Complex Paph hybrids / bulldog Paphs... why?

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Some of you may have noticed that I mostly grow paph species. I can sum up pretty quickly the reasons why: I love the natural diversity of species, the beauty of the different types and forms, I like the idea of conserving plants that are rare (or worse) in the wild, and I am intrigued at a scientific level about the adaptive and evolutionary issues related to Paph species.

I also find primary hybrids interesting (though to a lesser degree)... there's such a wide range of flower shapes and colors that become possible. That's interesting.

But I can't seem to get interested in Paph complex hybrids. I'm talking about the bulldog types... big, round, flat flowers in one of a few different colors. It's not that I hate them or anything... they just don't grab me.

I can understand why people would want to breed them; there's a creative, artistic process in having a vision and trying to create it with a set of tools (stud plants, in this case). That must be fun... especially if you get awards, or loads of money for selling them.

But what do you get out of growing them? Is it just that they're "Pretty flowers", or is there something more to it that I'm missing? I hate to dismiss the whole genre... there are so many people that love them and grow them that they must be getting something out of it.

What is it? Please don't leave me in the dark.

As Ever,
Matthew Gore
I am by no means a "bulldog" connoiseur and only have a handfull personally, but the ones I have I cherish.

First and foremost is the flower. It never ceases to amaze me how noticed they are by people who only know orchids as the expensive flowers at the grocery store. A few years ago, I was floating around the local orchid show quietly enjoying the conversations I heard coming from all the visitors, when I noticed something that blew my mind. In one exhibit there was the most beautiful Paph. rothschildianum in full bloom in the dead center of the display(needless to say covered in ribbons). I don't think I've ever pointed a flower out to so many people. But, every visitor I showed what in my eyes was the most incredible thing in the building gave it a good look, and then immediately turned to the plant next to it and their jaws dropped and the cameras started flashing. Low and behold it was an average (in my eyes) green bulldog type. People couldn't get over the thing! "Is that real?!?!?!" was heard numerous times along with a guy offering big bucks to buy it for his mother even after repeatedly telling him it wasn't mine and display plants aren't for sale.

I asked numerous visitors why they liked the thing so much, and the unanimous answer was that it was "incredible". For me, it's the size and texture of the blooms. Seeing a dinner plate sized flower that looks and feels like it is made of plastic is still a marvel to me. How something like that can exist and not be made from artificial materials is what always struck me and I believe deep down that is why the general public felt the same way.

The other reason I cherish mine is the history behind them. There are clones around that have truely stood the test of time and are still available today. It's like having a living antique! This same factor is one of the things I really love about Neofinetia clones as well.

I will always be a species nut, and will always stop dead in my tracks to see a nice rothschildianum in bloom, but I have a lot of respect for some of the complex hybrids of old and will always have bench space for them.


Well spoken.

I think that if I were more interested in the human history behind Paphs, I'd really enjoy complexes a lot more... I do really like the idea of owning an orchid that has been grown and passed down for a hundred years.

When it comes to the "incredible" factor, I guess I'll have to accept that they're just not my type, at least for now. Maybe one day I'll see one and it will grab me, and I'll start down that road...

- Matt
This is the last one to grab me. It doesn't have great form or color and will never win an award...but holding a flower up to my nose and realizing it was the size of my face on a first bloom made me immediately decide I had to have it.

Maybe one day you'll see a large plant of Winston Churchill with a flower that looks like it could take a punch and change your mind. If not, there are plenty of incredible species out there with just as much if not more WOW power to them.

I appreciate the history of these complex Paphs, and even like a few when I see them in person, but in my opinion, they're the poodle of the orchid world.

Overbred and over-appreciated.

No offense to anyone who grows them, and Jon, I liked your explanation. It always amazes me when a specimen Phrag hybrid or a Complex get's recognized (and they often do) over the species or hard to grow and bloom Multi hybrids. My Sander's Pride last month lost out to a Phrag caricinum x Sorcerer's Apprentice just because the Phrag was big. It was by no means spectacular, and not a difficult or rare plant. :rolleyes:
Y'all need to visit Hadley Cash's place about right now! That's all I got to say... I think alot of species are absoluteley incredible, but some of them are just kind of drab and boring. I think having complexes and alot of these novelty crosses really invigorates growers. Species tend to have a definite blooming time (for the most part). These hybrids keep you interested in the off blooming seasons. How much fun would it be all summer, fall, and winter without much blooming species wise.... Now I know there are exceptions to the rule. I feel as if they are more variable than species, you can definitely get a dog but also, these types of flowers are the "gateway drug" for alot of paph growers.

My control of the english language is not so good....
I look at this issue as an ever evolving fad. What is the latest fashion?

Complex paph hybrids are the end result of 100 years+ of hybridizing. When you consider that most of them are primarily composed of insigne, villosum, spiceranum, etc. they are much larger, fuller and colorful than their species ancestors. There are color ranges white, pink, red, tan/browns, greens, yellows and combinations of all of these colors. In many of these crosses the progeny is mediocre or poor, but there are a few keepers in every bunch. Of course, some crosses have a better average.

Many complex paphs are polyploids, hence larger flowers of heavy substance.

The original primary hybrids were made mostly in the late 1800's to early 1900's, then more complex crosses were made to jumble up the genetic material.
After this time frame, complex hybrids became the desired form of paphiopedilum until the 1960's. A renewed interest in species started again at that time and has continued today while interest in complex hybrids has declined. The introduction of things like Paph suhakulii, vinicolored callosums, and the Chinese paph species have focused the interest towards primary hybrids and species. It's interesting that vini paphs have evolved to become close to the complex standards, my guess is that the mini paph species will be hybridized to the same levels.

There are still people that grow a lot of complex hybrids, the Japanese love them, and many of the old American and European collections have many of these historically important hybrids. Remember that the genetic material that is included in many of these plants doesn't exist anymore. Presently the focus is on large greens and whites with the complexes, and eventually they will reach a maxed out level of quality much like white phalaenopsis, odontoglossums or cattleyas.
First and foremost, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, therefore what is beautiful to you, may be ugly to someone else and vice versa. It's everyone's right to have their own preference.

As for judging, I don't know how local shows work, nor how AOS judging events work. In most judging type set-ups, however, each individual is judged upon its own standard, not in comparison to its competition. The most obvious example are dow shows. Each dog is judged against its own breed standard, not against the dogs in the ring with it.

Just because a poodle is in the same class with a rare breed doesn't mean that the poodle shouldn't win the class just because it is a more common breed of dog. Why bother showing anything then, unless it is rare? But then if only the rare things get shown, then they're no longer rare and it's the common things that become rare since they aren't shown!

Another reason why some people "get such a kick" out of the complex bulldog types is for the mere fact that it is something they have created. It's their form of clay and they've managed to mould it into their idea of beautiful.

I don't have any experience breeding orchids, but I have years of experience breeding bettas. While I was a die-hard species breeder of Bettas, I was also a die-hard breeder of "man-made" fancy bettas. I worked for years in developing my own line of bettas that fit just the image I had in my mind. Some people hate the fancy bettas because they are so far from the original species... That's their right to feel that way. But I always got an immense sense of pride when I step back and look at photos of what I was able to accomplish. Here are some examples.

My primary work was with Orange bettas...and I was once told by one of the top breeders, who helped develop the "Halfmoon" trait that it would be impossible to breed for a halfmoon betta, since the quality was just so poor to start with.

Here is one of my original oranges, a veiltail. Most obviously, the caudal fin is, the dorsal in is skimpy and long. the anal fin is pointed, and the body is torpedo shaped.


After two years, I managed to breed for a decent delta tail. Caudal fin improved immensely, it is now symmetrical. Dorsal fin has increased tremendously and the anal fin is much square, less pointy. Body is still torpedo shaped.


And after 4 years of work, orange halfmoon bettas, one of whom went on to win best in show at an international halfmoon betta show... Caudal is now a perfect halfmoon with 16-32 ray braching witha big full dorsal that does not extend beyond the caudal. The anal fin is a nice square shape but too long.... that would have been the next step, breeding for a shorter anal fin. The body is also a squarer shape.



These halfmoon bettas can be compared to the complex bulldog orchids. They are heavily inbred and line bred and completly artififically man-made. And there is a large group of breeders who hate them because of this. You can see there's a lot of manipulation in the body and fin structure of the fish.. .and it all depends on what the breeder has in his mind and then must somehow transform that into an actual fish. It's the same with the complex orchids...just a different medium
Lienluu, your work with the betta is just amazing. I do appreciate fish since we have kept various forms of fresh water tropical, goldfish and a few koi. And, I also understand the sense of accomplishment one gets from developing your own creations over time. I went to school for art, and the exploration of personal themes and the expression of those themes through drawing and painting can be greatly satifying.

There must be a similar feeling from creating your own complex paphs. There are many beautiful hybrids, and yet only a select few are truly appealing. However, the natural and innate beauty of many the species, especially when seen in the wild, are just breathtaking. I believe that they call to a deep ancestral memory that is present in many of us, and this is one of the reason why we are 'bit by the bug.'

There is value in diversity. Excellant thread. Thank you, Barbara.
Lien and everyone,

I hope that you haven't misunderstood me; I am not suggesting that people who grow complexes have poor taste, or that they are somehow not as worth growing as species.

There is no doubt that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case, I am willing to admit that I just don't see the beauty yet. Maybe someday I will. My question was really about whether there is something beyond just "beauty" that drives complex growers, and Jon's post helped me on that account.

As Ever,
Matthew Gore
Oh, and those bettas are AMAZING, Lien! There's something else that I don't know much about :)

- Matt
Excellent discussion... I am sort of new to this and hope not to sound to ignorant... For the species purist - how do F2, F3, F4 etc. generations of species fit into your collection? At some point they are pretty different than their wild collected ancestors - but still a species.
Lien cool betta pics.

The philosophy of beauty is compicated subject and is a whole conversation within itself. To me and partially Kant their is objective beauty apart from what we percieve. However, we all appreciate different objective aspects of beauty subjectively and weight some areas more than others. Such as symetry, color, size, proportions ........ These are all real objective traits that we subjectively value.

As for complexes I have fallen for them recently. Apart from the breeding acumen needed to create them. They have amazing texture, symetry, size and color. They can be breathtaking and get better and better.
I started by liking species, added some phrags, moved to primary hybrids, to parvis and now am back to species and complexes
suss16 said:
Excellent discussion... I am sort of new to this and hope not to sound to ignorant... For the species purist - how do F2, F3, F4 etc. generations of species fit into your collection? At some point they are pretty different than their wild collected ancestors - but still a species.

We've had a few discussions about just this topic. Here's a little reading for your spare time (8 pages long, I think!). I don't want you to think I am discouranging our discussion of your question, though. :) Just thought maybe you hadn't seen this thread yet.
One doesn't have to like all Paphs all the time. It is okay to have favorites. (in fact it is even okay if someone likes a plant that is not a Paph) I used to dismiss white Phals as boring. Then I was forced to do judging at a spring show of white Phals. Had to pick the best of class from 35 or so white Phal entries. I had to REALLY look, out of fairness to the registrants. Listened to Herman Pigors point out the merits of the 5 or so best, then voted. To this day I now keep one white phal in my collection, because they represent the peak of the breeder's art. Similarly i did not think much of Hellas. Until I saw a well grown division of Hellas 'Westonbirt', it was a plant owned by Warton Sincler before he got out of the business. A 3 growth division of Hellas that was so well grown it REQUIRED a 1 gallon nursery can as its pot. The flower was enormous. Exquiste, sunset colors and full flat shape. Again, 20 generations or more removed from Paph villosum and an exquisite representation of the breeders art. A well grown complex is a wonder of architecture. Sadly, few people grow them well. I have a few and when my culture is not up to par, it is embarrassing to see how aweful that division of Winston Churchill 'Redoubtable' can be. But when you get it right they are fabulous.
Jon pointed it out, really very few Paphs, (species or complex) are "Pretty", they usually are fascinating, but not often "Pretty". If you want "prettty", you grow Cattleya or Phal. If you like intricate architecture you grow Paphs, they are the abstract sculpture of the orchid world. Paph appreciation is more similar to appreciation of sculpture than paintings. Cattleyas with their colors and texture are more like paintings. Color compostition is the key with Catts.
I used to be a species snob, and species often are my favorites, but I have come to appreciate the breeder's art. And respect the effort that it requires. Consider this, most complex crosses produce very few truely exceptional seedlings. The awarded ones are the one in a hundred or one in a thousand out of a particular grex. FCC's are definitely one in thousands. Many crosses yeild no progeny of award quality. A good complex is a rare thing indeed. The bulk of complex seedlings end up compost. The good ones are great. While we don't have to like everything, I do love my half dozen awarded complexes. Each a sculptural monument to the breeders art.
I think it's mainly on tastes and purposes on what particular individuals like.

Lien - lovely betta...i've been bitten by a bug not to long ago :). Unfortunately, I think i reached capacity already.
The one thing about complex paphs that nobody mentioned is how extremely difficult it actually is to get one with good proportions/shape and color. This is why there is a very high price tag on 'division' complex paphs. Divisions of nice complex can run from $100 to $10,000 to even more, on rare occasions. A lot of this pricing is based upon chances. Sometimes you'll have to bloom 100 of a complex cross until you come upon a very nice one (I've thrown away hundreds of bad complex paphs). Those odds will determine the price as well. Especially when it comes to pink and white complex, as they are harder to produce than others. Greens are quite predictable and have a high percentage of symmetrical flowers. It's like owning a piece of fine art, I suppose. After seeing how hard it is to produce good quality complex, I too have a great appreciation and admiration of complex.

Although nothing does it for me like a neofinetia falcata (even though it doesn’t have a pouch)!

Did you see this recent posting I did? It's Paph. Stone Lovely, and that's about as round as they get nowdays!

Here's another lovely modern green complex, from the OZ, forget the cross


And one of my favourite pink complex, Legacy's Child, 'Beautiful Dreamer' from Hadley Cash:


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