orchids should be entered in the Plantfiles and encourage you not to be afraid to enter new ones!

I would like to thank DaylilySLP for the use of the two Phragmipedium besseae pictures.


  About Todd Boland  
Todd BolandI reside in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. I work as a research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. I am one of the founding members of the Newfoundland Wildflower Society and the current chair of the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society. My garden is quite small but I pack it tight! Outdoors I grow mostly alpines, bulbs and ericaceous shrubs. Indoors, my passion is orchids. When not in the garden, I'm out bird watching, a hobby that has gotten me to some lovely parts of the world.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Wonderful! Joan 4 25 Aug 20, 2008 1:14 AM
A question nancyanne 1 19 Aug 19, 2008 8:04 PM
clonal names for species orchids nancyanne 1 10 Aug 19, 2008 8:02 PM
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