How can I get some seeds?

Before you can start sowing seeds you have to solve the problem that seeds normally can not be bought in shops. So you have to pollinate your own plants. To pollinate an orchid the plant should be strong and healthy. To start building a capsule you have to transfer the pollinia of one flower to the stigma of an other plant. If you have got only one plant or only one flower you can transfer the pollinia to it's own stigma. Some orchids do not allow self pollination so we have to try if it accepts it's own pollinia or not.

Here are some examples of flowers where you can see where the stigma and the pollinia are.

Diocentrum Phalaenopsis Burrageara Oncidium Paphiopedilum

In our three-dimensional simulation of a Paphiopedilum you can look at the flower from all sides and dissect it.

Click here to start the 3D simulation ...

Our pollination technique

We use wooden toothpicks to transfer pollinia. The best time to pollinate your orchid is when the flower is about 3-4 days old. Move the end of the toothpick into the flower an pull out the pollinia. Sometimes the pollinia does not stick on the tootpick. In this case you should use a forceps to pull them out. In the next step remove the anther cap and place the pollinia on the stigma of the other flower, as close as possible to the entry of the stigma channel. Last but not least write down the pollination date and the name of the secound plant.

pollinia of a Phalaenopsis on a toothpick

Basic rules to label the pollinated flowers

With some examples we want to show you the common way to label seed capsules and plants.

Name: Cattleya forbesii

Two Cattleya forbesii plants, grown from different parents, were crossed (pollinia from plant A was tranfered to the stigma of plant B).

Name: Cattleya forbesii x self

If the pollinia was taken from a flower of the same plant we call it a selfing. When crossing two plants which are grown from one meristem (in vitro tissue culture) or by cutting one plant into two parts it´s still a selfing.

Name: Cattleya forbesii x sib

When crossing two plants which are grown from the same parents we call it a sibling (plants are grown from one seed capsule and this plants are crossed).

Name: Cattleya forbesii x rex

A Cattleya forbesii was crossed with a Cattleya rex.

Name: Cattleya forbesii x Laelia crispa

A Cattleya forbesii was crossed with a Laelia crispa.

From pollen transfer to a mature capsule

When you put the pollinia on the stigma of a flower, the pollen produce tubes, which grow through the stigma channel to the femal ovule in the ovary. As soon as the tubes arrive in the ovary ovule get pollinated and seeds start to develope. Sometimes the pollination fails and the plants drops the capsule. The following table lists how long it takes from pollinia transfer till the ovule gets pollinated.

duration from pollen transfer to pollination
Oncidium ampliatum 45 - 50 days
Cattleya bowringiana 60 - 65 days
Dendrobium nobile 75 - 80 days
Encyclia cordigera 120 - 150 days

Harvesting capsules

The seeds inside the capsule have finished their development about 3/4 of the time the capsule needs from pollinia transfer till releasing the mature seeds. If you want to sow green capsules (in vitro) you can harvest them after this time. It´s very important that the green capsule has no holes or places where fungi could reach the seeds otherwise they are not free of contaminations (fungi, bacteria, ...).

3 Monate alte Kapsel einer Phalaenopsis
(3 months old)
3 Monate alte Kapsel einer Cleisostoma arietinum
Cleisostoma arietinum
(3 months old)
3 Wochen alte Kapsel einer Masdevallia coccinea alba
Masdevallia coccinea alba
(3 weeks old)

For sowing dry seeds just wait till the capsule starts to open (dehisces) and then harvest it.

Duration from pollinia transfer till harvesting mature capsules
Acampe 16 1/2 months
Angreacum 5 1/2 months
Bifrenaria 8 months
Bulbophyllum 3 months
Calanthe 4 months
Calyptrochilum 8 months
Cattleya 11 months
Coelogyne 13 months
Cymbidium 10 months
Cyrtorchis 7 months
Dendrobium 12 months
Dendrobium nobile 6 1/2 months
Dendrobium phalaenopsis hybrids 5 months
Dendrobium pierardii 14 months
Disa uniflora 6 - 7 weeks
Doritis 7 1/2 months
Epidendrum 3 1/2 months
Googyera 1 month
Laelia 9 months
Laelia brysiana 5 months
Laelia furfuracea 3 months
Maniella 1 month
Masdevallia 4 months
Maxillaria 10 months
Miltonia 9 months
Odontoglossum 7 months
Odontoglossum cordatum 5 - 6 months
Paphiopedilum 10 months
Paphiopedilum lowii 4 months
Paphiopedilum parishii 5 months
Phalaenopsis 6 months
Phalaenopsis farbige 8 months
Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana var. hieroglyphica 12 1/2 months
Stanhopea 7 months
Vanda 20 months
Listera ovata 1 month
Ophrys sphecodes 2 months
Cypripedium 3 months

You can order orchid seeds at The Orchid Seedbank Project

Author: Thomas Ederer