South Coast Orchid Society

Best Practices for Orchid Plant Labels

An alarming number of plants in our gardens and on the ribbon judging table at our meetings have turned up without labels, or with broken, illegible, or obviously incorrect labels. This problem affects everybody, and it get in the way of the peaceable enjoyment of our plants! We have been thinking about what we can do to improve this mundane part of the orchid hobby.

Why do labels disappear? Sometimes they just fall out, as pots are moved around or fall over, or as new growths push them up and then out of the pot. Or, you can blame the raccoons. We have heard of people removing labels from pots at shows (in order to read the label), and then replacing the label back securely into the pot. There is even the story of the child who gathered up a handfull the plant labels and then presented them to his mother. Over the period of several years when you are trying to coax a new orchid into bloom, the label really can get lost!

  • Qualities of best orchid labels: They should not break or deteriorate for at least 5 years. They should be easy to write on with a pencil (pens and marking pens are not recommended, the ink smears and fades too easily). They should be affordable. They should have enough room for a complete orchid name, and it should be possible to write on both sides so that dates of bloom and/or repotting can be recorded as well. It should be possible to punch a hole in the labels so that they can be used with hanging plants. Brandon Tam, curator of the orchid collection at The Huntington Botanical Center, recommends the "Premium White Vinyl Plant Labels", "larger top" size, from Flori-Culture — they were out of stock for awhile, but as of July, 2022, they appear to be available again from this source. Flori-Culture sometimes shows up at local shows, notably the Huntington International Orchid Show in October. A similar "Premium White Vinyl" label for hanging plants, with a hole at one end, is currently available, and there is also a smaller label made from the same material.
  • Labels used by some nurseries seem to last very well, such as Cal-Orchid and Andy's Orchids. These labels are printed by a sort of oversized inkjet printer, the quality depends on the plastic label stock, the nature of the printing process, and the quality of the ink.
  • Best bet for writing on labels: No. 2 pencil should work fine, but we found that many of the labels available at home improvement stores and garden centers have a surface that doesn't work well with pencil (and even worse with most pens — the ink smears!). Roughing up the surface with fine sandpaper helps a little.
  • What to put on the label: Ideally, genus, species, cultivar name, and award information if any.
  • Do not abbreviate genus name unless it is a common one that everybody understands! Especially avoid abbreviations for uncommon intergeneric names or abbreviations that are not easy to read!
  • Before you write the label, be sure you have the full, correct spelling of the genus, species, and cultivar name.
  • Follow the rules: Capitalize the genus name and the hybrid name. Use lower case for species name. Put the cultivar name in 'single quotes'.
  • Include any dates that are relevant for you, and use a standard format. The back of the label is a good place for this information.
  • Some Cymbidium growers have had such a problem with disappearing labels that they routinely bury a second label in the potting medium. Why do Cymbidium labels disappear? Sometimes the new growths grow so large and so fast that they actually push the first label out of the pot! Putting a second label in the bottom of the new pot is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
  • Keep a separate list of the orchids you bring home! If a label is later lost, you may be able to figure out what it was from your plant list. The OrchidWiz software ($$) that you can run on your home computer includes features for keeping track of your orchid collection, a very good option to replace keeping lists on scraps of paper or in notebooks.