Mark Your Calendar: the next Annual Oregon Orchid Show & Sale is September 24-25, 2022 in Portland, OR

Orchid Judging

Useful Links:
American Orchid Society Judging
AOS Judging Centers
Pacific Northwest Judging Center

Orchid Judging:

The world of orchid lovers has a wide spectrum of obsessions. Some people delve deeply into the botany of the plant. Collectors or not, the natural world of the orchid, its conservation and preservation, are a driving passion for these. On the other end (perhaps) of this spectrum are those that simply marvel in the beauty of this unique flower. The asthetics of the orchid range from graceful to menacing and, as it is with many hobbies, there’s a system (several systems, actually) for cataloguing the asthetic quality of an orchid and commending the skilled grower.

Orchid judgin

Recording the results of the day's judging at the Pacific Northwest Judging Center in Silverton, OR

Here in Oregon, the traditional judging system is that of the American Orchid Society (AOS). The Oregon Orchid Society has been an affiliate of the AOS since 1948. The Pacific Northwest Judging Center allows for monthly orchid judging. Oregon’s is at the Keizer Civic Center in Keizer on the first Sunday of every month. Entering your plants for judging is open to everybody, regardless of membership to any orchid society.

Here we’d like to give you a basic understanding of the AOS judging system…

You may have noticed some mysterious letters on your orchid’s tag at the end of its name such as AM/AOS or HCC/AOS. What does this mean? The AOS has devised a very sophisticated system with which they judge the quality of an orchid flower. There are many attributes and conditions that the judges look for in an orchid flower, yet the basics are that higher quality flowers are more appreciated by the human eye due to the way they are positioned, colored, shaped and structured. This complex system is broken down into a point-based system from 1 to 100 in which points are accumulated based on the plant’s attributes. Individual judges rate the flower after which the judging group’s numbers are averaged to give a final rating for the flower. Based on this average rating, the flower is placed into one of several award classes. Below is a chart to show the “quality awards” (compared to the cultural awards explained below) that orchids can receive.

QUALITY AWARDS (attributed to the orchid cultivar, the plant itself):

Awarded Points Award Class Tag Abbreviation
90-100 First Class Certificate FCC/AOS
80-89 Award of Merit AM/AOS
75-79 Highly Commended Certificate HCC/AOS
0-74 No Award Given

Quality awards aren’t the only awards that an orchid can receive. There are also cultural awards. Cultural awards differ from quality awards in that the entire plant is taken into account and based on how it’s grown, how healthy it is and how attractive it is the GROWER is awarded for growing a specimen plant. It is important to note that a cultural award regards the grower and stays with that specific plant, whereas a quality award is given to the orchid itself (which then becomes a recognized cultivar) and gets attributed to all divisions, mericlones and offspring of the awarded plant.

CULTURAL AWARDS (attributed to the grower):

Awarded Points Award Class Tag Abbreviation*
90-100 Certificate of Cultural Excellence CCE/AOS
80-89 Certificate of Cultural Merit CCM/AOS
0-79 No Award Given

*since this award is given to a single plant, such a tag abbreviation would rarely, if ever, be seen for sale.

Numerous other special AOS awards can be given in particular judging situations but the above are the most commonly seen. You can read of other awards on the AOS website.

AOS Judging Facts:

  • First AOS Award: Bc. Springtide ‘Stonehurst’, 1932
  • Highest Awarded Orchid: Vanda sanderiana ‘Kiliwehi’ 98 points, 1952
  • First AOS Award Given in Oregon: Miltonia Firefly 87 points, 1950 Oregon Orchid Society Show
  • Highest Awarded Orchids in Oregon: Lc. South Esk ‘Pride of Rivermont’ & Oda. Sensation ‘Western Sunset’ – tied at 96 points
  • Total Number of FCC Awards Given in Oregon: 18 (at last count)
  • Highest Cultural Award in Oregon: Dendrobium densifolium ‘Meredith Ann’ & Miltonia Gordon Hoyt ‘Dolores’ – tied at 95 points
  • Most Awarded Genus in Oregon: Paphiopedilum (184 awards)
  • Most Awarded Single Species in Oregon: Masdevallia coccinea (9 awards)
  • Total Awards Given in Oregon (through 2009): 902

The suffix of “AOS” may not be the only thing you see on an orchid tag as there are other orchid judging institutions around the world. These differ from the AOS in their judging criteria and the awards that they give. Here’s a list of some judging organizations and their abbreviations: