Similar to all other plants, orchids are also named as per the norms of the international system that governs naming of all plants. However, orchids are different from other plants and their family is unbelievably large.
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In fact, interbreeding between different orchid species takes place so effortlessly that often it is difficult to say where one species would stop and the next would begin. In fact, it is certainly a challenge for taxonomists to organize the innumerable colors and forms of orchids into neat as well as separate categories.
The admirable distribution of the apparently similar plants as well as hybrids, each having complex family trees, by taxonomists actually manifests the intricacy of the various orchid categories. Nevertheless, while naming the plants, taxonomists follow the basic principles.
Actually, not many people are able to name the various rules and exceptions related to naming orchids. But people who grow orchids will derive much delight if they have a general idea of the method followed in naming the orchids, which comprises an exceptionally varied family of plants.
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If you wish to know the system that is followed to name the orchids, ideally you should begin from the top, with the orchid family, which is called Orchidaceae. In fact, all plants are first categorized under different families. In the case of nearly all plants, the genus is the next major category under the family.
However, as the orchid family is a vast one, botanists usually use intermediate grouping between the family and the genus and they are known as tribe and sub-tribe. In fact, these intermediate categories are very useful as they let us know about the relation between the plants in different genera.
For instance, the genus Miltonia is actually a sub-tribe of Oncidiinae. The sub-tribe Oncidiinae also comprises the genera Brassia, Odontoglossum, and Oncidium. All these genera are akin as far as their characteristics are concerned and they also hybridize readily.
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At the same time, the genus of nearly all plants is divided into species - which form the fundamental units of taxonomy in plant as well as animal kingdoms. The genus Miltonia, for example, is in the sub-tribe Oncidiinae.
This sub-tribe also includes the genera Oncidium, Odontoglossum, and Brassia, all of which have similar characteristics and hybridize easily. At the same time, the genus of nearly all plants is divided into species - which form the fundamental units of taxonomy in plant as well as animal kingdoms.
For instance, the genus Miltonia comprises the species known as spectabilis. There is a simple way to keep in mind how the names of genus and species are related to one another. For this you should observe the first few letters of the genus and species. Genus means in general, while species means specific.
All the plants belonging to the same species are more or less similar, however some differences do exist. For instance, you will notice the differences in the shape, size and color of the flowers. Even the stems, leaves and pseudo bulbs are different to some extent.
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Occasionally, specific plants in a particular species have one or two similar characteristic, making them different from the other plants in the same species. However, the difference is not much that it would justify to name these plants under a different species. When any such group is found in the nature, it is called variety.
Often, the abbreviation var. precedes the names of the variety. For instance, the petals of Miltonia spectabilis var. flowers have a rose hue instead of white. However, apart from this difference in the color of the flower petals, the variety is virtually similar in all aspects to Miltonia spectabilis, whose flower petals are white hued.
In fact, botanists mainly use the variety names of plants, as they study the populace of wild plants. On the other hand, in horticulture, which entails study of plants under cultivation, the term "cultivar" is used more often.
Precisely speaking, cultivars are those plants that are selected for their sought-after characteristics and they are propagated in a manner that brings about those specific features of the plants. A cultivar may be chosen from anything - a species, a variety or even a cultivar.
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At the same time, these specifically selected plants may be propagated in various ways - by means of division, mericloning, offshoots, or by any other asexual procedure that gives rise to offspring that are comparable to the parent plant. It is worth mentioning here that the names of cultivars are written in Roman letters.
While the first letter of the name starts with a capital, the entire name of the cultivar is written within single quotes. For instance, one of the most attractive varieties of Miltonia spectabilis var. moreliana has been cultivated extensively and it has also received several awards.
Then again, the close, which has been named 'Royalty', is actually a cultivar of an orchid variety. And it is placed at the bottom of its family tree.
However, it is unfortunate that the name of the same orchids is not same always as not everyone uses the same name for all orchids. Since the beginning, taxonomists have been trying and even discarded various methods to organize orchids along their evolutionary lines.
Their aim was to develop a classification system that would show the relationship between the plants. Although the goal is worthwhile, but it is difficult to achieve it when you need to change several names to reveal a novel botanical discovery.
Going back to the family tree, the orchid developed by crossing Miltonia clowesii and Miltonia spectabilis has been named Miltonia Bluntii. In fact, the Latin ending of the name reveals that this orchid is an old hybrid that was named much before the rules disallowed using Latinized names for hybrid orchids.
In fact, Miltonia Bluntii is a primary hybrid orchid, which is also referred to as an interspecific grex that is developed by crossing one species with another species.
While complex hybrids, which are produced by crossing one species with another hybrid, are more common, primary orchid hybrids are infrequent. However, gradually people are giving more value to species or primary orchid hybrids as they are being recognized widely.
Similar to the common names of most other plants, the common names of orchids are not only bewildering, but also ambiguous. While pronouncing common names is relatively easy, the words seldom directly point to any particular plant.
Therefore, the common names are practically of no use. In fact, a lot of times, one common name applies to many specific species, which are in no way related to one another. For instance, it has been found that every continent has at least one spider orchid, which is commonly unrelated with others.
Apart from this, perhaps more new varieties are also being named spider orchids almost every day. Hence, it would be better to refer to all of them simply as orchids. Although this is a very general term, it is certainly a correct one.
In any case, nearly all species of orchids generally do not have common names. Often, their genus name is used informally as their common name.