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Cypripedium parviflorum seedlings in a flask
Propagating the Native
Finding these orchids has fueled my desire to propagate them from seed.
After germinating my first Cattleya
seed several years ago, I wondered
why most native orchids were not available as seedlings and collected
enough information on media to start experimenting with whatever seed I
Several landowners allowed me to pollinate, collect and sow capsules of Cyp. pubescens over the past few years. Last spring, seed from several capsules germinated well, and I have transferred some seedlings to community pots. Surprisingly, Cyp. acaule also germinated well. Those seedlings are still in the flasks.
For most other genera I have sown, either Knudson's modified "C" medium plus potato extract and activated charcoal or G & B Mother Flask Medium V work well. But aside from media selection, a major problem with growing native wild-flowers is breaking seed dormancy. Most species need a cold, damp period of several weeks to germinate. Many woodland species also need a warm moist period. If the seed dries out, it may go into a protracted dormancy that is tough to break. Woodland plants are adapted to a protected environment and their seed dormancy ensures that they germinate only under favorable conditions. Some ephemerals, such as Claytonia virginica and Phlox divaricata, germinate at temperatures just above freezing so that they can take advantage of the early spring moisture and light. Germination rates for Cyp. pubescens decrease substantially if the seed is allowed to mature. Mature seed may need two winter seasons to germinate. Liparis seed also will not germinate without two chilling periods. I was ready to throw out the liparis flasks when I spied several protocorms, which later developed into healthy seedlings.
Seed dormancy may be a major factor limiting germination of G. spectabilis. Few Galearis have germinated, but those that did grew well on standard media, such as Knudson's modified "C" plus banana. One seedling produced two new divisions in the flask the first year of growth. If the medium produces excellent growth, why is the germination rate poor? I am now testing earlier harvest dates to see if that makes a difference.
Spiranthes are the easiest species to grow. Both S. casei and S. cernua germinate without chilling, although I prefer to chill the flasks so that growth begins in spring for easier production. Seedlings develop quickly and transfer well from flask to community flat. Plants can bloom as early as their second summer. All seedlings I have planted out have survived and bloomed. Goodyera also germinates well, but seedlings require an extra year in the flask before they begin developing green leaves.
Attempts to germinate seed of Platanthera psycodes have been unsuccessful. One reason may be poor seed quality. Many wildflowers will not produce viable seed if weather conditions are not optimum. The seed I collected last fall, for instance, looks larger and better developed than seed of previous years, so maybe this year will be successful. Those flasks are still in cold storage. Germinating Platanthera seed is of special interest to me because of the decline of our beautiful endangered prairie orchid, Platanthera leucophaea, which I hope to sow someday if I have luck with P. psycodes.
Never assume that orchids only inhabit wild places far from home. We have many native orchids that go unnoticed because of their small stature. Old pastures that were never plowed may hold a few surprises, especially if there are other native species still present. With so many enthusiasts working to unlock the secrets of germination and growth of our native orchids, perhaps we can increase the availability of seedlings. We need plants to restore our native-plant communities while we work to protect existing populations.