How To Grow Orchids From Seed  
Orchid seeds are tiny dust-like specks in pods. Here's a pod I pulled open to photograph. It was completely full of the little white seeds, but the breeze blew most of them away as soon as I opened it.
Here are some orchid seeds on a penny:

You can find the seeds; that's the easy part. Here's the hard part. Orchid seeds don't tend to sprout unless their favorite fungus is present, and invades the seed coat. Odd, huh? I thought so too. Apparently, the fungus provides nutrients to the orchid seed that it needs to sprout. Fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with orchids are called mycorrhizal fungi.

There's a way around needing the fungus, but you really have to WANT to grow orchids from seed to do it; it's a LOT of effort.

 
You can grow them on agar, which is like seaweed jello. I bought mine online. It's a nutrient agar that contains everything the orchids need to sprout and grow.

The catch is that the nutrients the orchids need support the growth of a wide variety of other things, so if you don't plant them on the agar in a sterile environment, you get  interesting molds, but no orchids.

To get around that, you'll need the agar, a glove box, a big pressure cooker, lots of aluminum foil, bleach, lysol spray, glass jars with metal lids, JB Weld, copper tubing, a tubing bender, cotton, time, patience...

The glove box above is made of plexiglass, caulk, duct tape, plastic, and gloves. It was a fine starter box, but not what you want to use if you're going to do a lot of flasking.
The flasks, or in my case jars, are just any jar with a twist on metal lid that I saved from cooking. I used copper tubing from the local hardware store; it's the same type of tubing that runs the water to an ice maker. The tubing bender wasn't cheap, but it did a nice job of curving the tube. A quick moment with a big nail and a hammer was enough to punch through the center of the lid, then I jammed the tubing through the hole, and sealed up both sides with JB Weld. It drips while it dries - watch where you put it!

Finally I stuffed a little cotton deep into both ends of the tube (with a length of sturdy coat hanger) so the air would flow but the dust and spores would get caught on the cotton. I got the idea from Louis Pasteur's swan-neck flask experiments on germ theory.

Then I was ready to cook up the agar and pour a bit of it into each jar. Next I set the lids gently on top (not twisted down), and wrapped each jar in foil with the opening at the bottom (not open really, the folded together part at the bottom.) I also wrapped my tools, wet rags, and a jar of extra water.

I pressure cooked the jars ect. at 10psi long enough to get them sterile. After they cooled enough to be warm, but not hot, I took them outside (all covered in a bowl of shallow bleach water) and loaded the glove box (note the changes to the box over time.)

Everything that went into the box got dipped in strong bleach water first. Once I had it loaded and sealed, I stuck my hands in the gloves and sprayed it top to bottom with both lysol and bleach water. The fumes were horrible, which is why I did the whole set-up outside. I let it sit for 10 minutes or so to give the bleach time to kill spores, and for the water to dribble to the bottom (where I had a thick honeycomb rubber floor mat to act as a drain.)

Last, I carefully scrubbed the sealed orchid seed pods in bleach water, rinsed them in sterile water, cut them open, and sprinkled some seeds into each jar. Look up aseptic technique and the difference between sterile and disinfected before you even think of attempting this!

Then I twisted my lids on, opened the box, put the jars on a windowsill, and waited.

Eventually I was rewarded by the sight of tiny orchid protocorms developing on the agar:
Different orchids took different amounts of time, but generally within a couple weeks of sewing the seeds I could see the tiny seed specks puff and green, and begin to extend their first little nub of a root. At that stage they're called a protocorm.

Then they just sat in the jar growing until they were big enough to deflask (take out and try to keep alive outside that perfect growing environment.)

I did a fabulous job of figuring out how to germinate and grow the orchids in my homemade jars and glove box (I did lose a few jars to mold, but once I flasked a few batches my aseptic techniques got better and I didn't get much contamination at all; you have to be really really careful when you prep and flask.), but once I took them out of the jars I had a hard time keeping them alive. I didn't have a spray system set up to keep them moist while I was at work, then hurricanes took out my shade trees, and I gave up on flasking my own orchids, at least until I figure out how to keep them going after I deflask them. It was tremendous fun to have done it though.
Site Map:
Butterflies
Moths
Caterpillars
Diving, Wading & Wetland Birds
Warblers & Little Birds
More Birds
Snakes, Lizards, and Slithery Critters
Spiders
Squishy Bugs
Crunchy Bugs
More Creatures
Butterfly Nectar Plants
Butterfly & Moth Host Plants
Wetland plants
Vines
Lawn Weeds
Wildflowers
Other Plants & Fungi
Shrub, Bush & Tree Sized Plants
Paper Folding: Origami Bird, Egg, and Nest
Paper Quilling: Snowflake Ornaments
Cut Paper Snowflakes
Butterfly Garden Basics
My Email, Image Use Information, Credits & Disclaimer
Index of everything that didn't fit on one of the other main pages
Privacy Policy