Recognizing Excellence in Orchids
MOST OF US REMEMBER THE FIRST orchid we brought into flower and, at that time, it probably seemed to be the most beautiful blossom we had ever seen. Yet, as orchid experience accumulates, you begin to appreciate that, among orchid types and hybrids, some are more beautiful than others.
For better or worse, humans have a seemingly insatiable thirst for competition and evaluation that per-vades every facet of Western society. As individuals, we are graded or rated on our academic and physical achieve-ments from our earliest school days. It seems that every sport, hobby or leisure pursuit has its awards for top achievers, too. Even books, movies and television entertainment are rife with prizes, best sellers, top dollar earners and top 10 lists.
It should come as no surprise then, that systems and procedures for evaluating superior orchids have been developed. But there are different orchid-judging systems and different types of orchid judging.
First, in ribbon or show judging, orchid flowers, plants or exhibits are evaluated against each other within classes that are defined in a show schedule prepared by a hosting orchid society or group. Typically first-, second- and third-place awards are given in each class and corresponding blue, red and white ribbons are commonly presented to the winners. These are the awards you will likely notice first when attending an orchid show.
The other sort of judging evaluates flowers, plants or exhibits against a hypothetical ideal for the type of orchid or display. This is usually referred to as award judging. The largest system for granting orchid awards is provided by and under the jurisdiction of the American Orchid Society.
The AOS judging system currently includes more than 30 regional and supplemental judging centers across the country. Every AOS judging center meets on a monthly basis. About 850 orchid judges across the nation and in Canada volunteer their time toward this effort; some travel hundreds of miles each month to meet their commitment.
These judges not only meet at their centers 12 times a year to provide regular opportunities for orchid evaluation, but also furnish ribbon and AOS award judges for all orchid shows in their region that request it.
GETTING CERTIFIED Becoming an accredited AOS judge is not easy. To become such a judge, an exper-ienced orchidist must participate in a training program lasting a minimum of six years. Evaluations of prospective AOS-accredited judges are regularly made and, once they are accredited, continuing participation both in attending and presenting educational programs on topics related to orchid judging is expected. Every AOS-accredited judge is required to attend a minimum of eight orchid-judging events in his or her region each year. Most attend many more, all at his or her own expense.
FLOWER-QUALITY AWARDS At orchid shows and monthly judging events, AOS judges evaluate entries for several types of awards. The most familiar are flower-quality awards: HCC, AM and FCC. HCC stands for Highly Commended Certificate, AM for Award of Merit and FCC for First Class Certificate. A flower deemed of superior quality that scores more than 75 out of 100 points on a hypothetical scale may receive one of these awards: HCC if it scores 75 to 79 points, AM for scores of 80 to 89 points and FCC for scores of 90 points or more.
Much of a judge’s evaluation for a flower-quality award is based on theoretical ideals for the particular type of orchid under consideration. Factors that are evaluated include the shape, color and form of the flower. The size and number of flowers also enter into the formula. How multiple flowers are arranged and displayed on the inflorescence is important as well. In the case of hybrids, judges often consider whether the flower is an improvement over its species or hybrid parents. Judges compare the entries in front of them against the same or similar orchids that have previously received AOS awards.
Orchid judging is performed by teams that minimally consist of three judges, but often include many more. An entry’s flower quality score is the mathematical average of the individual scores by certified judges who are on the team assigned to evaluate it. Standards for different types of orchids, as well as procedures and rules for nomination and scoring, can be found in the American Orchid Society’s Handbook on Judging and Exhibition.
Once the AOS processes a flower-quality award from one of its judging centers, that plant and all of its vegetatively produced descendants carry the award. Each plant receiving a flower-quality award must be given a cultivar name by its grower to distinguish it from others. The cultivar name is listed in single quotation marks following the genus, species or grex names of the plant. Award abbre-viations are listed in capital letters following the cultivar name of the plant, accompanied by the initials of the organization that made the award. For example, AM/AOS and HCC/AOS indicate flower-quality awards pre-sented by the American Orchid Society.
Some other organizations and orchid societies present flower-quality awards roughly equivalent to the AOS awards, and you might encounter some of those in your orchid readings. Gold medal, silver medal and bronze medal are often used by other groups and roughly correspond to the American Orchid Society’s FCC, AM and HCC awards, respectively. These would be abbreviated GM, SM or BM following the plant’s name. Some of the organizations that make such awards include the Japan Orchid Growers Association (JOGA), Honolulu Orchid Society (HOS) and South Florida Orchid Society (SFOS). Therefore, a plant label with the award designation GM/SFOS would have received a gold medal from the South Florida Orchid Society.
Gold, silver and bronze medals are also used to designate flower-quality awards presented at World Orchid Conferences by teams made up of judges from orchid-judging systems around the world. A plant carrying the award abbreviation SM/18WOC would have received a silver medal at the 18th World Orchid Conference in Dijon, France. An RHS suffix designates awards given by Great Britain’s Royal Hort-icultural Society. CSA are the initials of the Cymbidium Society of America.
OTHER AWARDS While flower-quality awards are the most numerous and familiar of the American Orchid Society’s awards, other types of awards may be given to worthy entries. It is also important to note that it is possible for one orchid entry to receive more than one award at a single judging event. For example, it sometimes happens that an entry receives a flower-quality award as well as a cultural award at the same judging.
The coveted AOS cultural awards are given to the growers of orchid specimen plants of outstanding quality. The Certificate of Cultural Merit (CCM) goes to plants scoring 80 to 89 points, and the Certificate of Cultural Ex-cellence (CCE) to plants scoring 90 points or higher. Because these awards go to the grower and not the plant, vegetatively produced descendants do not carry the award.
Orchid species that have not previously been evaluated at an AOS judging event often receive either the Certificate of Botanical Recognition (CBR) or the Certificate of Horticultural Merit (CHM) award. The Judges Commendation (JC) is an award given to flowers or plants with unusual characteristics that the judges may value but are not able to score. There are additional AOS awards that may be given for such things as superior directions in orchid breeding and awards that are available for several types of meritorious orchid exhibits.
The judging process at orchid shows is typically closed to the public. Indeed, often only the judges and a few clerks provided by the host society participate in the process. Understanding the ribbon awards at most orchid shows is often challenging, as the competing flowers or plants in any particular class are usually scattered throughout exhibits across the room.
At many orchid shows you are also likely to see paperwork displayed that acknowledges a new AOS flower-quality award winner that was presented at that show. Sometimes you may think that the awarded flower is inferior or, at best, no better than other orchids of its type that are exhibited at the same event, but seemingly did not receive consideration. It is likely that if you look at the names on the labels identifying those better flowers, you will learn from the abbreviations following their names that they are vegetative propagations of orchids that have already received awards.
AOS judges do not give the same flower-quality award to a particular cultivar more than once, although a higher award may be given if the current flowering is deemed by the judges to be superior to the one that earned the earlier award.
If you are sincerely interested in the process of orchid judging, try to volunteer to clerk at an orchid show hosted by your local society. Know, however, that depending on the orchid society or particular event, clerks usually have some responsibilities in the judging process that you should understand and be able to perform before you sign on for the job.
Another instructive way to become familiar with the judging process is to attend an AOS monthly judging session. Judging centers welcome observers. If you attend an orchid judging, keep in mind that you are not there to participate in the judging process. The schedule for upcoming AOS orchid judging sessions and sanctioned shows is printed monthly in Orchids (see page 144 in this issue).
IF YOU GO When you attend your first judging session, you will likely hear considerable discussion among the judges over the entries they have to consider. Some of it may sound a bit nitpicky or critical, but that is an important part of the exercise. Orchid judges must recognize the qualities that separate poor orchids from good ones as well as those characteristics that define the really great ones. Hopefully, you will hear some of the merits and strong points of each entry as well as its weaknesses, and will begin to gain an appreciation for the process.
Unfortunately, any activity that generates awards, even if they are simply placement ribbons, produces the perception of winners and losers, and sooner or later it seems that feelings are hurt or egos are bruised. Not unlike other types of evaluations and competitions, orchid judging has certainly had its detractors. Yet the AOS strives for fairness and consistency throughout its judging system, and as one who has par-ticipated in orchid judging in many locations across the country, I honestly feel that, for the most part, it is a job well done.