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Orchid Seeds Germinated On My Tree!

Discussion in 'Orchid Culture' started by epiphyte, Sep 1, 2011.

  1. epiphyte

    epiphyte Member

    This last Friday while inspecting my tree I noticed a few tiny round green blobs near the roots of the Dendrobium speciosum v. capricornicum 'Black Mountain Gold' that I had picked up from my friend in Santa Barbara back in 09. Upon closer inspection I realized that the green blobs were actually orchid protocorms. It was super surreal seeing them "magically" attached to the completely dry bark on the sunny side of the tree.

    Here's one photo...

    Symbiotic Orchid Germination 1a 008 by epiphyte78, on Flickr

    Here's the set...Symbiotic Orchid Germination...where I uploaded several other context photos. To make it easier to see the details I only marginally reduced the quality/size of the photos. After you click on a photo...you can see the full size pictures by right clicking on the photos in flickr and selecting the size you wish to see.

    Earlier in the year, before Chris started the thread on orchid mycorhizzae, I had sown some orchid seeds onto my Cedar Tree...so the seedlings are probably not volunteers.

    Looking around the speciosum some more I counted around a couple dozen protocorms in close proximity to the roots of the speciosum. Some were just barely visible to the eye while the largest were the size of a BB and just starting to develop their first leaf.

    Wondering if there were other protocorms on the tree...this last weekend I climbed up the tree and managed to find a few more protocorms. One protocorm was growing close to an Epidendrum parkinsonianum that I purchased from a lady in Ojai. Another one was growing next to a Dockrillia teretifolium that I had purchased from the SBOE. There were also around half a dozen growing near a Vanda tricolor v suavis that I purchased from a fellow in Ventura. I purchased all three orchids back in 08.

    Unfortunately, I have no idea what orchid(s) the seedlings are. Lately I've been adding plants/seeds to the tree in batches/bundles. If I remember correctly I think I gathered up a bunch of spore laden fern fronds and lightly blended them up in water. I poured the mix into a large plastic juice bottle and scraped in orchid seeds from 3 or 4 different pods around the garden. Then I probably added a few Tillandsia seeds and poured the mix at various heights onto my tree...shaking the bottle vigorously between pours.

    I'm pretty sure that one of the seed pods was from my Cattleya loddigesii. But what I do know for certain is that none of the seeds were from the same species as the four orchids that supplied the necessary fungus. This seems to provide a little evidence regarding how selective/general orchids are in terms of their symbiotic relationships.

    Just recently, on one of the other forums I'm on, somebody shared this interesting study on how terrestrial plants will switch fungal partners if they feel that their partner is not sufficiently contributing to the relationship. In other words..."mooching". Does the same "fungus free-market" occur with orchids and fungus living on a tree in nature?

    For more information on symbiotic fungus I turned to the wikipedia article on Mycorrhiza...

    In Chris's thread Morabeza mentioned that the majority of epiphytic orchids associate with saprobic fungi rather than mycorrhizae. Not sure if that changes the relationship dynamic between the orchid and its fungal partner.

    We do know that orchids raised from flask can grow without a fungal partner...but would it be worth it to try and find these lonely orchids a fungal partner? Given that orchid seeds are completely dependent on fungus to germinate in nature lends credence to the value of the relationship.

    It's interesting that on my tree the orchid seeds germinated in such close proximity to the roots. As far as I can tell...none of the seedlings germinated further than 1/2" away from an orchid root...but only two seedlings germinated directly on a root. I know I didn't pour the orchid seeds exactly around those orchids so the seeds should have ended up in other areas as well. It seems that even though the four orchids have been on the tree for at least a couple years...the fungus hasn't managed to stray very far from their orchid roots.

    In Chris's thead I theorized that the fungus uses the orchid roots as a vehicle for colonizing the tree. The more a fungus colonizes a tree the more spore it can produce...which greatly increases the chances that spore will land on adjacent trees. Which in turn increases the chances that seeds from that orchid will germinate on adjacent trees.

    One thing about my Cedar tree though is that the bark is very hard. Some of the native oaks near the coast which are loaded with non-vascular epiphytes have very spongy soft bark. It seems reasonable that soft, absorbent bark would make it easier for orchid fungus to colonize a tree without having to rely completely on orchid roots.

    In terms of watering...for the past couple months I've tried to turn the drip system on every night for around 20-30 minutes. Most of the orchids on the tree don't need to be watered every day and would be fine with being watered 2-3x a week...but they don't mind being watered nightly during summer. I've been watering more frequently than really necessary to help a few moisture lovers (ie epiphytic impatiens, blueberries, rhododendrons, etc.) get a chance to establish.

    I'm certainly not the first person to try sowing orchid seeds on trees...but it's surprising that I've only heard two separate instances of people in Hawaii successfully trying this method of propagation. I've never heard of anybody in Florida or the tropics attempting to do this.

    Of course, back in the day before asymbiotic germination techniques, people would sprinkle orchid seeds in the pot where the mother orchid was growing. In those days though most of the orchids were wild collected and definitely had the necessary fungus in their roots. These days I wonder what percentage of the orchids in a typical collection have fungus in their roots.

    In conclusion...grow orchids on trees and boycott the AOS!
  2. Jon

    Jon Mmmm... bulbophyllum...

    My reply won't be as thorough as your post, but HOT DAMN! That's great, Carlos!
  3. KellyW

    KellyW Orchid wonk Staff Member Supporting Member

    What Jon said.
  4. gnathaniel

    gnathaniel Lurker Supporting Member

    Yeah, ditto! Your posts on naturalizing epiphytes are always great, and this is no exception.
  5. Candace

    Candace Kept Woman Supporting Member

  6. I think those are boogers. Sorry.
  7. epiphyte

    epiphyte Member

    Probably from the stupid raccoon that climbs the tree. I wonder how many orchid seeds since the beginning of time have ended up as boogers.
  8. That is so cool Carlos.
  9. Reyna

    Reyna Orchid Obsessed Supporting Member

    That is so incredibly cool!
  10. katiedid

    katiedid New Member

    I found your post to be very interesting and informative. I have heard of people releasing the seed from the pod in front of a fan in their greenhouse with the hope that something might germinate and supposedly some did. I have always enjoyed growing any plant from seed and to germinate orchid seed on a tree in the yard as you did would be very exciting.

    Thanks for sharing the information and please do update with any progress.
  11. epiphyte

    epiphyte Member

    Most of the seedlings died off...probably eaten by somebody. But here's a recent photo of the largest seedling...

    Dockrillia, Crassula, Orchid seedling by epiphyte78, on Flickr

    I have several seed pods in a bag...mostly of Reed Stem Epidendrum. I'll sow them in a few months but I'll probably try and use an eye dropper this time.

    Has anybody else tried sowing orchid seeds directly on their orchid trees?
  12. KellyW

    KellyW Orchid wonk Staff Member Supporting Member

    I've tried scattering seed on mounts in the greenhouse with no obvious success. I have had random seedlings appear but not due to my efforts.

    Where do you live? Your Flickr photos are wonderful.
  13. Marni

    Marni Well-Known Member Staff Member Supporting Member

    I love it!
  14. epiphyte

    epiphyte Member

    KellyW, thanks! I live in Southern California (Glendale).

    The seedlings are all looking like Laelia anceps...

    Laelia anceps Volunteer
    by epiphyte78, on Flickr

    Here's the larger version of the photo.

    I know I sowed other types of orchids...so why only Laelia anceps? Maybe because the other orchids require a specific type of fungus that isn't present on my tree. And/or perhaps the conditions on my tree are too harsh for the other orchids that I tried?

    My Mexican Laelias are all starting to bloom...so I'm going to cross them with Cattleyas, Encyclias, Brassavolas...and see if any of the crosses will germinate on my tree.

    Anybody want to guess how long it will take to select for an epiphytic orchid that can naturalize here in Southern California?
  15. Marni

    Marni Well-Known Member Staff Member Supporting Member

    I would go with the idea that your conditions are too harsh for a lot of things. Have you tried seed of other Mexican species? Perhaps some Australian? Great to see.
  16. epiphyte

    epiphyte Member

    I honestly can't remember all the seeds that I've tried! It's not like it's been that many though. I probably haven't tried other Mexican Laelias. I might have tried a Dendrobium kingianum pod.

    I really want to cross anybody I can with Barkeria species. Same thing with Dendrobium canaliculatum. These orchids have no problem with harsh conditions.

    This year I made quite a few crosses with Psychilis krugii. I only have one plant but it turns out that it produces a gazillion flowers from the same spike. It's been sequentially blooming the entire summer...never seen anything like it. It managed to produce a new growth so that's good.

    I used its pollen to pollinate a Sophronitis brevipedunculata. It looks like it took...but the pod hasn't fattened up much...so we'll see. That would be crazy if the progeny had brevipedunculata's flowers and krugii's ridiculous sequential blooming trait.

    Initially I was only interested in species...but now I'm primarily focused on drought/temperature tolerance. Deng Xiaoping said that he didn't care if a cat was black or white...all that matters is that it catches mice. I'm saying that I don't care if an orchid is a species or hybrid...all that matters is how fit it is. The fitter an orchid is....the more people that will grow it on their trees.
  17. Ricardo

    Ricardo Slave of demanding bird

    In the wild, in relatively pristine habitat, Psychilis can grow in huge numbers to such a degree that every few feet there is a large specimen sized plant. I would be interesting to see in these traits are passed to the progeny.
  18. cnslr81

    cnslr81 New Member

    Nice!!! I wish I could germinate on my trees, but that would never work in Upstate NY!
  19. epiphyte

    epiphyte Member

    Hmmm...I think something in my reply generated a forum error. So I just posted my reply on my blog... Growing Orchids on Potted Plants
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2013
    Marni likes this.