In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2006
Regional Report

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You can grow lovely Phalaenopsis orchids from seed, if you're patient.

Grow Lovely Orchids From Seed

Have you ever thought about how those gorgeous orchids we all love are propagated? It's an amazing process and one that you can even try, as long as you are willing to wait two to five years for your plant to bloom.

Up until 1922, growing orchids from seed was a trial-and-error project because few understood exactly what the seeds needed to germinate. The Victorians had lots of methods, most of which were closely guarded as secret, although few worked. They sowed the seeds on discs of softwood like willow, on moss-covered logs or moss balls covered with muslin. The greatest success, though, was sowing them in the pot with the parent orchid.

The Method
In 1922 Lewis Knudson discovered that orchid seeds would only germinate if the embryo became infected with a fungus provided by the parent plant. This fungus converted sugars into food for the germinating embryo to use. It had no stored food of its own like most other seeds, so if it were not provided with some, it would die immediately upon germination.

Knudson germinated seeds by sowing them on a sterile gel-like base called "agar" that was inoculated with the nutrients the seed needed. His method is still in use today.

If you are lucky enough to have successful pollination and a seedpod develops, you can grow your own from seed. Hand-pollination is the best way to achieve this. The pod will take three months to a year to develop and ripen, and will produce hundreds of thousands of seeds.

In commercial propagation, these seeds are propagated and grown in glass or plastic flasks. You can actually purchase a flask of orchid seedlings (usually about 30 or 35 seedlings in a flask) for about $30. When you get the flask, it's your job to very carefully transplant the tiny plants.

If you have your own seeds, you have two options. You can send the pod to a lab and they will "flask" the seedlings and send them back to your, for a fee of course. Or you can try to grow your own. The most successful method in the home is to simply sprinkle seeds on the medium of the parent orchid. After sowing, keep them warm and moist.

You can also order the special nutrient mix, agar, and flasks if you want to try that method, but you must be quite cautious to follow directions precisely to keep things sterile. Otherwise, contamination will destroy your seeds and seedlings. You must also be able to provide 16 hours of light daily for the seedlings to grow.


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