Propagation Of Orchids
Propagating orchids by division, through offshoots, or by raising
seedlings is easily within the realm of most home growers. The method
you choose depends on the type of orchid and on how much time you
want to devote to the process.
The easiest method of creating new orchids is by division. When you divide
a plant, you'll end up with one or more new plants identical to the parent.
The techniques for dividing differ, depending on the type of orchid.
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- Sympodial division
- Most orchids with a sympodial growth habit can be divided as you might divide an iris, to produce more
plants of the same kind. Use a sharp, sterile knife to cut through the
rhizome at a point that leaves three to five pseudo bulbs or stems
per division. Then carefully pull apart the mass of roots and
repot each division. Strong divisions such as these
will establish themselves so rapidly that flowers may be borne
on the next year's growth.
Don't throwaway orchid stems or old "back bulbs" (those
pseudo bulbs, taken from the rear of the plant, that no longer
bear leaves); many times they can be induced to grow new
shoots simply by placing them in empty pots. When growth
appears, you can plant them. Plants produced in this way
generally require 3 to 5 years to mature.
Clumps of paphiopedilums are easily divided into more
specimens. Rather than cut the rhizome, use your fingers to
break it with a twist. Leave three growths to a division. Old stems
of dendrobiums can be cut into small sections and placed on
moist sphagnum moss to encourage plantlets to develop.
Plantlets produced naturally on the plant can be separated from
the stem and potted as soon as roots form.
- Monopodial division
- Monopodial orchids can also be propagated by amateurs. The side shoots that
develop on many monopodial orchids can be removed and
repotted once they have started their own roots. Tall-growing
monopodials that make many aerial roots may be increased by
decapitation: simply cut off the upper portion of the plant and
plant it, with some of its trailing aerial roots, in planting mix. The
lower portion will usually develop a new growing point.
Sometimes plantlets called keikis form on flower spikes,
especially on phalaenopsis and the canes of epidendrums. Once
their aerial roots are 1 to 2 inches long, cut or break off and pot
these striplings; then enclose them, pot and all, in a plastic bag
until you see evidence of vigorous growth.
Another method of division is worth mentioning, even though it
is not one for the home grower. Sooner or later, you will hear
or read the term meristem culture, which describes a
specialized method of rapidly increasing the number of choice
plants-especially those of a scarce new cultivar. From the
plant's growing tip, the meristem (the tissues at the end of
a shoot containing embryonic, or undifferentiated, cells) is
removed and cultured in a nutrient solution. There it reproduces
itself into masses of undifferentiated tissue. Later this material is
divided into small clumps; these are set in flasks of growing
media, within which they develop into seedling-size plants
identical to the parent plant. Hybrids reproduced in this manner may
be termed mericlones.
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Raising seedlings from flasks
Growing orchids from seed is a time-consuming process best left
to experienced specialists. However, you can buy flasks of small
seedling plants all ready to be transferred to "community pots."
This way you get the pleasure of seeing your own unique
seedlings produce their first flowers, but without going through
the laboratory procedures necessary for germinating the seeds.
Many orchid suppliers offer seedlings grown in flasks containing as many as 200 (but more commonly, 25 to 40) tiny
plants. These plantlets are considered ready to come out of the
flask when they are about 1/2 inch high; usually they are this size
when you buy a flask. Better results can be obtained if the
plantlets are bigger, however-at least 1 to 3 inches tall.
- Starting a community pot
- A community pot is simply
a more advanced "nursery" than the flask for baby seedlings; at
this point they are so small-and numerous-as to make
potting them individually impractical. Before removing seedlings
from their flask for potting, you should assemble all of the
materials you will need for the operation. A number of 3- to 5-inch
pots (well scrubbed and dipped in boiling water or a 5-percent
bleach solution, if they have been used before) should be soaked
in water for several hours so that they will not extract any water
from the potting mix. When the pots are ready for use, add a
potting mixture of seedling-grade fir bark combined with material
you have screened out of a coarser grade. Pack the mix tightly
into the pot and water it.
To remove the seedlings from the flask, pour 1/2 cup of
room-temperature water into it. Swirl the flask; then pour out
the loosened seedlings into a shallow bowl. Repeat this process
until all seedlings are out.
Planting the seedlings is the easiest part of the operation.
Punch holes in the potting mixture with a pencil and set several
of the plants in place in their new home in the pot.
Seedlings in their first community pot require a humid
location and a relatively constant temperature, in the 70° to 80°F
(21° to 27°C) range. A greenhouse satisfies their needs easily.
Lacking this, you can buy or easily make a small glass case to
house the pots. Even a packing box with a glass pane over the
top may be suitable. Whatever you use, the seedlings should be
placed in a bright but not sunny spot.
Never allow the potting mixture to dry out, but remember
that soggy conditions are just as unsatisfactory. You will probably
have to water daily-and early enough so that the foliage will be
dry by twilight, in order to thwart diseases. On sunny days the
seedlings will also benefit from a fine misting during the day again, early enough for the leaves to dry out before dusk. Open
the seedlings' enclosure for an hour or two each day to allow air
to circulate around the plants.
- Time to transplant
- It will take about a year (depending
on the species grown) before your seedlings are ready for
transplanting. If you started with 1/2-inch seedlings, put
three to six plants into a clean 3-inch pot in the same type of
potting mix. Give them more light and some weak fertilizer once a month.
If you began with larger seedlings, the plants are ready for
individual pots whenever they start to crowd one another.
Transplant them into small-grade fir bark in 2- or 3-inch containers.
A final transplanting is necessary after about one more year, at
which time they should go into individual 5-inch pots in medium grade fir bark. Most plants will flower while in these pots.
If this whole procedure seems too lengthy to you, you can buy orchids in the
2-or 3-inch-pot stage. These sturdy youngsters will have passed the most
vulnerable time of their lives and will be about 3 years old (that is, starting
from seed); they should be about ready for their third transplanting. Depending
on the vigor of the orchids, a fourth potting may be needed to bring them up to
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Orchids from seed
Some plants taken from wild or vegetative divisions
are often found in typical collections. Most will be
plants raised from seed of parents in cultivation or
perhaps mericlones of good orchids. The classic formula for choosing the parents is to
cross a good flower with a good flower. Rubbish
crossed with rubbish will probably produce flowers of a
similar quality. Typically, a hybridizer will mate a good
flower with another which has that quality but may
have a weakness in an area where the other parent is
To make the cross, do it at about the time the
seed parent's flower is a quarter to a third through its
normal life. That is, if the flower would normally
last about six weeks, do it when it has been open two
First, carefully remove the pollinia (pollen grains
bound together in waxy masses) from the flower of
the seed parent and take it away. Use a toothpick or
sharpened match. Next, using a different toothpick,
remove the pollinia from the pollen parent. It
should be bright and yellow and waxy although
some genera have dark pollinia. Press it well into the
sticky stigmatic surface (if it is not fluid and sticky
the flower may not be receptive) of the seed bearer.
The stigma is the sticky cavity found on the
undersurface of the organ formed by the union of the
stamen, style and stigma of the flower. Do not be disappointed if the flower dries up and
drops off. Even if a seed capsule forms the seed may not
be viable. Attempted crosses
between widely unrelated genera are likely to fail.
If a seed capsule forms, the time taken for it to
ripen is most likely to be between six months to a
year, but will be a lot less in some genera. The
capsule should be removed immediately if it starts to
yellow. You can sow the seed yourself -it has been
done on a kitchen sink - but it is usually a laboratory procedure. Alternatively,
the seed can be sent to one of the professional laboratories undertaking this
work for hobbyists. Find out whether they prefer the dry seed or the capsule before it has split. If the seed
is viable you should receive the seedlings back, ready
to deflask, in six to 18 months.