Occasionally orchid judges encounter orchid flowers that vary widely from the norm – for example, flowers with two lips or no lip, and others with additional petals and sepals. These are immediately disqualified. Orchids with deformities such as these are rare and found most often in mericlones, particularly when mericlones have been used to make further mericlones. If the same fault occurs in the following year, the plant will be useless for show purposes and should be destroyed unless you wish to keep it for sentimental reasons!

I have occasionally observed similar deformities in disa flowers, such as missing lips or twin lips, even though all my plants are seedlings rather than mericlones. The fault has never recurred in subsequent years and I attribute its occurrence to a particular fungicide that I no longer use.

Then there are lesser faults, such as a dent in the back of the pouch of a paphiopedilum flower. This fault occurs more commonly with multi-floral slipper orchids (but is still rare) and is usually caused by one bud pressing against its neighbour while they are still in the sheath. It does not result in automatic disqualification but the plant is penalised so heavily that its owner could not hope to win a quality award or even Best in Section on that particular flowering.

Another fault occurs when the flower stalk (the pedicel) of an orchid flower becomes fused to the main inflorescence. It seems to occur more frequently in cymbidiums but fortunately this malformation is rare and not usually repeated on subsequent flowering.

Other faults include colour breaks, in which there is a ‘break’ or interruption in the regular coloration of an orchid flower. In severe cases this is caused by a viral infection, in which case the plant should be destroyed, as the infection is incurable and easily transferred to healthy plants. But more often it manifests itself as a white (or coloured) line on a petal, sepal or labellum. The judges will penalise this fault rather heavily but will not disqualify the plant. Of course, the above remarks do not apply to those symmetrical markings on petals and sepals that are part of the flower’s natural coloration.

In rare cases an orchid will have colour patterns on its petals and/or sepals that match those on the labellum. These are known as peloric markings, and, provided they are symmetrically distributed, they will incur no penalty from the judges. Most occur during rare mutations during the mericloning process. Cymbidium Mavourneen ‘Jester’, awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society (UK) in 1970, is one of the earliest examples. Cymbidium Dillabirra ‘Butterfly’ and C. Butterfly Kisses ‘Veridian’ (pictured in a recent issue of the Australian Orchid Review) are two Australian examples. In some (but not all) cases these mutations are fixed, and subsequent mericloning provides identical plants with similarly patterned flowers.

Other examples of flowers with peloric markings on the petals are the so-called “splash-petal” cattleyas. Most (perhaps all) of these cattleyas have been bred from the species Cattleya intermedia var. aquinii, a rare variety of this well known species with petals essentially identical to its purple and white-marked labellum. A few plants of this species with similar flowers have since been discovered but that found first (in 1874) carried the most highly valued colour pattern. Many different splash-petal cattleya hybrids bred from Cattleya intermedia var. aquinii are now available. They have striking colour patterns but their shape is usually inferior to that of many exhibition-type cattleyas.