Even as botanists and horticulturalists have identified several thousand orchid species worldwide, new species continue to be discovered from time to time. In fact, orchids are very prolific in nature and humans have discovered various ways to make these flowering plants even more productive. Over the years, people who breed orchids have created in excess of 100,000 orchids. Actually, a large number of orchids that are sold these days are hybrids that have been created artificially.
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A large number of orchid hybrids had been created by the close of the 19th century and they even bloomed successfully. The Gardener's Chronicle published several new hybrids after 1871 and from 1893 the Orchid Review also started publishing new orchids. The Orchid Review was established in the same year. From 1895, Sander's & Sons, an orchid firm based in St. Albans, England, commenced registering orchid hybrids and the company published the earliest Sander's List of Orchid Hybrids in 1906. The publication of the list continued till 1961 and additional volumes were published at intervals during this period. In 1961, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) was declared as the International Registration Authority. However, even today many people use the Sander's List of Orchid Hybrids, which contains nearly 100,000 orchid hybrids, for reference.
Going by definition, a hybrid is an offspring of two plants or animals from different varieties, races, species or even genera.
Save for a few exceptions, the orchids' reproductive processes generally do not involve voluntary intermingling of the genera. As a result, the generic lines are not disturbed and they remain exceptionally pure.
As far as orchid hybrids are concerned, it has been seen that in some cases orchids belonging to the same genus united under normal conditions and usually their offspring were found to be superior to both parents.
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Cattleya Hardyana, which is a result of a cross between Cattleya Dowiana and Cattleya gigas is a wonderful example of such orchid hybrid reproduction. The flowers of Cattleya Hardyana possess the round mauve blooms of gigas and also the Cattleya Dowiana's iridescence - yellow with deep red lips.
The main objective of a hybrid developer is to enhance the stock of the plants, increase the number as well as the size of flowers, change as well as improve the flower colors, make the plants' growth habit better and to add strength to a frail line.
For several years, growers have been continuously experimenting with hybrid production. It has been found that a number of orchid genera are certainly incompatible. However, there are several others that are cross fertile and it is possible to produce attractive flowers - on several occasions even produce remarkable blooms.
When plants of two genera are crossed, the process it called bi-generic. The most well-known bi-generic cross does not have any commercial worth, but is significant only for horticultural and historic reasons.
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When a cross involves plants of three genera, it is called tri-generic. Brassolaelio-cattleya, the most famous as well as popular is the hybrid orchid, has great commercial value. This tri-generic orchid hybrid blends the crisp texture of Laelia, which has narrow petals, with the rounded petals of the Cattleya, thereby incorporating the sole exceptional characteristics of Brassavola - an extremely full and ostentatious lip.
In fact, crosses of four different genera of orchids have been created. These hybrids are called four-generic crosses. In this case, the combination names are very awkward and hence people only use coined names, such as Potinara, which is a four-generic cross involving the hybrids of Brassavola, Cattleya, Laelia and the vividly hued Sophronitis.
There are some orchid genera that do not cross with others. Sometimes, the plants developed by crossing orchids of different genera do not produce seeds and this inability is generally attributed to the disparity in their chromosome numbers. However, there could be several other reasons as well.
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It is worth noting that though the initial orchid hybrids were a result of crossing two different species of the same genus, it did not take long for things to change. Soon, growers started creating inter-generic crosses by crossing plants from two different genera. Inter-generic cross was first made in 1863 by crossing Cattleya mossiae with Laelia crispa, which resulted in the creation of Laeliocattleya Exoniensis. In 1886, growers created a bi-generic Sophrocattleya Batemaniana by crossing Sophronitis grandiflora with Cattleya intermedia. A few years later, in 1892, growers created the first tri-generic orchid hybrid named Sophrolaeliocattleya Veitchiana by crossing the Sophronitis grandiflora orchid with Laeliocattleya Schilleriana.
Up to now, the tri-generic orchid hybrids were named by combining the names of the genera that are involved in the cross. However, with the crosses becoming more and more complex, hybrids created from four or even more crosses, the need for a different way of naming the orchid hybrids became more obvious. In such circumstances, it was suggested that the suffix "ara" ought to be added to the name of the person who was engaged in growing or studying the orchids. Vuylstekeara (Cochlioda x Miltonia x Odontoglossum) is one of the earliest such names of orchid hybrids. This name was registered for the first time in 1911. It is worth mentioning here that C. Vuylsteke was a noted Belgian orchid grower as well as hybridizer.
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This type of orchid hybrid names are often referred to as "manufactured" generic names and they are written in the same way as any other generic names - in italics and they begin with a capital letter. The offspring of a cross between two species or hybrids is referred to as a "grex". For instance, all hybrid orchids that are created from a cross between Sophronitis grandiflora orchid and Cattleya intermedia should always be called Sophrocattleya Batemaniana. This is irrespective of the precise seed parent and pollen parent, the varieties used for making the cross or even the timing of the cross.
In due course of time, several orchid growers have a great desire to create their individual hybrids. Hence, if you do have a serious urge to create your own orchid hybrid, it is essential for you to have an objective in mind instead of simply crossing two plants, which happen to bloom simultaneously. For instance, your objective may be to produce larger blooms on a further compact plant or produce a flower having a specific color. In addition, it is also important that you have enough space as well as sufficient patient so that you can grow several seedlings from the hybridization to flowering size. You may often be surprised to find that the smallest as well as the slowest growing hybrid may be the one to fulfill you desires. In other words, it may be the one with the desired characteristics.
These days we know much about the affinity of various different orchid genera as well as the inheritance of a variety of distinctiveness. Nevertheless, it is important to read as much as you can before you actually embark on hybridizing orchids. The knowledge you gain from reading books, magazines or online articles will be very helpful. This is important because you would certainly not like to waste several years just trying to learn from your earlier mistakes. There is always another option that will save you much time, effort and money. You could learn a lot from reading or learning from others mistakes and successes.
All said and done, the question that many ask is why they should grow orchid hybrids instead of orchid species. Before we go into that question, it is worth mentioning that the number of people growing orchid hybrids is much more compared to those who grow orchid species. Currently, there are more than 100,000 registered orchid hybrids and the number is increasing rapidly every year. So there is a lot of choice for people growing orchid hybrids. But what are the precise advantages of growing orchid hybrids than growing species?
The first and foremost advantage is what is commonly referred to as "hybrid vigour". This advantage is, however, not confined only to orchids, but applicable for all hybrids. When you cross two somewhat unreliable species, they can often produce a robust hybrid that can be grown easily. In addition to growing more rapidly, often the hybrids also bloom earlier compared to the species. They also flower more freely and possess the aptitude to endure lesser favourable conditions better. For instance, an orchid grower may desire a specific flower hue on a particular size of plant, which will grow healthily in the prevailing condition. While he/ she may find it difficult to get the desired characteristics in any orchid species, it is possible that they will soon find an orchid hybrid that will fulfill the requirements. In any case, there are very few orchid species left today.
At the same time, practically speaking, orchid hybrids are inexpensive as well as more easily available compared to the species. Similar to all other things, orchids are influenced by fashion and this is often reflected in their prices. While majority of the commercial orchid growers cultivate species as well as hybrids, they usually have a propensity to favour either one over the other. In fact, we are lucky that there are still a large number of orchid species enthusiasts who are helping to keep the raw material alive for creating different types of hybrids.