How the orchid naming convention works

'In biology, taxonomy is the science of naming, defining and classifying groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics.'

The orchid naming convention is a topic that puzzled me for some time in my early days, and without doing some research on the subject, you'll most likely end up never understanding what it's all about. Luckily once you get into it, the conventions start making sense and you'll most likely not get confused by them again. So without further ado, let’s get started.

Genus and Species

In short, genus refers to the classification level below a family type, and species falls in just below genus. In other words, Orchidaceae, or orchids as we commonly call them, would be the family name. The genus or genera would always be the first name, starting with a capital letter and then followed by the species in lower cases. Both the genus and the species should appear in italics for example, Dendrobium kingianum. To clarify, in the above Dendrobium would refer to the genus and kingianum to the species.

Natural Hybrid

Natural hybrids aren't that common but do occur in some genera. A natural hybrid is created when two different species of the same genus naturally cross-pollinate resulting in a hybrid species of the two. Once it is discovered, named and documented, the genus and the species names are separated by an 'x'. A good example can be made with the Phalaenopsis × leucorrhoda. This is a natural hybrid between Phalaenopsis aphrodite and Phalaenopsis schilleriana. Notice that the 'x' does not appear in italics.


Man-made hybrids are very common for various reasons and have been around for a long time with the first being Calanthe Calanthe Dominyii, which was registered in 1856. Notice that with hybrids, the genus name is in italics, but the species name is not and the first letter of each word is capitalized.

Primary Hybrid

A primary hybrid is the term used when two different species are hybridised, and the naming convention would be dependant on whether it was a natural or man-made blend.

Complex Hybrid

In the case where two hybrids are hybridised or when a hybrid and a species are hybridised, it is then referred to as a complex hybrid. The naming convention would still follow the system above.


A synonym can be seen as another name for a specific species. This can happen when a section of the genera is reclassified from the originally described genera or when orchids in the same genera, but in different parts of the world, are given indigenous names or names that are excepted over time. Phalaenopsis violacea can be used as an example. One of its synonyms is Polychilos violacea. Usually, the globally accepted name would be the one that was published first.

Cultivar Names

Cultivar names are given to individual plants when they are awarded for exceptional qualities by orchid organisations like our very own SAOC. This can be given to either a species or a hybrid and is enclosed in single quotes. Paphiopedilum Jim Kie 'Springwater' can be used as an example of a hybrid with a cultivar name. Note that once again the genus is in italics, the name is capitalised and printed in a plain font and then the cultivar name appears last wrapped in single quotes.