Say you have a lovely Phalaenopsis orchid and one day you notice that there’s something growing off of its spike, something that doesn’t look like a flower bud. Maybe it looks like a new leaf or two (like in the photo to the right)…and after awhile what looks like a root starts to appear. What is this growth? Is it normal, and what should you do with it?
I get a lot of questions like these from readers, so it’s well past time to dedicate a blog post to the topic. The growth I described above is a baby orchid or plantlet, known to orchid lovers as a “keiki” (the Hawaiian term for “the little one”). Keikis are clones of the “mother” plant and can either be left attached to the mother or removed and potted individually once they have grown large enough. Keikis can grow off of the spike or stem of the mother, or they can begun to sprout from the plant base, in which case they are referred to as basal keikis (I currently have two of these developing on one Phal).
Here’s what a basal keiki looks like:
And here’s a bigger look at a Phal with a couple different keikis near the top of the spike on the left:
You may have read about my keiki grow experiment which has thus far been pretty successful, but some types of orchids can produce keikis spontaneously without any encouragement from a hormone paste. Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, and Epidendrum are just some of the types of orchids that are known to generate keikis naturally. In some cases, when an orchid starts to put out a keiki it is trying to tell you that it is not doing well, and it’s making an effort to clone itself to keep its “bloodline” going in case it dies. You shouldn’t panic if one of your orchids begins to grow a keiki—this doesn’t mean it’s about to kick the bucket. However, keiki growth can be an indication that your orchid is damaged or unhappy in some way, so you should reevaluate the way you’re caring for it and try to make adjustments to improve its health.
How can you tell if what’s developing on your orchid is a keiki or just a new growth? A keiki will develop off of the plant’s stem—meaning either the spike or base on monopodial orchids, or the cane on sympodial orchids. Keikis are easier to distinguish on monopodial orchids like Phalaenopsis because they will look just like a couple of tiny new leaves coming out of a spot where they wouldn’t normally grow. Orchids with a sympodial growth habit (meaning they develop new growth laterally rather than growing upward) put out new leads from existing ones. Such new growth is not a keiki—a keiki on a sympodial orchid will shoot off of an already-mature growth. This may be better explained with photo examples…
Here’s a great photo showing a Dendrobium with a keiki—see all those white roots coming off of the cane on near the center of the image?
For comparison, here’s a photo of one of my Dendrobiums with two new leads poking up from the medium:
In my opinion, experience, any new orchid growth is exciting, but if you have a keiki, congratulations! Now what do you do with it? Like I mentioned, you can leave it attached to the original orchid and let it develop there. You may need to do some extra staking to help support the keiki as it gets bigger, especially if it’s near the end of the spike—these things can become a little top heavy. As the keiki starts to sprout roots you should mist them with water to help keep them hydrated, but make sure you don’t let water sit in the crown because the last thing you want is for your little baby to develop crown rot! You may find that a keiki can spike and bloom even while attached to its mother. Sometimes keikis left to their own devices will eventually fall off the original plant, at which point you can plant the keiki in its own little pot.
You don’t have to leave a keiki attached, though. Once a plantlet has developed at least two or three roots that are at least two to three inches long you can remove it from its mother and plant it in a pot. Removing a keiki isn’t difficult; just follow these steps:
- 1. Grab a sterilized cutting implement (A razor blade or gardening shears are best. Household scissors are a little awkward for a job like this).
- 2. Very carefully slice through the tissue at the base of the keiki to sever it from the original plant.
- 3. Apply an antifungal substance like ground cinnamon to the cut surfaces of both the mother and baby.
- 4. Situate the keiki in the center of a small, clean pot and begin to fill the pot with fresh medium. Tap the sides of the pot to help the medium settle in around the roots.
- 5. Admire your work!
Care for the keiki the same way you care for its mother. Make sure to water and fertilize regularly and keep it away from direct sunlight so you don’t burn those little leaves. After awhile you may see it spike and bloom! I’ve had a couple keikis spike and bloom for me already, and it’s so much fun to see. 🙂
a quick question ive been growing semi hydro leca and want to switch back to regular potting mix with my phals i see you hae extremely good results and healthy plants what specific brand of potting mix do you use for your phals
Hi there – I mostly use the Better-Gro Special Orchid Mix. I can find it at my local Lowe’s, and it’s very affordable!
I’ve heard you really shouldn’t remove basal keikis unless it looks like it can orally survive on its own. Fact or fiction?
Hi Emily – I’m not sure what you mean by it “orally” surviving on its own. Was that just a typo? 🙂
all of my orchids are having babies, yepeee, But what/how to deal with them and what is going on with the mother plant>?
Have pics, dont know hoe to post them
Hi there, you can read my post above for information on what to do with your orchids’ keikis. Sometimes keikis are an indication that the mother plant is not doing well but that’s not necessarily the case. I’d recommend taking the mother plant out of the pot and cutting away any dead or rotting roots that you find, which should help improve the plant’s health if it’s not doing well. Happy growing!
hi – i have two phalenopsis orchids that i bought 2-1/2 years ago at a grocery store – as ‘ice orchids’ – i never had an orchid before but these two seem to love me! they both bloomed twice the first year, before i ever did anything besides put 3 ice cubes a week on each one. after the 1st bloom, i cut one spike back to the base and the other had two spikes at once and i cut one back to a node and the other to the base. both immediately began to bloom a 2nd time. after the 2nd bloom, i decided i should read up on them and discovered your site!! after that bloom i repotted both plants. they are now both in their 3rd bloom. the plant that came with two spikes still puts out 2 spikes – one blooms before the other – right now the first spike is still in full bloom, but done and the other spike is just beginning to open its’ ‘buds.’ the other plant always has one spike (so far) with double blooms down the spike – about 8 flowers.
my mom gave me hers about 2 months ago – one that was a ‘fake blue’ when she received it, but never bloomed again. i brought it home and repotted it and within a couple of weeks a spike started (i’m excited about that!).
i still don’t know what all i’m doing right – i say most of my plants thru the years have survived because of ‘benign neglect!’ so probably they do well in the bay window i have here in north-central Arkansas that faces southeast – more east than south. i just used bark i bought off of Amazon, but good quality from the reviews.
NOW, sorry for the long background but wanted you to know how LITTLE experience i have with orchids – and why i’m now very nervous:
it seems that both one spike of the white-color blooms plant has a Keiki started – i noticed it about 2 weeks ago. then yesterday i noticed what appears to be another Keiki on my reddish-purplished colored bloom plant – the one that give the beautiful symetric double row show!
i had never heard of a Keiki and saw the word in one of your posts and what they were, but had no idea that it would happen to me! can i please send you photos of both of them so you can confirm that they are indeed babies!!??? PLEASE! both of the keikis are growing just past (starting from the furthest bloom on the end of the spike) the last bloom on the spike! i didn’t see a picture on your site exactly like that, so am questioning my sanity a bit – but both of these new ‘growths’ look like little mittens at the end of the spike and they are a different shade of green (lighter) than the spike and now are at the bottom of what is a “V” shape between the end bloom and the one before it – the keiki in the middle.
please help me!! and let me know if i can email you photos, etc. THEN i will read up more and hopefully know how to properly care for my ‘babies’ and when to separate them from the mamma plant, etc.
Thank you in advance for any help you can give me because i am completely at sea tending for these plants and just feel they are doing well ‘by guess and by golly’ – a Ozark term, even though i am a transplated Northern Californian via Southern Arizona – so i don’t even know yet what grows outside here!!!
Hi Andi, thanks for your comment. You can email pics to brooklynorchids [at] gmail [dot] com and I will take a look!
thanks Sarah – i will send pictures shortly so i will know if they are keikis or just the spikes taking a sharp 90-degree turn!! :>}
Thanks now I have a better understanding of what is going on with my orchids
I have a phal that has been doing okay for 2 years. Unfortunately, I have been following the Ice-cube method not realizing that this was a bad method. This week, my phal started dropping leaves. When I went to investigate, I touched another leaf and it just fell right off, they all look yellow and sickly. I took my plant out of it’s pot thinking I needed to repot and see now that I have pretty extensive root rot. I have cut all of that away with sterile scissors and will be doing the “sphag-n-bag” method to try and encourage new root growth. If you are not familiar, this where you bag the plant in a sealed bag in the shade for a couple weeks with wet moss or paper towel to encourage new roots before repotting. I will use paper towel in my case. However, I do have a Keiki growing on a old spike on this plant. My question is, should I cut the Keiki now and repot? I am worried that my plant might die and after 2 years, I hate to see it’s blood line disappear. the Keiki doesn’t have any roots that I can tell at this point. Do I need to leave it alone until I see some roots? Another site suggested cutting the spike about an inch below the Keiki and just repotting it that way but you seem to be quite the expert so I really want your opinion. Also, does the ‘sphag-n-bag’ method word or should I just repot?