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  #1  
Old 07-17-2017, 11:01 PM
epiphyte78 epiphyte78 is offline
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Six years ago at the Los Angeles Fern and Exotic plant show my buddy Norm received a blue ribbon and a plaque for his awesome plant (Tillandsia australis). Yesterday on eBay orchidmate received $141.99 for his awesome plant (Laelia anceps x Encyclia vitellina 'Blood Orange')...





What would happen if everybody who attended a plant show could use their money to judge the plants?

Here's a recent pic of an orchid (Microcoelia exilis) that I entered into the LA Fern and Exotic plant show a few years back...





It's just a big mess of roots! I don't remember if it received a ribbon. Personally, I don't really care about ribbons. My primary motivation was to introduce people to an awesome plant.

Pretend that you're at the show and you see my orchid. Do you think it's awesome? If so, then you could take your judging form out and write down the plant's number and your valuation. There wouldn't be a minimum valuation. It could be as small as a penny.

The next plant that you see at the show is my phorobana...





It's a big mess of roots and leaves! It's a bunch of different epiphytes growing on a Ficus macrophylla (Moreton Bay fig) in a pot. You lean in for a closer look and spot a tiny orchid in bloom...





It's a Cleisostoma scolopendrifolium orchid nestled within the canes of a Dendrobium delicatum orchid. The other two epiphytes in the vicinity are Dischidia cleistantha and Microgramma vacciniifolia. Finding the tiny orchid is just like finding an Easter Egg.

Do you think the phorobana is awesome? If so, then you'd write down its number and your valuation. After you had judged the plants, you'd turn in your form. The clerk would add up your valuations and you'd donate the money. Ideally there would be a real-time updated webpage where you could see all the plants sorted by their valuations.

Initially I figured that the society wouldn't take a cut. I thought that all the money should go to the people who had earned it. But then my friend Scadoxus pointed out that people could just spend ridiculous amounts of money on their own plants in order to win. I hadn't thought of that. Two heads are better than one! Personally, I wouldn’t prohibit people from valuating their own plants. If you bring in 10 plants, then I would want to know how you would divide your money between them. But it’s probably a good idea though for the society to take a cut. Ideally the society should get all the money that you spend on your own plants. But then you might just give your money to your friends to spend on your plants.

I'm guessing that the most common objection to this idea will be something like... "Why in the world would anybody want to pay people to do something that they are already doing for free???"

The Fern and Exotic plant show is great because it features a wide variety of plants. But I don't equally like the plants. I don't think that all the plants in the show are equally exotic or exciting or awesome or rare or fascinating or unusual or interesting or important or impressive or drool-worthy. Yes, it's very easy for me to simply tell Norm that I think his plant is super cool. This is true. What makes it so easy is that I know him.

Let's say that you see this Hydnophytum formicarum in a cactus and succulent show...





It's the first time that you've ever seen an ant-plant in a cactus and succulent show, or any show for that matter. The name of the exhibitor is next to the plant but you don't know who she is. If your valuation of her plant is $0.25 cents, are you going to track her down and give her a high-five? Probably not. But if you have a valuation form with you, and you would like to see more ant-plants in shows, then you might as well write down your valuation. It's certainly easy enough to do. Judging plants with money makes it easier for more people to give and receive more positive feedback.

What about negative feedback? If I think that somebody's plant is incredibly boring, then I'm probably not going to tell them. Especially if I don't know them. It's certainly true that I wouldn't be able to write down a negative valuation on my form. But if we all had the opportunity to use our money to judge the plants, then everybody would see everybody's valuations of the plants. This means that we would all clearly see and know the disparity in value between all the plants...

Tillandsia australis: $10.75
Hydnophytum formicarum: $9.97
L. anceps x E. vitellina: $7.24
Microcoelia exilis: $1.32
Ficus phorobana: $0.55
Geranium: $0.15
Ivy: $0.01

Which is more important, the amounts in relative or absolute terms? I can see that my M. exilis is relatively more valuable than my phorobana so I'd know that people are more interested in the leafless orchid. In terms of absolute amounts, the $1.32 might be enough to encourage me to bring the leafless orchid the next year. But because the phorobana is so much heavier, it's doubtful that the $0.55 would be enough to encourage me to bring it again. In all cases the benefit should be greater than the cost.

Personally, I've only shown my plants once... or twice... several years ago. I haven't done it since because it was too much work. Which is the same thing as saying that the reward was too small.

My friend Scadoxus went to a Begonia show this past Saturday. She said that it was pretty terrible. She didn't enter any plants into the show because it was too much work (too small a reward). However, she did see Norm there. I don't know if he exhibited any plants, but he certainly sold some... including a few to Scadoxus.

Every plant show that I've ever attended has also included a plant sale. The plants in the show area are judged by a small group of people. The plants in the sales area are judged by a much larger group of people. Are more judges better than less judges?

I accept that it's entirely possible that I'm overestimating the importance of phorobanas. So if I'm the only judge, then my delusion will fully skew the results. What if another judge is added? He probably won't also overestimate the importance of phorobanas. If he correctly estimates their importance then my delusion will only halfway skew the results. If he underestimates their importance, then his delusion will diminish, or even cancel out, my own.

Therefore, more judges are always better than less judges. The more judges there are, the less impact that delusions, misperceptions, craziness and biases will have on the results. Filtering out more fantasy brings us closer to reality.

It's certainly possible though that everybody else underestimates the importance of phorobanas. But this is hardly an argument for having less judges. If I'm the only person who correctly estimates the importance of phorobanas, chances are slim that I'll be included in a small group of judges. However, when everybody can be a judge, then at least my correct estimate will have some influence on the results. My influence might be vanishingly small but that's still better than nothing.

In all cases more heads are better than less heads. Voila! Please use your head to judge the idea of allowing everybody to use their money to judge plants at shows.
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Old 07-18-2017, 01:07 AM
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Lots of Hydnophytums, and other ant plants, are grown in the US Midwestern states, with their warm and humid summers. They are very easy to grow if you have an environment like that, or a warm and humid greenhouse. A plant like the one in your photo could be grown in 5-7 years from seed.

Ant plants are not succulent in the least. I'm a cactus and succulent judge. I always do my best to talk other judges out of giving ant plants awards of any kind, because they aren't succulents. I usually can convince them to go with a different (generally more rare and difficult-to-grow) true succulent caudiciform.
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Old 07-18-2017, 06:25 AM
epiphyte78 epiphyte78 is offline
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Estación seca, I've had a small Myrmecodia beccarii outside for years. It's pretty much a bonsai. Each year it makes two leaves and drops two leaves. It's mounted and I think it wants more frequent water during the summer.

How are you defining a succulent? The most objective definition that I know of is that succulents are CAM plants. This means that the orchid family has more technically succulent plants than any other family. Yet, you sure wouldn't know it when you go to a succulent and cactus show. Orchids are few and far between.
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Old 07-18-2017, 11:14 AM
MrHappyRotter MrHappyRotter is offline
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That's a lot to read, so excuse me if I misunderstood something or made some assumptions about what you wrote.

I don't think there's a perfect system, but voting with money and crowd sourced voting systems don't strike me as a good match for orchid judging. A small group of trained and knowledgeable experts is a much better option (aka the current system) for judging quality in a consistent, fair, and reproducible fashion.

Popularity, on the other hand, is more akin to what you're describing somewhat (i.e. voting with money, crowd sourced voting). But then, popularity is fickle and not particularly reliable -- and let's not forget that people already vote with their wallets in the form of their purchases.

There is a concept of collective intelligence (i.e wisdom of crowds), but frankly, crowds are dumb when it comes to making ad-hoc decisions in constrained, short-term timelines. Crowds can be misinformed (intentionally or otherwise) and they can be covertly (and relatively easily) influenced to make decisions for which there would be no reliable means to rectify.

Additionally, I don't think adding more judges is going to necessarily create a better system. For something like judging quality it really should only take a handful or fewer of knowledgeable judges, armed with relevant knowledge and data, to make an approximately ideal valuation of a plant or flower's quality. Any more than that, and you'll start to see committee decline. It will take much longer to make decisions, and a larger number of those decisions will be sub-optimal due to concessions and compromises needing to be made. Of course, it's much more complicated than this, but I'll spare everyone a much more detailed response -- this is long enough as it is.

On a final note, I think a much more important improvement to the current system would be a system wherein an expert in the particular genus/genera being judged should be present during judging, and barring that, a panel of experts should be reviewing the photos, measurements, and description of each award. While there's not a lot of evidence of widespread issues with incorrectly labelled plants getting awards, it happens with enough frequency that it delegitimizes the quality awards. When people see an award granted to a plant that is unmistakably and obviously misidentified, it becomes clear that there is a major issue with the judging system that was in place at that time. For instance, there may have been no judges that were even remotely familiar with the genus/species involved, there may have been some level of coercion involved (bribes, threats, favors, etc), and most importantly, it reveals that there isn't an adequate level of quality control at the higher levels of the awarding organization.
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Old 07-18-2017, 12:43 PM
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I think it is sad what judging is doing to species orchids. We now have species orchids that look nothing like their ancestors but, instead, some generic ideal. Many orchids have fragrance to attract pollinators and when you take that away, that orchid could never survive in its native habitat. When a species is so altered, how can we even say that it is the same? When a species no longer grows in its natural habitat, we often hear that it is quite common in 'captivity' so it is safe. But, if it is no longer like the wild orchid, isn't the species truly lost forever?

For a while (as some might know), I was completely obsessed with species Angraecums as they were absolutely beautiful in their untouched forms. Now, they, too, are being altered. It greatly dampened my enthusiasm for them. I no longer felt I was preserving something special.

I have mentioned it before but I am not a big fan of the way flowers, plants and orchids are judged in the US. I hope that they never judge the flowers of fruit trees! Good-bye fragrant spring flowers that attract pollinators and goodbye edible fruit! Already they have altered some herbs, like lavender and bee balm. I hope they never touch wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as I really love the silvery-green, fragrant leaves and the way that no insect ever touches it....

Roses, throughout history, have always been most famous for their fragrance. Now, most of the new varieties of tea and floribunda roses have no fragrance or very faint fragrance. It is not just roses. Carnations are now sold that do not have that wonderful spicy scent.

We are losing what makes all of these plants and flowers special solely based on the opinions of 'experts.' Why have we decided not to value plants for what makes them unique? Why must they all be forced to conform to what some panel has judged to be this ideal? Why can we not value the qualities for which these plants have always been famous? Where will it end?
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Old 07-18-2017, 12:53 PM
epiphyte78 epiphyte78 is offline
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MrHappyRotter, the two judging systems aren't mutually exclusive. Professional judging usually occurs before the show is open to the public. Once the show is open to the public, then everyone would have the opportunity to use their donations to judge the orchids. Then we could compare the results.

"A small group of trained and knowledgeable experts is a much better option (aka the current system) for judging quality in a consistent, fair, and reproducible fashion."

How, exactly, does this benefit anyone? What are the experts going to tell us that we need to know? They can tell us that round and flat flowers are "quality". But why do we particularly need to know their definition of beauty? Why should growers try and conform to it? Where's the benefit?

Now, if the experts can tell us that an orchid is particularly drought tolerant, I sure think this would be good to know. Same thing for cold tolerance. I'd love to know how hercuthermal an orchid is. But these really aren't the kinds of things that the AOS judges tell us. They tell us that a plant has lots of flowers. Well... they really don't need to tell us something so obvious.

"Popularity, on the other hand, is more akin to what you're describing somewhat (i.e. voting with money, crowd sourced voting)."

I think it's useful to differentiate between "popularity" and "demand". Popularity is a matter of voting. Demand is a matter of voting with money.

"But then, popularity is fickle and not particularly reliable -- and let's not forget that people already vote with their wallets in the form of their purchases."

Demand certainly is fickle and unreliable. This is because circumstances are mercurial. Life is extremely dynamic. Change is a constant. So it's generally beneficial when supply responds to changes in demand. Quite a few people were willing to spend quite a lot of money on the L. anceps and P. vitellina cross. I'm guessing that they probably had their reasons for being so interested in it. My reason is that I'm very interested in crosses that might produce hercuthermal orchids.

Is it beneficial for producers to respond to this high demand by supplying the same cross and similar crosses? I sure think so.

But if it's beneficial for vendors to respond to demand in the sales area... why wouldn't it be beneficial for growers to respond to demand in the show area? If people are willing to pay to see more vitellina crosses, shouldn't more of them be exhibited?

"Crowds can be misinformed (intentionally or otherwise) and they can be covertly (and relatively easily) influenced to make decisions for which there would be no reliable means to rectify."

I can't say that I'm perfectly happy with the supply of orchids in the sales area. But if we only allowed experts to determine the supply in the sales area, then I'm pretty sure that I'd be a lot less happy. If crowds are more trustworthy than experts in the sales area, then they are also more trustworthy in the show area.

But again, it's not like the two judging systems are mutually exclusive. If you're confident in the current system, you should have no problem giving it a bit of competition.
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Old 07-18-2017, 01:15 PM
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Leafmite, I think you have an excellent point about the value of original species. And yet, I personally benefit from the increased vigor of hybrids, and I would be sad to see them go.
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Old 07-18-2017, 01:37 PM
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I agree with Leafmite. I won't plant roses without a strong fragrance. I limit my orchid collection by fragrance.
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Old 07-18-2017, 02:34 PM
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Leafmite, we can easily imagine that most dog breeds might not do as well as wolves in nature. But it would be interesting to know how much of this divergence is the result of dog judging.

I wouldn't be surprised if a highly selected form of L. anceps failed to do as well in nature as a wild anceps. But if this is a bad thing, would it be a good thing for us humans to try and select for anceps that did better in nature than wild anceps?

I'm guessing that some type of native bee pollinates anceps. It's probably not naturally pollinated by honey bees because they aren't native to the Americas.

P. vitellina is pollinated by hummingbirds. So who, if anybody, would pollinate the hybrid in nature? If we accept that nature is the best judge, would we be happy if she judged that the hybrid is superior to one or both of the species?
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Old 07-18-2017, 04:04 PM
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Our shows and many others have a people's choice for displays but maybe it would be fun to have a people's choice for individual orchids. Each orchid could have a number and people would write down the number of their favorite orchid.

Judging: The question to ask is...who decides? Who determines what qualities are important and what qualities can be tossed away? Who sets the guidelines and determines what is important? What considerations are included when determining the guidelines?

A thought: Judging encourages the same individuals to be used over and over again in breeding as those involved select the genetics with the most accepted qualities to be used. (think Champions, FCC winners....)

Most of the breeding with orchids is for judging. There are exceptions of some breeders who are trying to develop orchids that are easy to grow but these results are generally hybrids and not species. Where species are being 'developed' that are easier to grow in 'captivity', it is often due to 'natural' selection where the weaker ones that cannot adapt to the growers conditions die and the stronger, more adaptive ones survive. After a few generations, you quite 'naturally' get ones that will grow much better outside the natural environment than any wild-collected species could.

From the standpoint of the argument of breeding for ease of growth and durability, we only need to look at the blights that are affecting corn, bananas, coffee and cacao to see how important diversity in the plant kingdom is. I would conclude from what I have read that it is rather dangerous to have too much conformity. The introduction to a evolved fungus or bacteria can quickly wipe out entire fields and plantations of genetically similar plants. One way to fight these diseases have been to find other plants that are resistant to them and begin adding their genetics to the mix. Often this is done by finding wild or less 'specialized' varieties of the plants.

Concerning dog evolution: There is a world-wide project, currently trying to solve that mystery. The origin and history of dogs is not as clear as we once thought due to recent discoveries and advanced technology. Here is just one article I found quickly and I hope dog lovers enjoy:

The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From - The New York Times

A good, easy book to read on genetics (but a little outdated, now) is DNA: The Secret of Life by James Watson. It is one of my favorite books.
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