Angraecum leonis

Behind Clonal Names

       When an orchid plant/flower is awarded by the American Orchid Society or another recognized organization, it is given what is called a clonal name.  That name is usually chosen by the owner of the plant.  It will identify that individual plant for the plants life; as well as be used in any hybrid cross where that same individual plant is used as a parent.  Some growers will use the same clonal name for every award they receive so that name eventually becomes identifiable to that one grower.  This page is dedicated to those behind the clonal name; not the plants or flowers that are awarded.  I hope these articles will give you an insight to the growers themselves and their ideals.


       On a global level, the names Fuchs, R.F. Orchids and Crownfox are among the most recognized names in the orchid world.  Whether used as a grex name, a nursery, an orchid hybridizer or as a cultivar name; they have appeared throughout our collections, and collections worldwide for well over fifty years.

       The articles in this section of the blog are usually geared towards the reasoning behind clonal names.  Due to the extensive history regarding Fuchs, R.F. and Crownfox, I thought it would be interesting to give a brief background prior to the story of the cultivar name 'Crownfox'.

       Reference to the Fuchs name as a dynasty is not only fitting, it is well-deserved.  Robert's German-born great-grandfather Charles brought the family to Florida and purchased 160 acres of land in 1912.  Rather than become a farmer and grow beans, he became a baker and baked bread.  Fred Sr. and Louise Fuchs (Robert's grandparents) started a small nursery on their 1921 homestead property.  Robert's father Fred Jr. was a part-time gardener until retiring from the post office.  He then devoted all of his time to growing orchids and leading orchid hunts in Latin America.

       The name Fuchs made its first appearance in a grex name in 1958.  Fred Fuchs Jr. crossed Encyclia tampensis with Cattleya dowiana, creating an orchid hybrid that he registered as Catyclia (syn. Epicattleya) Fred J. Fuchs Junior.  This would be the start of a family dynasty in the world of orchid hybrids.

Catyclia Fred J. Fuchs Jr. 'Carimo' HCC/AOS (1971)
       Fred Sr. and Fred Jr.'s nurseries were successful operating business.  In the mid-1960s, Fred Sr.'s health started to fail and he passed away in 1969.  Throughout this time, his nursery had started to deteriorate as well.  After Robert's graduation from Florida State University in 1970, he returned home and began to completely overhaul his grandfather's business.  In December of 1970, R.F. Orchids was born and opened for business.  In the early days, however, the nursery was only open part time; on weekends and weekdays after school.  Robert had become an art teacher at Homestead Junior High School and could only devote time after school or while school was not in session.  For nearly fifteen years, Robert's life was neither one or the other; he was vested and committed to both teaching and the world of orchids.
The every early days of R.F. Orchids
       From 1970 into early 1984, Robert balanced his teaching profession with the nursery.  The business was growing and the nursery seemed to be in a constant state of change and improvement.  In this time period, R.F. Orchids had registered nearly twenty-five hybrids that included "Fuchs' in the hybrid name registered with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).  For several years prior to 1984, Robert was also preparing for the 11th World Orchid Conference (WOC) that would be making its Miami debut.  The WOC is held in a different location around the world every three years and is considered the orchid Olympics.
       As if overnight, at the 11th WOC, Robert Fuchs and R.F. Orchids gained international recognition.  The nursery's plants had won twelve individual medals, Best in Class trophy for an outstanding exhibit and most of all, the coveted Grand Champion of the 11th World Orchid Conference.  These awards brought R.F. Orchids recognition as a world-renowned grower and hybridizer of vandaceous orchids.  It was Robert's hard dedication which brought him to this point.  Twenty-four years later (2008), his mother was quoted in a New York Times article written by Nancy Beth Jackson, "He's a perfectionist.  He can't help."  An image of the 11th WOC Grand Champion, Vanda Deva 'Robert' appears below after winning an Award of Merit (AM/AOS) in July, 1983.
Vanda Deva 'Robert' AM/AOS, SM/11WOC
     With the accolades that Robert and R.F. Orchids received at the 11th WOC, he made the decision to retire from teaching and devote his time completely to orchids, a decision that he has never regretted.  The nursery was incorporated in 1985 and in the last thirty-plus years has become one of the most respected and successful orchid businesses in the world.
       The name Fuchs was used extensively between 1969 and 1996; 162 registered hybrids with "Fuchs" in the name appear in the records.  Robert used it twice after 1996.  In 2003, he registered Vanda Fuchs Midnight, and then in 2015 (the last time the Fuchs name would appear in registrations), he registered Myrmecocattleya Louise Adel Fuchs.  Two other plant names that stood out during this research we Vanda Memoria Fred Fuchs in 1969 and Vanda Memoria Louise Fuchs in 1984, in honor of Family.  There are a number of other family dedications throughout this time period; Robert's way to not leave any family out of this group of orchid hybrids.
       One of the contributing factors to the success of R.F. Orchids is the number of American Orchid Society (AOS) awards that the nursery and its orchids have received, more than any other nursery or individual grower has ever been granted.  Since the nursery's inception, it has won well over 1,150 awards.  An amazing accomplishment is the fact that R.F. Orchids has won more CCM/AOS (an award for culture given to the grower rather than to the plant) than any grower in the world.  The nursery has also won a great number of FCC/AOS (First Class Certificate) awards, the highest flower quality award given by the AOS.  Robert's show exhibits have won thirty Gold Medals as well as fifty-two AOS Show Trophies, which are given by the AOS for the Most Outstanding Orchid Exhibit at an AOS sanctioned show.
       On an international level, R.F. Orchids has received many awards from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in England, various World Orchid Conferences, the Japan Grand Prix, South African Orchid Congress Shows, and orchid societies in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru.
       I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert and talk about the name "Crownfox", which has been used in both grex and cultivar names.  He explained it this way:  "Fuchs means fox in German and Coronado means crown in Spanish, talking about our Spanish and German ancestry, so we call it Crownfox."  The name Coronado refers to Michael Coronado, Robert's business partner as well as life partner.  The two together are responsible for a very thriving orchid business.
Robert Fuchs and Michael Coronado
       The first time "Crownfox" was used in a grex name was April 26, 1996, when Vanda Crownfox was registered with the International Orchid Registry at the RHS; to date, this hybrid has not been awarded.  As of November, 2016, there are 103 registered hybrids that include some variation of "Crownfox" in the grex name.  It's important to note that there are twenty different genera represented in those registrations; but most are Vandas.  The first AOS award given to a "Crownfox" named hybrid was to Vanda Crownfox Red Delicious 'Norma' AM/AOS; it received a total of 85 points in April of 1998.
Vanda Crownfox Red Delicious 'Norma' AM/AOS
       Robert did the majority of the hybridizing for years but Michael has done much of it over the last few years.  Ruben Sauleda, a dear friend of Robert's did many of the mother flasks and Robert took those flasks to Thailand to be reflasked and grown to medium size before returning to R.F. Orchids for sale.  Some plants are offered at seedling size because there are growers who prefer to start with the smaller plants, especially the off-shore folks.
       Robert did stress one major purpose behind the hybridizing; "...our goal over the last twenty years was to increase flower size while at the same time reduce the plant size".  Some hybridizers just cross yellows with yellows or other colors with related hues.  R.F. Orchids has been successful by crossing one color with an entirely different color.  An important example of this is Vanda Judy McKemie, registered in 2006, which is a cross of a big yellow (V. Fuchs Sunrise) and a deep red (V. Doctor Anek).  This combination produces flowers in a copper and bronze shades, and several cultivars have been awarded.
Vanda Judy McKemie 'Crownfox Pomegranate' AM/AOS
       In November of 1996, Vanda Fuchs Elegance 'Crownfox' received an Award of Merit at the Smoky Mountain Orchid Society Show in Knoxville, Tennessee.  This was the first award to an orchid with the cultivar name 'Crownfox'.  By the end of 2016, there were approximately four hundred AOS awards with some variation of 'Crownfox' in the cultivar name.
Vanda Fuchs Elegance 'Crownfox' AM/AOS
       With Crownfox now being used in grex and/or cultivar names, I found that sixteen awarded orchids have "Crownfox' in both the grex and the cultivar names.
       Robert, Michael and the entire staff of R.F. Orchids have put their all into the success of the nursery.  A comment made by Robert during the interview for this article explains the bottom line, "...everyone can get to the top once; but to stay there takes a lot of hard, dedicated work".
       Robert, as a person and as an orchid grower; it's not about being obsessed, ti's not an addiction, "It's a passion".
       Robert's feelings dealing with the international recognition; "I feel humble.  I do this for the love of orchids.  Even after all of the accomplishments, I still go into the greenhouse to see what is blooming every day."
       I asked Robert whether there was any one thing he wished to accomplish with orchids that he had not yet achieved.  His reply was, without a doubt, that of someone who has everything he needs in his life; "No, I am very content with what I've accomplished.  If today is my last day, I am very happy!"
Vanda Fuchs Blue 'Redland Sky'   FCC/AOS   94 pts.   December, 2016
Brassolaeliocattleya Fuchs Orange Nugget 'Lea'   AM/AOS   82 pts.   March, 2016
Epidendrum stamfordianum 'Crownfox Pink Topaz'   AM/AOS   83 pts.   March, 2016
Vanda Memoria Tom Sheehan 'Crownfox'   AM/AOS   82 pts.   November, 2016


       When hearing the word puddle, one would think of some rain water gathering in a small depression in the ground.  After visiting Judy and Ken Russ' home, my first impression was the little gold fish (koi) pond was the reason behind the "Puddle" clonal name.  Judy's explanation was a bit more humorous.  Behind their property runs a rain water ditch for flood control which empties into a lake.  Judy and one of her neighbors firmly believe that the lake doesn't deserve to be called such; it is referred to as nothing more than a puddle.  Hence the birth of "the Puddle".
       Judy and Ken moved from Miami-Dade to their retirement home in St. Lucie County, Florida.  In the sixteen plus years that they've been growing orchids; they have amassed thirty-two AOS awards to date.  All but three of these awards grace the name "Puddle" in one form or another.  Names such as "Puddle Prince" (their first award in 2004), "Puddle Jumper", "Puddle Pride" and one of the latest awards received early this year (2015) of "Ken's Puddle 'Chid'".  Royalty seems to play a large part in their clonal names with the use of Prince, Queen, King, Duchess and Majesty.

        Judy was bitten by the orchid bug first.  Buying an orchid for herself as a Mother's Day gift in 1999.  That orchid (Cattleya Myron A Hofer 'Petite') which survived the novice years still blooms today.  In the year 2000, they won a plant at their local society's monthly meeting.  Upon returning home from that meeting, Judy wanted to throw the plant away because she thought it was too ratty looking, Ken intervened.  That plant was Epidendrum Michael's Rubelite 'Puddle Prince' CCM/AOS; their first AOS award in 2004.  The plant was judged at the West Palm Beach Judging Center in Delray Beach, FL.  It was nine feet tall, had six hundred forty-two flowers and two hundred twenty-three buds.
Epidendrum Michael's Rubelite 'Puddle Prince'   CCM/AOS

       Throughout the years, Judy and Ken have grown very large specimen plants; very often dividing them several times and making them available to friends and other society members, whether for sale or donations on a society's raffle table.  Being able to grow any orchid to a large specimen size takes a great deal of experience and knowledge.  Learning from their early mistakes has made them phenomenal growersAnd when something works and works well, stick with it!

       Judy's favorite orchids are Paphs, Vandas and Epis.  Ken's reply to that same question was "what ever is in bloom"!  When asked what their least favorite orchid was; Judy's response was Phals while Ken just bluntly replied "wrong answer".  They presently have between eight hundred to nine hundred plants in their collection and both claim to need more room.

       The main growing area is the back screened-in patio.  There is a small grow house primarily set up for cattleyas on one side of the yard and there is what is referred to as the pine forest on the opposite far side.  Once a plant is placed in the proper space, it is very seldom moved.  Another reference to Ken's belief "something works and works well, stick with it!"

       In 2006, Epidendrum ciliare 'Puddle Jumper' AM/AOS won its first AOS award.  The following year, this same plant receives an FCC/AOS, the highest quality award that an orchid flower can receive; it also marked the first FCC award that the species had received.  Five years later, in 2012, Epi. ciliare 'Puddle Jumper' is awarded its first cultural award, a CCE/AOS.  Epi. ciliare  'Puddle Jumper' would not be the only multiple award plant that Judy and Ken have grown.  In 2008, Paphiopedilum Saint Swithin 'Puddle Magic' AM/CCE/AOS wins both a flower quality and a cultural award.  Six years later, in 2014, Paph. Saint Swithin 'Puddle Magic' CCE/AOS has its cultural award points upgraded to ninety-five points; the highest CCE award for that grex.  
       Judy and Ken attribute their success growing Paphiopedilums to the type of pot they use.  Ken had seen a clay pot that had a somewhat inverted cone at the bottom.  With his interest in pottery and after taking some classes in the art of making his own pots; Ken started creating these containers with holes about an inch or so above the bottom.  The pots hold some water that is below the line of holes, giving some of the root system a constant supply of moisture.  With the water sitting at the bottom of the clay pot and slowly leaching out, the root systems where kept cooler than the air temperature around the plant; thus giving the plant the necessary amount of water and keeping it cooler in South Florida's warm tropical summer.  Puddle Pottery items can be found at many of the local orchid shows and usually available when Ken speaks at the monthly society meetings.  

       Judy and Ken Russ have become phenomenal growers throughout the sixteen plus years they've been growing the fantastic plants.  They did their research, learned from the mistakes so many of us make as beginning hobbyists and most of all, when something worked for them, they duplicated the success.  When you meet them, don't hesitate to ask questions.  They are both very willing to share their triumphs as well as what you might want to avoid.  If you ever have the opportunity to purchase one of their Paph pots, give it a try.  I am presently using several for a few Angraecums; especially Angraecum magdalenae.  Keeping the root system cool in this hot climate has given new hope to bloom a cool growing Angraecoid here in South Florida.  


       The combined two images above are a true representation of 'Benttree';  a five acre hammock that is a small piece of heaven in Southwest Dade County.  More than four acres of the property remains a natural hammock and is nurtured and tended by Bonnie and Will Riley.  Both of which are avid orchid growers and respected American Orchid Society judges.  Will is also a Master Gardener, restoring and keeping the hammock in its true indigenous state.  It is a never ending task in which Will and Bonnie are constantly walking the grounds eliminating the invasive plant species' that have encroached so much of South Florida.

       The remaining property beautifully hides a well-organized grow house as well as their living quarters; a very comfortable and quaint home.  Shrubs, bushes and various trees with mounted orchids separate the grow area from other parts of the landscape yet are all tied together with loose stone pathways.  In one area, the pathways surround a solution hole with walls of limestone.  Water is pumped into the hole from the aquifer and the runoff cascades into what is believed to be a small sink hole about fifteen feet below and then again re-enters the natural water table.  The water is a constant seventy-two degrees and is quite refreshing when South Florida's summer temperatures average in the low to mid nineties.

 A solution hole about fifteen feet deep and a solution hole dug deeper by the Riley's with water from the aquifer pumped into the hole which empties back into the aquifer through the solution hole.

       The Riley's purchased the property in July of 1992.  Several weeks later, in August, Hurricane Andrew came through the homestead area as a category 5 storm and devastated the landscape; leaving very little standing as far as trees were concerned.  Young trees that had some flexibility were severely bent over and to this day grow bent over.  Others had large limbs and branches broken off.  Some recovered with new growth growing from the areas that were snapped off but give the presence of having elbows now.  Hence, the birth of 'Benttree'.

       The hammock as supplied the Riley's with almost an unlimited source of hard wood to mount orchids to.  Broken tree limbs, some up to eight feet long can be found hanging vertically and horizontally throughout the growing area with various genera of orchids calling them home.  Absolutely nothing goes to waste at 'Benttree'.

 Wood harvested from the hammock and used as mounting material in the greenhouse.

       Bonnie and Will Riley have over sixty five years' experience in growing orchids.  Bonnie has been growing over thirty five years while Will has been involved over thirty years.  The grow area along with the remainder of the property houses approximately three thousand orchids; "give or take one or two".  The majority of the orchids that are mounted are located throughout the groomed area near and around the house, the green house and the loose stone pathways.  Plants that will eventually be mounted are usually put into small pots until they can be affixed to tree trunks and different size branches.  While photographing the green house, there were close to if not over one hundred small phalaenopsis that were waiting to be attached to their new homes. 

       I have found that most hobbyists become passionate about orchids after receiving a single plant as a gift or one catching their eye which in turn edges them to purchase the plant.  Those first orchids are usually in bloom or in spike.  From this point on, orchid collections have a tendency to grow; some rather quickly.  Those that continue to grow orchids will never forget the first plant they owned.  Bonnie's first plant was Encyclia tampensis; while Will remembers his being Brassolaeliocattleya Kentucky Colonel.  Asked if they would have done anything different if given the chance; their response was "Started growing orchids sooner"!

 Last two awards that the Riley's received and have been given the 'Benttree' clonal name.  On the right is Cattleya luddenmanniana 'Benttree' AM/AOS and on the left is Laelianthe Bonnie Riley 'Benttree' AM/AOS (Lnt. Cruzan Gold X Sch. Splendida).

       As orchid growers, Bonnie and Will are no different than any of us.  They both have favorites to grow.  Bonnie prefers fragrant orchids while Will prefers "horticulturally significant species".  Horticulturally significant being related to one or several of the following characteristics; flower size, fragrance, color and/or plant growth habit.  Will had heard many years ago what might be considered the best definition of horticulturally significant, "If the plant is growing in your front lawn, would you mow over it or around it?"

       In the late 1980's, The Riley's interest in orchids and being members of a local society, Will's next step was to enter the American Orchid Society's judging program.  About five years after his start in the program, he encouraged Bonnie to do the same.  Bonnie presently sits as the chair at the West Palm Beach Judging Center; the same position that Will has held in the past.  They are two of the most respected judges in the program and are advocates in the ethics of judging.

       With their extensive knowledge of orchids, Bonnie and Will had won approximately nine AOS awards.  Bonnie's first award was an AM/AOS for a Brassolaeliocattleya Plum Island.  Will's first awarded orchid was actually a dual award of CCM/AOS and a CBR/AOS for Dendrobium batanense.  Upon moving into the hammock an using the clonal name 'Benttree', they have won an additional sixteen awards.  The last two pictured below.

 Bonnie and Will's favorite 'Benttree'

       'Benttree' is not only a clonal name; it has become an idealistic concept in growing orchids.  It is a combination of knowledge, experience and the understanding of quality in the growing of these plants.  'Benttree' also represents the conservation of a small piece of natural South Florida; an era prior to the invasion of non-indigenous plants and urban development.  Bonnie and Will Riley have a passion that stands so far above most.  They have set a bar at a height that so many of us strive to achieve.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I appreciate your efforts!
    jamie lawson


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