So what do they look like? Amazingly Johann Georg Beer (1803 – 1873), an Austro-Hungarian orchidologist and explorer published in 1863 Beitra ¨ge zur Morphologie und Biologie der Familie der Orchideen. In it, Beer had produced in exquisite detail illustrations of orchid seeds. Beer was not the first to draw orchid seeds but his “drawings are morphologically accurate and artistically magnificent. Beer’s artistic ability, patience, and botanical expertise are obvious. His are probably the first detailed colour renditions of orchid seeds and seedlings to be published.”*
*Arditti, J, 2008, An history of orchid hybridization, seed germination and tissue culture, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society June 2008
Ever since the Western world discovered the orchid in the 18th and 19th century there have been enthusiasts wanting to grow them but though an orchid may produce millions of seeds, for they are minuscule, only a relatively small number germinate. The seeds do not have any stored food and are dependent upon fungi for germination. This made it difficult for early orchid growers who relied on obtaining specimens from the wild – a most unsustainable practice!
Yet today cultivation of orchids is flourishing. It is not dependent upon removing specimens from the bush. In Australia it is illegal.
Today the orchid enthusiast can grow orchids from seeds at home. The technique, invitro embryo germination, is popularly known as flasking. It involves growing the seeds in a sterile agar medium to which the most significant ingredient was the addition of sugar.
At the time it was developed by Professor Lewis Knudson (1884 – 1958) of Cornell University in 1922 this method was revolutionary.
Rasmussen J, April – June 1986, “Contact Dermatitis from Orchids” Clinics in Dermatology Volume 4 Number 2
Below are some examples of terrestrial orchids grown from seeds in flasks.