American Gardening, 21(300): 634 (September 22, 1900)

Orchids From Seed
E. O. Orpet
So. Lancaster, Mass.

UP to within recent years the raising of Orchids from seed was confined to a limited number of experts who had become noted for their success, and it had proved to be a very remunerative occupation to those engaged in it. The secrets of success, if indeed there be any, have never been published, and in all the literature devoted to the furthering of the culture of Orchids, less has been said on this branch than any. Reasons might be given for this, some of which are so obvious that they will suggest themselves to the reader, but by way of proving that there is no royal road, or philosopher's stone, to be discovered by the beginner before venturing, a few notes from one who has had to start at the beginning may encourage others to go and do likewise.

It should be stated first of all, that our trials with Cypripedes were very disappointing, very few tests germinated, and of those that did very few live to-day, this, and the fact that this genus has been worked over so diligently by others, induced us to pay more attention to the Cattleyas and Laelias, as being more showy, more popular, and the chances of getting something new, very much greater than in Cypripediums and the results have justified our course.

Most amateur cultivators, when asked if they have ever attempted to raise their own plants, tell me that they have tried but never succeeded; and further questioning will generally elicit the fact that one or two lots of seed have been sown, and because they did not come up as other seeds do, discouragement followed and other experiments were not made. It may be stated at the outset, that if, when beginning, one experiment in ten produces results in the shape of plants, it will be safe to regard it as a fair average, and after a few years' experience one may expect to get about one failure in ten trials. This, at least, has been our experience this present summer, with the past five years of experimenting to profit by.

There are more plants this year from seeds that have come where they were not sown, than all that resulted from our first three years of trying to get them up where they were sown.

These orphans are always exceedingly interesting to watch grow, for they are invariably more vigorous in habit, having from the outset withstood all the temptations to die young. It has been often said that a seedling raised under cultivation does not deteriorate, and this is true, because if they were not fitted to survive, we should never see them at all, or at all events, not for a very long period, for the mortality among the tiny plants is great, no matter how much care is taken to nurse them. This we regard as a very desirable feature, and unless very few of a cross has resulted, the weak ones are not cared for, as they do not pay for the trouble.

We have seedlings in one inch pots now, and their counterparts from the same pod of seeds are in five-inch pots and showing for bloom, and it is safe to say that a plant that takes from three to four years to outgrow a pot one inch in diameter hardly pays to trouble about, unless it be unique.

When starting to hybridize, flowers were fertilized irrespective of the possible results, and we are now paying the penalty in results that are remarkable for mediocrity. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the desirability of crossing only such flowers as are of superior merit as varieties, or characteristics as species, such as color, vigor, season of flowering, or some other point which is in mind. It matters not what so long as one has an objective.

It may be that, when a rare or superior form is in bloom, one has nothing to put on it; this is the time to think how many correspondents one has that are likely to have pollen of some desirable kind to use. If pollen of a plant that is a hybrid is available, so much the better, for the variation in the seedlings will be much greater, no two alike, as three species or varieties will have had to do with the result. Always remember, however, that it is better not to tax a plant's energy to the production of seeds unless it is healthy, and we make it a rule not to let more than one pod of seed come on a spike. When choosing a flower to fertilize, always take the upper one on the spike; if one of the lower ones are taken, the remains of the other flower pedicels will sometimes cause the spike to die down low enough to affect the pedicel that bears the pod of seed, often with fatal results.

It is presumed that all are familiar with the way Orchid flowers are fertilized, so far as the mechanical part of it is concerned. Cattleyas have four pollen masses, and Laelias have eight; one of these is enough to fertilize a flower of similar size, though two is better, yet one is enough if it is desired to make the pollen go as far as possible. If it is intended to cross a Sophronitis or Epidendrum with a Laelia or Cattleya, the pollen mass may be cut in small pieces so as to insert it in the cavity. Pollen may be considered ripe when the flower has reached its full development as to color and size; there is a stage when it may be considered immature, but how long it may be kept for future use is uncertain. If it is desired to keep it, use glass tubes free from moisture and sealed may be used. Pollen from Cattleya Dowiana and C. chrysotoxa is very perishable, even on the flower itself.

In about three days after impregnating the flower, it will show signs of withering, and it is best to cut off the segments of the flower with a sharp pair of scissors. We have had instances where the decay spread from the outer parts of the flower to the column and destroyed the chances of getting seeds; this happens usually when moisture, in large excess, is present in the structure, as in the "dog days."

As to subsequent cultural care plants that are bearing seed pods need precisely the same treatment as others. It is not at all necessary to suspend them with a view to obtaining an abundance of light; we have had pods injured by too close proximity to the glass, both in very hot and in cold weather.

In a general way it takes a year for a pod of Cattleya seed to ripen, but there appears to be no hard and fast rule. Plants of the two leaved section, as C. Leopoldii and Laelia purpurata, will mature in six months; most of the C. labiata forms such as C. Trianae, C. Mossiae and C. Gaskelliana will take twelve months; while C. speciosissima will always take about fourteen months to mature. The longer a pod takes to ripen its seeds the better the prospects are of getting plants up, and if one ripens prematurely, the chances of success are materially lessened.

*At the Hybridization Conference in London last year Mr. C. C. Hurst referred to a reported case of fertile seeds having been produced in a capsule through the irritation caused by the boring of a caterpillar:—ED.

It has been suggested that the pollen parent exerts an influence immediately, and that the pods sometimes ripen earlier owing to this fact. We have failed to notice anything in the way of proof of this theory, though it is true that pods will ripen quickly when, or shortly after, they are fully grown, and there may appear to be good seeds therein; but we have never got seedlings from such crosses, and premature ripening may safely be attributed to uncongenial mating. It is a well known fact that it is the easiest thing possible to get a pod to swell on an Orchid; even irritating the stigmatic surface with a toothpick is sufficient to start all the symptoms of fecundation, the flower will rapidly wither and sometimes the pod will swell. We have even had this take place through taking the pollen from a flower; but fertile seed can only be obtained from crosses where there is an affinity between the parents used.* What the affinity is one cannot well define; it is not a botanical one, or we should not be able to cross Epidendrums, Sophronitis and Brassavolas with the Cattleyas, for here are four separate genera in the opinion of the botanist. But the seed bearing parent knows what its affinities are, and will speedily let the hybridizer know.

After all the trials made to cross the Cypripedes from the East with those from the Western Hemisphere, or those from our Northern woods with both the others, not one authentic instance appears to prove that a cross has taken place, and all this in what was considered one genus, though now recognized as two.

It will thus be seen that apart from the getting of Orchids from seeds, there is a great deal to be learned by not getting them; and to the true student of plant physiology, it is also sure to leave him wanting to know a great many more things that seem inexplicable. In other words the more we know, the more there remains to be found out.

E. O. Orpet
So. Lancaster, Mass.

American Gardening, 21(303): 680 (October 13, 1900)

Orchids From Seed II
(Continued from page 634)

AFTER the flower has been pollinated it is very interesting to watch the progress of development of the capsule, from a round to the triangular, and later still to a six sided shape; this latter taking about three months. By this time the ovules will have become impregnated by the pollen tubes, and it will thus be seen that the pollination of the flower is but the commencement of a very complex process.

It is easy to place the pollen on the stigmatic surface, it is all we have to do with it after selecting suitable subjects to unite; and if, at the end of three months, the capsule still remains green and growing, it may be fairly concluded that good seeds will be produced. But during that three months there is time for a number of things to happen. Sometimes the column will turn black at the tip; this is always fatal if occurring during the earlier stages of growth, but if it be after the seeds have fully grown yet before the pod has opened naturally, it is well to sow the seeds as usual, and sec if they will germinate.

It has been noticed that the seeds are mature many weeks before the capsule opens naturally, and we have had at least two instances where from immature pods good seeds and plants were obtained. In one case where a fine white C. Mendelli Morgana; was crossed with Laelia cinnabarina, all went well for about ten months, then the tip of the column decayed and the infection spreading to the capsule itself, it was feared that our experiment was to be unproductive of more than experience. The seeds looked good, however, and were sown, producing hundreds of little plants. Another instance was that of a cross between Cattleya superba splendens and C. maxima (the latter is the Peruvian form, and I am told it is a specially fine one). It was not nearly time for maturation when it was seen one morning that the capsule was missing, and it was found on the path where it had fallen after being broken off by accident when dipping the plant. Many plants are here as the result of that cross, although C. superba is not a very prolific parent as a rule. It will thus be seen that a careful examination of all capsules that mature either before or at the proper time is a wise precaution.

If an Epidendrum or Sophronitis be used as a pollen parent on a Cattleya, it will be noticed on the opening of the capsule that there is very little seed having a bright yellow tint, all the rest will be whiter, mere chaff. The yellow seeds being at the column end show that the influence of the pollen parent was weak—potent enough to impregnate but a small portion of the ovules. To avoid sowing a lot of chaff, cut off the tip end far enough down to take all the good seeds, and sow later.

In the majority of Cattleyas and Laelias, the seeds are yellow, but in others such as C. Bowringiana, C. speciosissima, and L. purpurata they are a light brown, as is the chaff, and it is not so easy to distinguish between the two. Dendrobiums also have yellow seeds, so far as noticed, and the seeds of Epidendrums of the tall growing section such as E. O'Brienianum are the largest of any Orchid seeds we know, consisting of a bright green germ, or nucleus, wrapped up in a white envelope as if it were a piece of tissue paper twisted at both ends. These are the most interesting seeds to watch develop into tiny plants that it is possible to imagine. They are also the most rapid of any and the easiest to germinate; but among the hardest to pollinate. It is recorded that Messrs. Veitch have never yet obtained a capsule on E. radicans, and our own trials this summer on about forty spikes were many, at least fifty, with all the kinds of pollen we could obtain and used on flowers at different stages of maturity on the one spike during the morning, noon and evening hours. But not one capsule ripened to gladden our eyes, though the flowers withered and the capsule in many instances swelled enough to warrant our hopes of success, while the flowers below them on the same stem remained fresh for some time later. Epidendrum cinnabarinum is similar in this respect.

Insects often pollinate the flowers of both, however, for we have found capsules well advanced that could only have been due to their industry. E. O'Brienianum is a hybrid, one-half of it being E. radicans, but it can be induced to bear seeds, and all our Epicattleyas and Epi-phronitis are the result of the use of this parent. It should not be inferred from the foregoing experiences that the things sought are impossible, for if insects can do the work there is a way for it, only we have not found it out. Perhaps others have.

Experience will teach the amateur when to expect the capsule to mature, dehiscence takes place spontaneously at various periods according to the kind of parent used for seed bearing, but in a general way it will be remembered at about twelve months. Directly it is noticed that the segments of the capsule have separated along the lines between the points of the angles, it must be cut off and placed in a box lined with paper together with the tag used to mark the names of parent and pollen used and the date of pollination. We use cigar boxes of a shallow size so that when the capsule is placed inside, the lid cannot shut down close enough to exclude air. If placed in an air-tight box the great amount of moisture contained in the capsule itself would be sufficient to cause decay of the whole. It is best to let all remain in the box for a few days for the slight drying process enables one to freely shake out the seeds. While the placenta is still green, some of the seeds will remain attached until a slight drying influence liberates them.

The tag or label used to place on record the data regarding the experiment is a matter of some importance. We use celluloid sheets cut into strips about two inches wide. The entire sheet is placed on a hard surface, and, with a brad awl, ruled off on the shiny side at half inch distances. The dull side is used to write on, using a little white lead before writing. When a record has been written, cut off the strip at the awl mark, snip off the corners, punch a hole at one end for a piece of thin copper wire, and you have a tag that will be indelible and indestructible for a lifetime. It has the advantage also of being neat and not too much in evidence when attached to a flower. The date of sowing may be added at the proper time, space being left for the purpose. If it is desired to erase the writing a little Sapolio and water will readily do so; but it may be pushed down in the pot out of sight for a year, and the legibility will not be affected in the least. We keep no records besides those on the tags. If records of all our failures had been kept it would have taken a rather large cigar box to hold them by this time; it might have been depressing also to look over them. Thus we reason "whatever is, is best."

E. O. Orpet.
So. Lancaster, Mass.

See Hurst for more bigeneric orchid hybrids