Updated thoughts on the "indigo" violacea

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Rob Shepherd
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Joined: 06/27/2010
Updated thoughts on the "indigo" violacea

It seems like a more in depth discussion regarding the "indigo" violacea is has become overdue.  I've spent some time putting my thoughts down and would like to offer this information up to our community for further consideration.

Since the introduction of the "indigo" violaceas, there has been a lot of exploration both into the genetics/physiology of the color forms and how best to reference/talk about them relative to other violacea color forms.  I've seen this cause all kinds of confusion. The reality is there are some very clear differences between the different forms of violacea that can be used as basis for developing a descriptive vernacular that will make it 100% clear what specific violacea is being referenced.  My thought process regarding this topic has formed over time while personally struggling to classify different coerulea phals.  

So what really is an indigo violacea? 
I think it's important to understand the origin and then to reference these orchids based on the genetic line they come from as well as the color forms from this line of breeding.  The "indigo" violacea originated from a series of line breeding done by H.P. Norton.  HP was working on improving the form and color saturation of the Malayan form of violacea from a group of violaceas that he had received in the 1980's.  In 1996 Phal. violacea (‘#1’ and ‘Harvey’) was produced and it was from this cross that the coerulea indigo color form first bloomed.  We don't know an exact percentage, but from that cross a large number of the coerulea indigo color form was produced.  All subsequent coerulea indigo violaceas are the result of line breeding from the progeny of (‘#1’ and ‘Harvey’). 

We know that both magenta and coerulea color forms are expressed from this line of breeding. In fact both magenta and coerulea color forms can be produced in varying percentages from all of the following: (magenta indigo X magenta indigo), (magenta indigo X coerulea indigo), and (coerulea indigo X coerulea indigo).  What this means is the ability to produce the coerulea indigo color form is probably present in most if not all of the magenta color forms from this line of breeding.  The technical details of the actual mechanism that produces these color forms is more complex than is intended for this discussion.

It was clear early on that the coerulea indigo color form was completely unique compared to other coerulea color forms. The saturation of the color pigments is significantly darker than any other coerulea forms within the genus Phalaenopsis.  Originally it was perceived that the color of the coerulea indigo was a different hue of blue/violet than other coeruleas.  Many growers thought that the coerulea indigo violaceas were actually more blue AND that there was variation in that hue of blue.  During 2007-2008 I worked with a group of growers to track the variation in color hue and what we discovered was the hue of blue is exactly the same across all pure coerulea Phalaenopsis including the coerulea indigo form.  The only difference was the amount of saturation of the pigment that produced the coerulea color. To be more specific, the single pigment (Anthocyanin C) that produces the coerulea color is always the same hue of blue/violet in all of the crosses and species that were available as of 2008.  So rather simply we are talking about a coerulea that has lots of pigment.  

Those of you that know my writing will probably recognize that I rarely speak in definitives because most of the time there are exceptions. And of course there is an exception to the color hue discussion as well, the color of the flower as perceived by the human eye can be other hues when additional pigments are present. For instance, the coerulea pigment paired with yellow pigments will look anywhere from purple to brown to almost black.  The coerulea pigment paired with one or more magenta pigments will look more purple. As the crosses using coeruleas get more complex, we will start to see more of these odd pigment combinations that will lead to some fairly unusual colors.  But so far we don't have any combination of pigments that can be added to make the color shift to a bluer hue.


This is a high level summary of what we know about the "indigo" line of violacea:

  • The line or strain originates from the Malayan form of violacea.
  • All of the currently known plants within the indigo line originated from selected line breeding by H.P. Norton.
  • Since all magenta and coerulea violaceas from the indigo line originate from the same parents or line of breeding, it is safe to say that both the magenta and coerulea color forms from this breeding are part of the indigo line of violacea.
  • It appears that all magenta and coeruleas from the indigo line contain the ability to produce both color forms.
  • The violacea that has become known as an indigo violacea is a coerulea violacea, just with more saturated color.
  • The color hue of the coerulea indigo form is exactly the same as other coerulea forms within Phalaenopsis.


Proposed common vernacular for labeling and discussing the indigo line and it's related color forms:

Based on the information I have outlined in the summary above, at a high level my general suggestion is that we start talking about any violacea from this line of breeding as being from the indigo line.  We should then refer to the color forms as a coerulea indigo and a magenta indigo as follows:

  • indigo line - Any violacea originating from the original highly saturated Malaysian violaceas from the Norton's line breeding that produced both the indigo coerulea and saturated magenta color forms.
  • coerulea indigo violacea - Flowers expressing coerulea color pigments from the indigo line.
  • magenta indigo violacea - Flowers expressing a magenta to red color pigments from the indigo line.  It's important to note, there are no true red indigo violaceas.  Some growers refer to the deep magenta color form as red, so for descriptive purposes I am describing this color as being magenta to red; but it should be referred to as magenta or lavender. 
  • coerulea violacea - The naturally occurring coerulea form of violacea. Can also be referred to as the standard coerulea violacea. 

Hopefully someone will find this discussion useful and I hope that growers will begin to adopt this more descriptive and what I believe to be more accurate terminology for referencing the color forms within the indigo line of violacea.


Let me know what everyone thinks about this information.  Do you agree/disagree with my conclusions and recommendations?  I would like to get some feedback and initial impressions before I start posting this information more broadly.

Best, Rob

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