My New In Vitro Orchids from Costa Rica

A blog post two days in a row; this is most definitely a recent record for me!

I got a very nice surprise this week when my friend had a visitor from Costa Rica: he brought me two types of in vitro orchids! I have never tried growing orchid seedlings before, so this will be a really cool challenge for me.

What are in vitro orchids, anyway? They are orchids that have been artificially produced from seed in a lab under highly controlled conditions. The seedlings are transplanted into vials or flasks containing nutrient-rich gel and should be allowed to grow inside for a certain amount of time (these specific species’ instructions stated two to four months) before being removed and potted. It’s important to note that these orchids are not grown from seeds taken in the wild; that would be illegal. The package states that “they come from the reproduction of the very best mother plants of Costa Rica.” And apparently, these packaged in vitro orchids are even available at the airport in Costa Rica. Sounds like I need to take a little vacation down there.  🙂

So, let’s take a look at my new goodies, shall we? The first is an Epidendrum schomburgkii:

IMG_4950The little guy came with an official signed and stamped phytosanitary certificate showing that it is pest-free and approved for import to the USA.

IMG_4979The flask fit into the palm of my hand:

IMG_4982I very carefully removed the orchid from the gel using a pair of clean tweezers and rinsed its roots to clean the gel off. It is SO small and delicate that I was afraid I was going to rip it apart while removing it, but it came away from the gel quite easily. How cute is this?!

IMG_4984The package came with a “starter square” of sphagnum moss, which the directions said to soak in a quarter cup of water. So I did that, and then after it had absorbed the water I squeezed the excess moisture out and potted the orchid into a teeny pot with it. And I didn’t forget to label it!

IMG_4988The directions say to keep the plant in low light conditions with high humidity for at least the first month, and that you can place the pot inside a closed translucent container during that time as long as you allow for regular air circulation. I happened to have a clean translucent salad bowl that I was going to use for an African violet watering system, but I decided to use it to cover this orchid instead, like the crappiest-looking bell jar in the world.

The second orchid flask actually contained five orchids! Five Brassia verrucosa, to be exact.

IMG_4993My friend actually removed these from the vial and potted them into a container for me—he said they had started to grow a little fungus in the vial. So here they are in a clear plastic food container with moss:

IMG_4990They are so adorable! A couple of them look like they may not be doing too great, so I’m going to keep a close eye on them. I wondered if I should pot them individually, but after a bit of Googling I decided to keep them together for now—I read that seedlings actually like to be close together. This article and this article have some good information on growing seedlings, so I know I’ll refer back to them as these little guys grow.

The included directions for both of these types of orchids say that after two to three months, the plant can be placed in more intense light—but of course not in direct light (most orchids can’t handle direct sunlight). It also advises to use a mild foliar fertilizer every week or two. I’ve actually never tried foliar fertilizing, but this seems like a good time to give it a shot.

I feel like I have a bunch of newborns! This is very exciting but also scary. I hope I’m able to do right by them. Thanks so much to Roel for bringing me these presents from Costa Rica!  🙂

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  1. Good luck with your flasked orchids – I didn’t do too well with the ones I’ve tried (probably in excess of 90-95% mortality rate); fungus is your worst nightmare; air circulation (but still with high humidity) seems to be key in the absence of using chemicals. Having some fungicide to hand is probably a good idea, even if you don’t treat pre-preemptively.
    It takes a while for their roots to adjust from gel to another medium – and to get used to “going it alone” after being richly supplied by the nutrient agar. Sphagnum is almost certainly the best bet, medium wise – live better than dead, if you can find it.

  2. It is a pleasure ! 🙂
    I am sure they are in the right hands !
    And yes come by soon with your husband (and somebody else ;)) !
    ….fingers crossed for the orchids ! 🙂

    1. I’m not sure if you can order these specific ones online. I tried Googling “Forest Princess orchids Costa Rica” and some other related terms from the paperwork that came with mine and am not having any luck finding anything. It’s possible they aren’t able to do online orders or to ship outside Costa Rica. Assuming you live in the U.S., there are many orchid sellers that offer in vitro/flask orchids, so you could try searching for one near you. I hope you’re able to find some!

  3. Michael writes:

    I love These Orchids> What I would like to know is how may I go about ordering them for my self?

    I got something similar about 10 years ago. It was from “Orquídeas del Bosque” but it can’t be the same company because they clearly abandoned their website years ago.
    Here’s the most recent capture I could find from the WayBack Machine from 2009:

    These vials were commonly sold at some tourist spots and also at the airport in San José. I got mine at a little tourist shop where it had obviously spent a long time in low light conditions. I kept it in that tube for a year and it thrived there (as much as it’s likely to thrive in a tube).

    Here’s the before and after:

    I then took the plants out of the tube (even if it’s not apparent in the second photo, there were two easily separated plants there by that point) and planted them in some wood bark medium (I made some sort of a plastic cover as instructed since these plants need an acclimation period after being deflasked). They both died in about a week or two of some fungal infection.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with in vitro orchids. Mine have all died—I think I took them out of the tubes too early and probably didn’t have them in ideal conditions once they I potted them. I also moved apartments so that likely stressed the one baby plant that was still alive at the time. They’re definitely very delicate creatures!

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