A Hybrid is the cross between two different named orchids. This is the natural way to produce plants, but it is done in a controlled environment with great care to make sure that the selected plants will produce the best offspring. The resulting seeds are harvested and grown to blooming size. When you buy a hybrid, there is no guarantee that it will look just like others of the same cross. It could be similar or it could be completely different. No two plants will be exactly alike. Some may be really beautiful and others ungainly or badly formed, you never know until it reaches maturity.
A hybrid can be an intergeneric hybrid, a cross between two related genus, or a hybrid between two different members of the same species. For example, Oncidium Twinkle is a cross between Oncidium cheirophorum and Oncidium ornithorhynchum (listed on the tag as Onc. cheirophorum x Onc. ornithorhynchum). The “x” shows that it is a cross.
An intergeneric hybrid is a cross between two related species – such as Sophronitis and Cattleya. The hybrid is referred to as Sophrocattleya (or Sc. on the label). There are also hybrids with three different genera such as Sophrolaeliacattleya (or Slc. on the tag). For a listing of the intergeneric hybrids currently registered, please visit The Orchid House.
Many orchid enthusiasts who want to exhibit their orchids will buy hybrids and grow them to blooming size so that they can name and receive awards on hybrids. If such a plant is awarded, you can name the specific plant. One of my dreams is to someday have four flowers awarded so that I can name them after my grandchildren.
It is also an interesting exercise to grow several plants of the same cross to see the difference in the flowers that they will exhibit. If you have space to do so you should try it at least once. The plant size and growth habit as well as the flowers can be different as well.
A Mericlone is an artificially produced clone of an orchid which is deemed to be of significant quality to merit this kind of replication. They are produced by taking a small piece of tissue from the specimen plant, mincing the piece into tiny pieces and then growing the tissue in a laboratory into multiples of identical plants. The advantage of buying and growing mericlones is that you know exactly what you are getting—the plant and the flower will be identical to the parent. You will be getting an outstanding example of an orchid flower. The disadvantage is that mericlones are generally more expensive since they are more expensive to produce.
For the new orchid grower, I would recommend buying blooming size mericlones if you can afford them. If you buy them already blooming, you will have the instant gratification of enjoying the flowers and you will know what kind of plant and when it will bloom. If blooming size plants are out of your budget, try to purchase “Near Blooming Size” mericlones of plants that produce flowers that appeal to you from a repeatable nursery. It may take a couple of years for them to bloom, but you will appreciate them for that!
I do not suggest that you start out with seedlings as a new grower, even though they are less expensive. They can take up to seven years (depending upon the genus—sometimes longer) to flower and they are rather delicate. Mature plants are much more likely to survive while you are learning to care for them and if you are good to them, they will flower for you on schedule.