An Orchidist's Miscellany


We have all experienced the confusion which can arise when the same plant has two or more different names. To eliminate this, procedures have been established to formalise plant nomenclature, providing every plant with an internationally agreed name that is specific to each individual kind of plant.

The names of all plants, including all orchids, are controlled by two separate but related codes of nomenclature:

1. THE "BOTANICAL CODE" - The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature primarily deals with the botanical names in Latin form of plant species originating In the wild, including any natural hybrids. This code is set by periodic International Botanical Congresses.

2. THE "CULTIVATED CODE" - The International Code of Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants deals with the names of plants (hybrids) produced by man. This code is controlled by the International Commission for the Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants.

The International Orchid Commission publishes a Handbook on Orchid Nomenclature and Registration which sets out the practical application of these codes.


(a) The first term is the GENERIC name, e.g. Vanda, Cattleya, Cymbidium

.(b) The second term is the SPECIFIC EPITHET indicating the species of plant involved.

These two terms together give the SPECIFIC NAME of the plant. In printing, this specific name is always in italics, (or underlined in typewritten copy).

The generic name starts with a capital letter, the specific epithet with a small letter.

Wild variants within a species involving a BOTANICAL variety have a third term added after the abbreviation "var". This is the VARIETAL EPITHET, which is also in Latin form. The varietal epithet is always printed In italics, but not the word 'Yar.'; neither begins with a capital letter. This rule covers botanical varieties only, not the artificial hy- brid varieties.

Cultivar names of species and botanical varieties may receive a CULTIVAR EPITHET. This is a fancy name (i.e. not in Latin form), which is printed in Roman type, starting with a capital letter, enclosed in single quotation marks.




var. rogersii

'Harry Jensen'


(specific epithet)

(varietal epithet)

(cultivar epithet)

When a species is self or cross pollinated with another of the same species, all progeny bear the same specific name. When two plants of the same cultivar are crossed, the cultivar name does not carry forward to the progeny. The cultivar epithet is maintained ONLY if the plant is vegetatively produced.


With artificial hybrids the situation is similar.

(a) The first term is the GENERIC name. Artificial intergencric crosses receive a HYBRID GENERIC NAME.

(b) The second term is the COLLECTIVE EPITHET or GREX EPITHET. This must always be a fancy name (not in Latin); it starts with a capital letter, and is printed in Roman type.

(c) The third term is a CULTIVAR EPITHET.

All three parts of a name constitute the CULTIVAR NAME of the artifical hybrid. The rules applicable to cultivar epithets of species apply here ag well.



Bridge of Allen



(grex epithet)

(cultivar epithet)

It is to be noted that the cultivar epithet can only be carried forward to vegetatively reproduced progeny; sexually reproduced plants cannot retain this epithet as they will be genetically different, and must receive a new distinctive name of their own.

The Handbook on Orchid Nomenclature and Registration should be referred to for full details of plant naming rules it does help you understand plant labels more.

Site established 9th May 1998