My first orchid cross-pollination

This is such a side-step from my writing articles, but I am so excited by my adventure in orchid cross-pollination that I feel the need to share this. We have four orchids in the office, two of which belong to me, and this is the second year that mine have been blooming. As a Bonsai enthusiast, I am always finding ways to propagate seeds that I find in nature, which led me to wonder how to pollinate orchids. Below, I show the three moth orchids I used as cross-pollinating experiments, the first two being my own.

After some research I realised that it doesn’t sound that tough. For those of you who don’t know, the orchid flower has both the female and male parts, referred to as the pistil and stamen respectively, united on an organ called the column. The stamen is covered by an anther cap on the tip of the column, with the pistil behind it within the column. Below I have a photo of one of my orchids where you can see the anther cap covering the two pollen sacs.

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The anther cap can be removed to obtain the two sacs of pollen within it. The cap assists the orchid with preventing self-pollination, in effect making sure that the pollen does not enter the pistil of the same flower. Here is an image of an anther cap removed with the pollen on the side, which I have just removed from an orchid flower.

anther cap

As can be seen, the pollen is held together by a glue-like substance called elastoviscin. This is incredibly handy, as this substance attaches the pollen to pollinators, like bees and other insects, and then lets the pollen attach itself to a pistil when pollination occurs. Now, expert orchid pollinators are able to remove the pollen from underneath the cap without actually removing the cap itself (by using a sharp object to grab the elastoviscin and then pull the pollen out), but since I am a beginner I remove the cap first and then the pollen.

The next stage of the cross-pollination was tough at first for me, but got easier with practice. The pollen needs to be placed within the pistil. If you look under the column, you will see a cave-like area, which is the female part of the flower. Thanks to the elastoviscin, you just need to get the pollen to stick to the inner surface. You don’t need to push it in deep, as long as the pollen attaches to the entrance.

I didn’t get to see how the next step looks online, but the personal experience is incredible. If the pollen and pistil pollinate (have intercourse, basically), then the pistil closes and the petals start to wilt and die. These images of my orchids show the difference between a pistil that is still open, and one that has closed after pollination.

And these show the difference of the petals before and after pollination.

Now I wait. What I should get is a pod full of hundreds of little seeds. I am also eager to one day see what the hybrid flowers will look like. I have made notes of which flowers I pollinated with each other. I will keep you all updated with how the pods looks and how long it took to grow.

As the season is right in South Africa for this, I suggest you get some orchids at your nearest flower store (I got mine at Woolworths and Stodels) and give this a try.

The Count of Celenic Earth

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2 thoughts on “My first orchid cross-pollination

    1. Haha depends how far you want to take it. After the seeds came out, I saw just how much effort I need to put into propagating them. I don’t have a clean lab. I did the best I could to sterilise the equipment. But after months of the seeds being in the mixture I made, I got nothing. Better luck next time, I guess.

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