Q) I have an orchid that was raised from seed and looks spectacular.

What is involved in getting American Orchid Society judges to evaluate it?

-Tom S.

A) In 1947, the American Orchid Society created a set of 'rules' for judges to follow in which an orchid could be evaluated and, if so determined, recognized as a new and improved form. Today, there are 33 judging locations throughout the United States which meet monthly and are available to anyone who wishes to have their orchid judged. The closest centers are in Washington D.C., Greensboro NC., Philadelphia PA, and Atlanta GA. Check the official AOS website www.aos.org for specific dates and times.

Observing an orchid judging is much like watching a chess match - the spectators knowledge in the subject directly relates to how interesting the event is. Imagine a group of horticultural experts discussing the minutest aspects of a plant in very detailed terms. One person is measuring the flower petals with a ruler (in centimeters) while another is determining the hue from a color wheel. A third person is researching the plant's ancestry going back many generations. Welcome to the world of orchid judging.

The credentials of an orchid judge are impressive. A minimum of seven years training is required. One could almost become a medical doctor or a university professor in the same time frame! Judges must pass a color screening test, have a thorough knowledge of common species and hybrids as well as a general knowledge of lesser known species (30,000+) and hybrids...not to mention maintain a high level of personal integrity! And have the patience of a chess player...

Submitting a plant is relatively easy. The plant should be quite mature - not blooming for the first time - so that the full potential can be seen. The leaves should be relatively clean and the flowers fresh with not a trace of insects or diseases. The complete botanical name should be included but the growers name should not in order to minimize the chance of bias.

Generally, judges look for large round flat flowers. Here is an example of a description taken from 'The AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition' - "Petals should be slightly erect to slightly arched, broad and rounded, frilled or undulated at the margins. The lip should be proportionate to the petals with a rounded flattened symmetrical and crisped or frilled trumpet. The color of the flower should be clear, bright and strong, evenly dispersed throughout the petals and sepals without washing out at the mid-veins..." You get the idea?!

Each judge on the team independently scores the plant on a scale of 0 to 100. Form is worth 30 points, Color 30 points, and Size/Substance/Floriferousness 40 points. The Chairman takes an average of the scores. All plants that receive 75 points or more, get an award. The exhibitor of a newly awarded orchid must then provide a variety name which will go down in the famed annals of orchid history.

In my two decades of attending judgings, I have seen many 'surprises' but a good time is always guaranteed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 17:15