Growing orchids from seed is a tricky business


Shoppers will find thousands of orchids for sale at the 61st Hilo Orchid Society Show and Sale Aug. 2-4 at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium, but you won’t find any orchid seeds.

Growing orchids from seed isn’t easy, because orchid seeds are tiny, like dust. One count revealed that a single orchid seedpod contained 3.7 million seeds, said a club spokesman.

Larry Kuekes, president-elect of the Hilo Orchid Society, explains: “In nature, most orchids live up in trees. Since the seeds are so tiny, they literally float in the air like dust, and that’s how the seeds can get from one tree to another.”

But of those millions of seeds, only a few sprout. The tiny seeds have no food supply to grow their first roots and leaves. But if the orchid seed happens to land next to the right species of fungus (and different species of orchids have different species of fungus), an amazing thing happens. The fungus tries to invade the orchid seed, but the seed somehow turns the tables and takes nutrients from the fungus, which it uses to develop those first roots and leaves.

Commercial growers needed a more reliable way to grow orchid seeds. Scientists found a way, but it involves sowing the seeds on a nutrient mixture inside sterile flasks, under laboratory conditions. So it’s not for the amateur.

The tiny plants grow inside the flasks for two years until they’re about two inches tall. Then the grower transfers them to “community pots” containing five to 30 seedlings, where they will grow for another year, then moves them to small individual pots, then grows them for several more years, moving them into successively larger pots.

All in all, it can take from three to seven years for an orchid to grow to flowering size, depending on the variety.

For more information on the Hilo Orchid Society and the upcoming “Orchids Around the World” 2013 Annual Show and Sale, please visit www.hiloorchidsociety.org.

 

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