If you grow orchids or are thinking about trying one of these exotic plants, you may have wondered about possible ways to propagate them. Some types make new plants spontaneously by producing a small offspring called a keiki. These plantlets are likely to develop on several types of orchids, including dendrobiums (Dendrobium spp.) and phalaenopsis or moth orchids (Phalaenopsis spp.), which grow as houseplants or outdoors year-round in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 12 and 10 through 12, respectively. With just a bit of care and attention, you can increase your orchid collection by using keiki to make healthy new plants.
Formation of a Keiki
Keiki is a Hawaiian word that means baby, an apt description of the plantlet that closely resembles the parent plant. For example, a keiki on the flower spike of a moth orchid has leaves arranged in a rosette, like its parent, while one on a dendrobium usually develops above the base of one of the fleshy canes and looks like a miniature cane. Keiki form naturally at locations on the plant where growth hormones build up; you can also purchase keiki paste that contains concentrated hormones from specialty nurseries and apply it to nodes on flower spikes or to canes with a small stick, but use a fresh stick at each spot to prevent spread of disease. Once it appears, either spontaneously or in response to the paste, the keiki slowly enlarges, eventually developing aerial roots at its base.
Planting the Keiki
Once a keiki has several leaves and it roots are about 2 or 3 inches long, remove it from the parent plant. Sterilize a sharp blade such as a scalpel or razor blade by wiping it with rubbing alcohol, and slice through the base of the keiki, being careful to keep the roots with the plantlet and not damage them. To keep the mother plant healthy, sprinkle some cinnamon, a natural fungicide, onto the cut area and also sprinkle some onto the base of the keiki where you made the cut. Place the keiki into a fresh pot filled with moistened sphagnum moss or a fine-grained mixture such as chopped fir bark that's labeled for use with orchid seedlings.
During its first year, it's important to mist the keiki regularly to raise humidity in the plantlet's area. Water the keiki regularly, letting the mix drain thoroughly, and allow it to dry slightly between waterings, because too much moisture near the roots can cause them to rot. Keep the new plant in bright but indirect light, such as a few feet from a curtained south- or west-facing window; once you see signs of new growth, gradually increase the light in its vicinity, moving it closer to the window or removing the curtain. Using fluorescent lighting also helps boost the new plant's continued growth. Suspend lamps 4 to 6 inches above the plant, using two to four 40-watt bulbs for best results.
Depending on the type of orchid that produced the keiki, flowering might begin two or three years after it's repotted, although it could occur more quickly in some plants. Most orchids, including dendrobiums and moth orchids, benefit from fertilization every week or two during spring and summer; use a water-soluble, balanced formula such as 10-10-10, diluted to half-strength, or 1/4 teaspoon per 2 gallons of water, but also check your product label for further directions. Don't feed the plant during winter to give the plant a rest.
To discourage fungal problems in a plant developing from a keiki, keep it in an area with good air circulation and never allow its pot to remain in a water-filled saucer. It might also attract fuzzy white insects called mealybugs, which can be destroyed by touching each one with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
- American Orchid Society: Potting a Keiki
- Royal Horticultural Society: Phalaenopsis
- ew Mexico State University: Dendrobium Orchid Keiki (Baby Plant)
- Orchid Plant Care Info: Orchid Offspring -- All About Keikis
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Dendrobium (Group)
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Phalaenopsis (Group)
- Photo Credit SweetCrisis/iStock/Getty Images