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All show entries must be registered with the registration committee during the show set-up period, as indicated in the Show Schedule. This is required to allow proper organization of the judging, so that all entries in any particular class can be judged as a group against each other and the appropriate awards can be presented.

Registration is normally handled electronically using a computer database system, but in some cases it is found to be easier, more flexible and more reliable to use a manual system. A large number of entries must be recorded and organized in a short time, and whichever system is used it should be as simple and error-free as possible. If an error is made in registration it may be difficult or impossible to recover before the judging deadline.

 

Well before the show date, a detailed Show Schedule is established showing the classes under which the exhibits will be judged. There are classes for the exhibits themselves (for example, "6-15 flowering plants arranged for effect") as well as individual classes for various orchid species and hybrids, arranged by family and in some cases also by colour (for example, "Phalaenopsis hybrids and Doritaenopsis - pink/magenta with stripes only").

This schedule is made available to all potential entrants to allow them to decide which of their plants to enter into which class.  In addition, the show schedule provides full details of the rules and regulations, the time and place for the show, the time for registration and the time for the judging.

In North America, orchid judges are accredited by the American Orchid Society (AOS) following a lengthy "apprenticeship" period, and are experts in the judging of orchids for flower quality. Potential judges are contacted well before the show to confirm whether they will be available on the show date - a minimum of 5 accredited judges is required. One judge is appointed as Head Judge, to coordinate all the judging activities and arbitrate any difficult decisions.

Judging is normally scheduled for the Saturday morning before the show opens to the public. The judges split up into a number of teams so that all the entries can be properly assessed within the time available. One of the show committee members arranges for sufficient volunteers to act as clerks, normally three per judging team. Clerks assist the judges by locating each plant among the displays, recording the results and placing awards where appropriate.

 

 

Criteria for flower quality have been developed by the AOS and others in the orchid community, and are used by the judges in assessing the entries. Criteria vary depending on the type of plant, and include shape and size of flowers, richness and variety of colour, and thickness ("substance") of petals. Other criteria include the number of flowers in a spike, the number of spikes on a plant, and the general condition and health of the plant (particularly in the case of awards for cultural merit). Even the manner in which the flowers are arranged on the spike can be important - for example, in Phalaenopsis it is preferable if all flowers are facing in the same direction on the spike and are evenly spaced.

For the ribbon judging, the plants in a particular class are judged against each other using the basic criteria described above. The first, second and third place ribbons are awarded to the best plants in that class (unless there are insufficient entries).

Judging of the displays themselves is also carried out by the judges, based on the overall artistic merit of each display and the degree to which it enhances the presentation of the orchid plants. A natural-looking display is usually preferred, but in some cases a more formal setting may also be worthy of an award. Additional awards may be given for best specimen plant, best in class, best of show, show chairman's choice, or other specific awards as indicated in the show schedule.

 

In addition to the ribbon judging, individual plants of exceptional quality may be selected by the judges for AOS judging. In this case the plant is temporarily removed from the display and taken into a separate area where the judges can thoroughly assess its quality, operating as a team with the assistance of reference textbooks. The judges award points for the quality of the flowers following the same general criteria described above but with a more detailed assessment, exact measurement of the flower size, count of the number of flowers, etc.

Depending on the total number of points awarded, specific AOS-sanctioned awards are given:  HCC/AOS (Highly Commended Certificate) for 75-79 points, AM/AOS (Award of Merit) for 80-89 points and FCC/AOS (First Class Certificate) for 90 or more points. The grower is entitled to add these awards after the name of the plant, as well as any clones produced from that plant. Finally, the judges may give an award to a particular specimen plant which is considered to have been exceptionally well grown. A Certificate of Cultural Merit (CCM/AOS) is given to a plant that achieves 80-89 points, while a Certificate of Cultural Excellence (CCE/AOS) recognizes  a plant that achieves 90 or more points. These cultural awards apply for the specific plant only and are not passed on to any clones.

 

For any plants which receive AOS awards, a series of photographs must be taken following a prescribed format, for the AOS records. These must be digital images or colour slides showing the flowers in close-up detail, and if slides are used a number of identical slides are required. One member of the show committee must be an expert photographer, properly equipped to produce the photographs during the show - there can be no second chances when dealing with live plants!

Plants entered into the fragrance class are judged for the quality of their fragrance (by suitably qualified judges who are not necessarily the AOS judges). Fragrance is assessed both morning and evening to allow for the fact that some plants may only be fragrant at one time of day, using a scoring system based on criteria such as freshness, intensity, sweetness, etc. Ribbons are awarded for the plants having the highest overall score.