THE LOST LABEL by Brian Milligan

There’s nothing more sorrowful than an orchid without a label, except perhaps a lost puppy without a collar! The plant is usually relegated to a spot in the furthest corner of the shade-house, where it suffers from a lack of air movement and regular watering, which in turn predisposes it to attack by scale and red spider mites.

The grower’s hope is that, when the orchid next flowers, it may be identified. This may be possible if it’s a division of one of his or her other plants, or if it’s a species orchid or a commonly grown hybrid. Otherwise, the orchid stands little chance of identification, and its usual fate is to join other orchids destined for the sales bench at one of our shows – most members of the public are not interested in an orchid’s name, apart from the genus (Cymbidium, Dendrobium etc.).

An unnamed orchid is of limited value to any member interested in displaying his or her orchids on the show bench at orchid meetings or shows. OSCOV judging rules state that un­named orchids should not receive a first prize in their class, and in practice (unless they are of high quality), they are unlikely to receive a second or third place. An unnamed orchid can therefore, in principle, never win Best in Section. New growers are still advised to bench their unnamed orchids, because they may be quality plants that the judges are able to identify. But if the judges continue to ignore your illegitimate orchid, then you may as well dispose of it to make room for another of known lineage.

Orchid hybrids are said to be the only members of the plant kingdom for which a complete family tree is known, and orchid devotees are therefore determined to preserve that record, which is maintained by a committee of the Royal Horticultural Society. The judging rule that unnamed orchids should never be given a first prize is designed to discourage their cultivation. For the same reason unknown orchids should never be used for breeding purposes, and names for all worthwhile progeny bred from known parents should be registered.

So, take great care not to lose an orchid’s label when re-potting, and always label every division you make. I find that labels are easily lost during wild weather. Some of my pots are inevitably toppled over during windstorms, and I have learned by experience, having up-righted the pot, to look for the label, which may have fallen beneath the wire mesh bench.

Of course, there are some events that can’t be foreseen, like the occasion when an orchid grower sent his noisy granddaughter outside to play. Eventually she returned, gleefully telling Grandpa what she had found – a handful of carefully gathered orchid labels!

Showtime is another occasion when plant labels are sometimes lost through no fault of the grower. Naive show patrons have been known to remove the labels from prize-winning orchids, so that they can show them to the sales staff in the hope of finding an identical orchid in the sales area! Sadly, few illegally removed labels find their way back to their original homes. For this reason, some growers put two identical labels in their pots, the second one pressed down out of sight beneath the compost as a smart insurance policy.