The first thing to remember is that you should never throw away the nametag, and you should always keep the tag in the plant. If you're like most orchid hobbyists, you'll soon have more orchids and you want to make sure that you do not mix up the tags. The second important thing to remember is that the tag will tell you if you are looking at a seed cross or a mericlone (cloned plant). With a seed cross unless it is flowering, you never can be sure what you're getting. Each seeding is a unique individual and the flower can be very different in shape and color among seedlings from the same cross. A mericlone, on the other hand, is a clone or exact replica of a plant and you are assured that the flowers will be identical to the original plant.
Even serious hobbyists sometimes have trouble figuring out some of the new hybrids and will not recognize the name of some of them. We'll start out with the easiest and most common names and then I'll give you some good links to look up more difficult hybrids.
Let's start out with a species name tag. Phal equestris 'Riverbend' AM/AOS. The Phal tells you that this is a Phalaenopsis; the equestris indicates the species; and 'Riverbend' is the clonal or specific name of this plant. A clonal name is normally given when a plant has been awarded at an American Orchid Society Show. The AM/AOS is a designation of award by the American Orchid Society. Awards will be the subject of another article on what the awards mean. Awards are always designated at the end.
What you see on a tag for a hybrid Cattleya orchid will generally look something like this Blc. Arthur Bossin 'Rapture' AM/AOS (Blc. Tampico x C. walkeriana).
The Blc. stands for Brassolaeliocattleya, an intergeneric hybrid between three different genera:
Brassavola now known as Rhyncholaelia
These three genera are among the most common in Cattleya Alliance breeding.
Arthur Bossin is the name of the cross or grex between the parents of the hybrid. All the plants from the cross have this name. Due to genetics the progeny will not look at all alike, but they will all have the same name.
'Rapture' is the cultivar or clonal name of this particular plant, generally named after it has been awarded. This designation identifies the genetic makeup of this plant alone since others even in the same cross will not be identical. This part of the name is always enclosed in single quotes.
The information in parentheses if it is on the tag tells you the parents of the plant, in this case Blc. Tampico and C. walkeriana. The x is used to designate crossing of the parents, thus a seed cross. The C. is the designation used for Cattleya.
To recap, the first part of the name will tell you what type of hybrid the plant is, the second name will tell you what that particular cross is called and the third the specific name of the plant. Awards are designated at the end. Correctly labeled plants will have the parentage in parentheses.
For listings of all the current intergeneric hybrids, check out Intergeneric Orchid Genus Names provided by The Orchid House in Ontario, Canada.
For listings of all the orchid genus and abbreviations as well as class for North American judging, see Mid American Orchid Classification.