Orchid Awards - Why do they Affect You?

THE term 'orchid grower' encompasses a very wide range of personalities with a great variation in degree of enthusiasm. For example; there are the avid exhibitors who put all of their effort into winning prizes at shows; there are commercial types who love orchids but are interested mainly in how much money they can make with them, the casual hobbyist who just likes to have a few orchids or the keen amateur who is on the way to becoming one of the above three.

There are other classes too and, no matter what heading fits you; knowledge of orchid judging and awards is essential to the greater enjoyment of the hobby.

Orchid awards are given in recognition of outstanding improvement in any section of the Orchidaceae, towards the theoretical ideal. They can also be given for outstanding merit in some particular characteristic of any orchid or they can be given to a grower for a particularly good effort in growing a plant.

In the first section, orchid blooms are allotted points for the excellence of their properties, including shape, colour & texture, substance, habit of spike and in the case of 'spray' orchids, their floriferousness. The total of possible points for all awards is 100. Three awards are available as follows: 75 to less than 80 points qualifies for a Highly Commended Certificate (HCC); 80 to less than 85 points qualifies for an Award of Merit (AM) and 85 points and greater qualifies for a First Class Certificate (FCC).

A bloom may qualify for an Award of Distinction (AD) if not having the overall perfection to qualify for one of the above three awards it has an extremely outstanding attribute such as intensity of colour. This award may be granted in conjunction with the above awards.

Three cultural certificates are available: these are applicable to plants which have been exceptionally well grown, showing evidence of culture above the ordinary. The plant needs to be flowering freely, preferably better than its normal type, and the condition of flowers, pseudobulbs and foliage must be excellent, taking into account the hybrid or species being shown and its natural characteristics. The Award of Cultural Commendation (ACC) is given for plants receiving 75 to less than 80 points, the Award of Cultural Merit (ACM) for plants receiving 80 to less than 85 points, and the Award of Cultural Excellence (ACE) for plants receiving 85 point or more.

A Certificate of Botanical Merit (CBM) is granted, once only, to any species orchid which is new and/or rare in cultivation in Australia and which has been cultivated well and is a good example of its type. The award is used as a bench-mark for future awards of this species. No allocation of points is made.

Hybridisers are encouraged by the Award of Special Recognition (ACR); an award granted to a person for the advancement of a particular line of breeding, in hybrid development or in line-breeding of species orchids. A minimum of twelve plants of the development being assessed are required to be shown at the same time. Flowers need not be of award quality, but must be of consistently high standard. A statement from the hybridises is required, which outlines the strategies (parents, timeframe etc.) used in the production of the sub­mitted plants

Reasons for Awards

Awards are a very necessary feature of orchidology. The original purpose for them was, as has been stated, to give recognition to an outstanding flower. This purpose, of course, is the same today and we find that through such events as the World Orchid Conference, orchid awards throughout the world are becoming standardized. Therefore awards help orchid buyers and a person in England can quite confidently purchase a division of an awarded plant from Australia knowing that the flower will be up to a particular standard.

Of course, awards are the goal sought after by the orchid hybridiser and these people are continually striving, through research, to produce better and more consistent crossings. This continual advancement in orchid hybridization means that orchid judges also must advance their ideas of plant 'perfection'. It can, therefore, be seen that orchid judges must have a considerable experience in orchidology and are continually increasing their knowledge in this field to keep up with current breeding trends. It is obvious that the awards standards must also progress. For example, an orchid bloom which received and award ten years ago might be hard-pressed to achieve an equivalent award today. For this reason it is important that all award citations should be followed by the year in which the plant was granted the award in catalogues, lists and labels - e.g. Cymbidium Wallara 'Wondabah' AM/AOC (1964).

Awards are not, and cannot, be distributed indiscriminately. Compared with the many thousands of new plants which are introduced into cultivation here each year, few awards are granted in Australia. Therefore it can be seen that a bloom must be outstanding to achieve this distinction.

In summary, orchid awards encourage growers to greater efforts and provide a goal to aim for, they provide a standard of values throughout the orchid world and they are an incentive which makes the hybridise use all means at their disposal to strive for better things.

Through the Australian Orchid Council we have a judging system that has evolved; orchids gaining awards in the past are used as benchmarks for the present and through the use of these a continuum has developed. As a result of the establishment of the AOC Judging Awards Standing Committee, comprising the registrars of each region, we find that, throughout the country, judging is standardized and all states have a voice in awarding orchids for their degree of excellence.

Colin Jennings

Originally published in "Orchids Australia" April 2007.