Can I grow orchid from seed?

Certainly. That’s how orchids reproduce in nature. However, there’s a big caveat.

Majority of the orchids have both male and female parts, so they can self-pollinate. But to ensure a healthy and diverse gene pool, orchids are really designed to pollinate with another flower. Once pollinated, seed pods will begin to develop. Depending on the species, it may take months for the seed pods to mature.

Orchid Seed PodIn nature, the seed pods will split open by itself when ripe. Millions and millions of ultra light seeds will drift until they land on whatever surfaces they happen to hit.

The reason orchid seeds are so light is that they contain no nutrients to germinate and sustain baby plants. This is quite different from the norm in the plant kingdom–most seeds do have reserve to at least keep it alive for a while.

And because of this lack of reserve, orchid seeds need to find food immediately. Nature has the most amazing way to provide. Orchid seeds have a symbiotic relationship with a mycorrhizal fungi. Orchids feed on the nutrient that is the result of the process and begin to germinate. This mycorrhizal fungi exist in the orchids’ natural habitat only. That means different orchids work with only specific type of fungi.

You may ask, “how do nurseries produce so many plants when the process is so particular?” You guessed it, human of course has some way to duplicate nature. But instead of going to scout for the specific fungi, we provide the nutrients that would be resulted from the symbiotic relationship.

After we harvest the orchid seeds, they are put into a disinfected flask along with a jelly-like substance full of nutrients. The flask is carefully sealed so nothing undesirable would be present. The orchid seeds will germinate if the flask is squeaky clean with healthy seeds. You may also need to transplant the little plants into another disinfected flask to allow more room to grow. With this method, many of the million orchid seeds in one pod will be able to grow into orchids.

Once they grow proper roots, you can de-flask and plant them into the appropriate medium.

From the time of pollination to the first flowering can easily take 3 to 6 years! That means if the orchid turns out to have ugly duck flowers, you wouldn’t know until many years have gone by. So make sure you are investing your time wisely and only reproduce with super winner orchids. And of course, if you know the genetics of orchids, you will have a better chance of producing gorgeous flowers.

American Orchid Society published a list of orchid seed pod harvesting time.

Photo courtesy of American Orchid Society.

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