Orchid Seed Propagation

An orchid seed is tiny, usually microscopic, and lacks stored nutrients (there's no endosperm). But they are so small (and there can be millions per seed pod!) that the wind easily carries them. Germination requires a symbiotic mycorrhizal fungus in nature, usually from a specific species of basidiomycete. Since only a minuscule fraction of seeds encounter the right fungus, very few seeds from each capsule germinate.

In cultivation, they can be germinated in a sterile laboratory flask on agar, which provides the nutrients usually obtained from the symbiotic fungus. Once germination has occurred, a few (30 is typical) of the plantlets are transferred to a new orchid flask where they have more room to grow, and they are given more time to develop before being taken out of the flask and potted in a community pot to grow some more. Eventually they get large enough to be potted individually. It can be several years before they reach blooming size.

If you want to grow your own orchids from seed, use a toothpick to gather pollinia from the column of one orchid, and deposit them onto the sigma of another. Both flowers will likely fade quickly. The ovary located behind the flower you pollinated will begin to swell, and mature in a few months. 2-10 months is typical. It will then turn brown and split open, releasing the tiny seeds. It is best to harvest the seed capsule before it opens, or even while it's still green, and ship it to an orchid flasking service. Ask your flasking service for advice on timing for the particular genus of orchids you're breeding. If you do a lot of orchid breeding, label your seed pods as soon as you pollinate the plant so you don't forget what the other parent was! A strip of masking tape folded back on itself around the flower stem is a good place for the label.

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