Hybridization Of Orchids

By the end of the 19th century, a great many hybrids had been made and had flowered. After 1871, new hybrids were published in the Gardener’s Chronicle, and from 1893, also in the Orchid Review which was established that year. In 1895 the orchid firm Sander & Sons of St. Albans, England, began to register orchid hybrids and in 1906, the first Sander’s List of Orchid Hybrids was published. Additional volumes appeared at intervals of some years until 1961, when the Royal Horticultural Society became the International Registration Authority. Sander’s List of Orchid Hybrids is still used today and now the list contains almost 100,000 names.

Complex Hybrids and Their Names.

The first orchid hybrids were between two species of the same genus but it was not long before the first intergeneric cross (between two different genera) was made. This was in 1863, between Cattleya mossiae and Laelia crispa, to give Laeliocattleya Exoniensis. In 1886, Sophrocattleya Batemaniana was the result of a cross between Sophronitis Grandiflora and Cattleya intermedia, and in 1892 the first trigeneric hybrid was made: Sophrolaeliocattleya Veitchiana, the result of crossing Sophronitis Grandiflora with Laeliocattleya Schilleriana.

So far, the names of intergeneric hybrids had been made by amalgamating the names of the genera involved but as crosses became more complex, involving four or more genera, it became obvious that another way of naming must be found. It was proposed that in these circumstances, the suffix ‘ara’ should be added to the name of someone who was involved in either growing or studying orchids. Among the earliest of such names is Vuylstekeara (Cochlioda x Miltonia x Odontoglossum) which was registered in 1911; C. Vuylsteke was a Belgian orchid grower and hybridizer.

These ‘manufactured’ generic names are written like other generic names in italics and start with a capital letter. The result of a cross between any two species or hybrids is known as a ‘grex’. For example, all plants resulting from a cross between Sophronitis Grandiflora and Cattleya intermedia must be called Sophrocattleya Batemaniana, regardless of which is the pollen parent and which the seed parent, which varieties were used or when the cross was made.

Doing It Yourself.

Many growers eventually feel the urge to create their own hybrids. If you wish to make a serious attempt at hybridization, it is important to have some goal in mind rather than just crossing two plants that happen to be in flower at the same time. The aim might be the production of larger flowers on a more compact plant, for example, or a particular color of flower. It is necessary to have space, and patience, to grow many seedlings from the cross on to flowering size -the smallest and slowest might just be the one to have the desired characteristics.

Much is now known about the compatibility of different genera and the inheritance of various characteristics and it is worth reading as much as possible about this before you begin. There is no point wasting years learning from your own mistakes when you could learn very quickly from those of others.

Why Grow Hybrid Orchids?

More people grow hybrid orchids than species. As there are estimated to be over 100,000 registered hybrids with the numbers rising every year, there is plenty of choices. What advantages do hybrids have over species?

The first advantage, not confined to orchids, is what is known as ‘hybrid vigor’. Two rather temperamental species can, when crossed, produce a vigorous and easily grown hybrid. As well as growing more quickly, hybrids often flower earlier and more freely and are more tolerant of less than ideal conditions. A grower may want a particular flower color on a certain size of the plant that will grow well in the conditions on offer. It may be difficult to find these characteristics in a species (in fact such a plant may not exist) but it is very likely that there will be a hybrid to fit the bill.

Also, at a more basic level, hybrids are cheaper and more readily available. Like everything else, however, orchids are affected by fashion and this is reflected in the price. Most growers cultivate both hybrids and species although they tend to favor one more than the other. It is perhaps fortunate that there are enough species enthusiasts to keep the raw material for hybrids alive.