Monday, April 26, 2010

Bean's Taxonomy

Bean's Taxonomy 
a report by Selena Sabine

Working with Riley on a comprehensive orchid education program has proved frustrating.  He's frequently distracted by imaginary flies.  His nap schedule is ridiculous.  And Riley seems overly focused on the technical details of this project without giving enough thought to our overall learning goals and objectives.  I've decided to take a step back to sketch the orchid-education process.  Inspired by Benjamin Bloom, I've developed a four-stage taxonomy of orchid knowlege.  I call it "Bean's Taxonomy."

Some things must be said about Bean's Taxonomy before I describe its stages.  First, my taxonomy applies solely to orchid perception and evaluation.  A kitty can grow great orchids without knowing their names and, conversely, a kitty can have expansive knowledge of AOS judging criteria and yet kill every plant they try to grow.  Mastery of stage three should help one cultivate orchids, but learning how to grow and bloom orchids is a different topic requiring a different model of learning.  Lan Lan and Griffin could blog about that part of the orchid hobby -- if they weren't so lazy.

Second, this taxonomy does not address the issue of treats or the perpetual treat shortage in the Cats and Catts house.  Mastery of the different stages of orchid knowledge will, unfortunately, not increase the production and distribution of treats.  If it did, though, I would really like to put in a vote for Friskies Party Mix Beachside Crunch.

Finally, the Riley Method focuses on the middle levels of Bean's Taxonomy.  The primary level of the taxonomy is visceral and emotional, like the sight of a tasty moth fluttering right into my napping space.  The top level is beyond the ken of the Cats and Catts household, but we hope that the our project sets the stage for higher levels of orchid learning.

Aesthetic Appreciation -- The first level of Bean's Taxonomy is aesthetic appreciation.  This level of orchid knowledge is available to anyone.  The learner, upon seeing or touching an orchid has a reaction to the plant.  At this stage, it's impossible for the individual cat or human to be "wrong" about the orchid -- comments like "that's beautiful," "that's ugly," "that's frilly," and "that's sophisticated" are all equally valid.

Identification -- The cat or human operating at the identification stage can attach the correct genus and/or species name to the plant.  Advanced cats will be able to identify hybrid identities (grexes) and species variations.  The Riley Method focuses on this level as an important stage for learning more about orchids.

Substance -- I use the word "substance" in a different way from how it is commonly used among orchid-oriented people and cats (i.e. "The petals show a strong waxy substance with sparkling texture." or "I'm enjoying the substance of these crunchy Seafood Medley treats.").  By "substance," I refer to knowledge about the plant above and beyond identification.  One can have substantive knowledge of an orchid plant by comprehending its botanical and scientific aspects, as well as knowing its growing culture and breeding history.  This level of Bean's Taxonomy would encompass, for instance, knowing the true story behind the discovery of C. labiata, the award and breeding history of C. Drumbeat 'Heritage' (formerly Lc. Drumbeat 'Heritage'), and the relationship between Rhizanthella slateri and its pollinators.

AOS Standards -- The pinnacle of Bean's Taxonomy is the ability of the cat and/or person to channel their aesthetic appreciation, plant identification, and substantive knowledge about the orchid into the standards of evaluation set forth by the American Orchid Society.  At this level, the individual can recognize quality plants, exceptional cultivation, and significant advancements in orchid breeding and artistic design (see AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition, Part 1, 1.1.1).  The viewer can compare an orchid to its hypothetical ideal type.  For instance, at this level of understanding, Griffin would know that, "The general form of the [Cattleya] flower is toward fullness and roundness.  A circle, drawn with the base of the column as the center, should touch the tips of the petals and sepals and the margin of the lip, while the flower should fill the greater proportion of the area of the circle." (see AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition, Part 1, 7.1.2).  Griffin -- after she's finished begging for treats -- will use her knowledge of the plant's identification, botany, breeding history, award history, and native culture to judge its quality compared to similar plants.

This is a starting point in thinking about how to think about orchids.  Obviously, the bookish knowledge Riley and I hope to provide with our orchid self-education project and accompanying youtube videos is no substitute for hands-on education: talking to orchid growers, going to shows, and tending after your own collection.  And none of it, unfortunately, will get you any Friskies Party Mix Beachside Crunch treats . . .


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