Q. How are orchids named?


The names of orchids can be quite confusing but in fact follow strict rules. Native orchids have genus and species names just like other plants, e. g. Phalaenopsis amabilis, moon orchid.  They can also have a subspecies designation, e.g. P. amabilis subsp. amabilis or a variety (var.) name.  Orchid fanciers often use abbreviations for the generic name, e.g. paph for Paphiopedilum.  Botanical publications  usually also include the abbreviated name of the botanist who originally gave the plant its name, e.g. Epidendrum ciliare L., named by Linnaeus. Generic and species epithets are always italicized or underlined.

Many new varieties have been developed by orchid fanciers or have occurred in the wild. These are given an additional name in single quotes after the genus or species name, e.g. Cattleya skinneri ‘Mistral’ or Cattleya ‘Mistral’.  The developer of the cultivar has the privilege of naming the new variety.

Many cultivars are hybrids produced by cross-hybridizing different species or genera. If the hybrid is not named, then the two species are indicated and separated by an “x” e.g. Paphiopedilum delenatii x Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum. The offspring can also be given a new name, called a “grex” name. e. g. when Cattleya warscewiczii is hybridized with C. dowiana the offspring are named Cattleya hardyana grex (although the “grex” designation is often omitted). If a cultivar is selected from among these plants then it is given a new cultivar name, e. g Cattleya hardyana ‘Eric’. Note that the cultivar name is given in single quotes but the grex name is not.

Intergeneric hybrids are indicated by an “x” before the generic name, and the new name is usually a combination of the two hybridized genera, e.g. x Doritaenopsis is a hybrid between a Doritis and a Phalaenopsis species. Hybrids of hybrids are usually given a new name, often based on the name of a person.

Finally, if the orchid cultivar has gained an award by an orchid society then this can be indicated at the end of the name, e.g. AD/AOS for Award of Distinction.

A more detailed discussion of orchid nomenclature can be found in The Handbook on Orchid Nomenclature and Registration, prepared by the International Orchid Commission with the cooperation of the Royal Horticultural Society.

For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service


  • Last Updated Apr 02, 2018
  • Views 122
  • Answered By Anita Finkle

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