Dactylorhiza seed propagation

Submitted by Jeddeloh on

Has anyone tried to germinate dactylorhiza seed by any method? Any luck? Suggestions? I just got Growing Hardy Orchids from Kew Books and it explains the basics of symbiotic (with fungi) and asymbiotic seed starting methods. With some work, luck and money it is a viable kitchen table activity. Years ago I did a bit of lily tissue culture at home with reasonable success so I know it's possible to keep the work area sterile enough to prevent contamination. I also have tucked away in my bomb shelter (really! Late 50's early 60's vintage) my old pressure canner and tissue culture box my Dad made. Assuming the canner still works I already have the most expensive piece of equipment. I also have dacts that can provide fresh seed this summer.

I've spent a lot of time trolling the internet the last couple of days looking for more information and am starting to formulate a plan of how to do it. I'm still not sure where to find jars, flasks or petri dishes at a reasonable price. Suggestions are welcome.



Submitted by Hoy on Mon, 04/02/2012 - 01:39

Sorry Jan, can't help you with any information regarding this. I've only grown bacteria for transformation and you are certainly aware of the necessity to work sterile ;)
Here I can buy petri dishes etc  from the pharmacy or from a company in Sweden (cheaper than any in Norway). I also use a common micro oven to sterilize  the utensils.

Once I bought a flask of orchid plantlets from tissue culture. All went well till I transplanted the small plants as I didn't rinse them thoroughly enough and the remnants of nutrient gel was infected by all kind of mould.

Submitted by Tony Willis on Mon, 04/02/2012 - 11:47

This might seem pretty basic but dactylorhiza will germinate if sprinkled in pots of fairly moist growing plants like hostas no special treatment needed.

I collected 70 from my hosta pots last year to plant in the garden and numerous others come up in all sorts of pots,8 in one lily pot,others in shortia's. My neighbour who is not a gardener has 19 flowering size plants in a pot of old compost she left lying around for a couple of years

Submitted by Cockcroft on Mon, 04/02/2012 - 12:10

Hi, Jan,
Dactylorhizas have pretty much taken over my garden, seeding where they please but often not where they will thrive -- rescue operations required.  :)  I think the key to their success is heavy mulching throughout the garden with conifer shreddings from tree service businesses and no tilling.  The latter is important to give the orchids and fungi plenty of undisturbed time.

Tony is correct about their preferences -- hostas crowns, lilies, even Dutch iris have seedling orchids nestled around them.


Submitted by Lockwood on Tue, 04/03/2012 - 10:48


Quote from Ian Young Scottish Rock Garden Club

Ian wrote:

The best thing to do is scatter your spare seed around some planted up troughs or some potted plants that sit outside and are not going to be repotted for a few years that is where we get most of our dactylohriza seedlings appearing.
It is a total waste of time to sow them in the way we sow other seeds - they never germinate.
For years I have cut off the seed heads and go around the troughs and other containers shaking the seed heads with good results.

Hi Jan - I'm going to try Ian's way, I have plenty of places I never get around to weeding - gave up on getting them to germinate in seedling pots.

Submitted by Cockcroft on Wed, 04/04/2012 - 11:27

One more point -- patience is required if you sow orchids seeds directly into garden beds or troughs.  For me, dactylorhizas stay underground for a couple of years before having enough strength to push up a leaf.  And according to one of the study weekend speakers (Donna Wylie), our native Cypripedium montanum stays underground 6-8 years before the first leaf appears.

Submitted by Jeddeloh on Thu, 04/05/2012 - 16:48

Well, I do mulch with the stuff from the tree trimmer (free is a very good price) but so far I haven't seen any self sown seedlings.  Of course I've only had dactylorhizas for maybe three years or so.  Maybe I just haven't given them enough time to become "weedy".  From what I've read they do stay underground for at least a good year-it's recommended when sowing on agar that you keep them cool (think fridge) and in the dark for an extended period. 

I'm interested in doing this partly because it sounds different and intriguing.  Sometimes I like a good challenge.  Besides, if successful, it would give me SERIOUS bragging rights at study weekends.  ;D