Meristem Propagation of Orchids

Meristem propagation is a laboratory technique to mass-produce clones of a particular orchid cultivar. Commercial orchid breeders often want to produce numerous copies of a particularly beautiful plant, so they use this technique.

An apical meristem, or growth tip, is cut out of a new growth on the orchid. (They just want the lump of undifferentiated, rapidly-dividing cells.) It's then put onto agar or a similar in a manner similar to orchid seed propagation, and the flask containing the plant tissue is typically agitated, such as by putting it into a machine that constantly shakes it. The tissue is periodically divided, so that it never forms a large enough protocorm that the tissue differentiates and develops into a plant. After splitting the cloned tissue many times, eventually the numerous protocorms are allowed to grow and mature.

If you see a plant for sale that is a named, awarded cultivar, odds are it was propagated this way, rather than being a division or keiki of the awarded plant. Mutations occasionally occur during the propagation process, but are relatively rare; if you see a plant of, say, Onc. Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance' AM/AOS, it will almost certainly look (and smell) like the original.

This is usually not a method of orchid propagation used by hobbyists; it's mostly for commercial growers. Besides, do you really want you plant's growth tip removed? If the plant doesn't die in the process, its growth will at least be slowed down! Of course, if one of your plants receives an award from an organization like the American Orchid Society and someone approaches you wanting to buy the right to put it under the scalpel... think how many other orchids you could buy with a few thousand dollars!

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