There are many different types of orchid and orchid hybrids, probably more so than with other flowering plants due to their ability to crossbreed at the genus and species level. Rules have been developed to help distinguish hybrid plants from their originator orchids. I’ll go over a little about it here so that it might make things easier for you. It’s believed that there are over 100,000 hybrids in existence at this point, creating an almost unlimited variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of orchids.
Some hybrids occur spontaneously in nature, but others are man-made. If it is believed the hybrid occurred naturally by the cross-pollination of bees, butterflies, or other means, they are denoted with an X in the name – for example, Dendrobium Xruppiosum (meaning D. ruppianum X D. speciosum).
When they are a man-made intergeneric hybrid, the names are combined as a contraction. In other words, if you are talking about a hybrid of Odontonia and Miltonia, the hybrid is known as Odontonia. The same rule follows if three flowers are mixed, and the longer the potential for the name – take Brassolaeliocattleya for example. It is a hybrid of Brassavola, Laelia, and Cattleya.
This system would have gotten too complicated with anything crossing more than four, so there is another system for those: the name is chosen usually as an originator’s name (or a new name) and the suffix -ara, to give you the ability to determine it is a hybrid instead of an origin species.
Sometimes you will find an orchid hybrid’s ‘parent’ plants listed in parenthesis after the name. This helps people who are not familiar with naming rules and will also give you an idea of what qualities the plant should possess.
A few quick notes on hybrids verses origin plants: one isn’t necessarily better or easier to grow than the other. As a general rule, hybrids are easier to care for: often, origin plants are selected for their heartier traits just as much as they are chosen for their appearance. Hybrids are often cheaper to purchase and grow than origin species, because propagation is easier. Another thing to consider is that origin species tend to be more forgiving because they have adapted to their environment, learning to compensate for missing nutrients, lighting (or lack thereof) and growing material.
With so many varieties out there, you are sure to find a plant at a skill level, size, shape, and color that you want! This little cheat sheet explaining names as well as asking questions of your local orchid society or grower should get you all the information you need.