Orchid Life Cycle

In addition to their interesting life cycle, orchids have a number of twists that make them unique among flowering plants. For instance, certain orchids produce a pheromone that attracts female wasps to pollinate them. In this way, male wasps attract the female wasps to pollinate the flowers. It has also been discovered that some orchids are capable of self-pollinating. We are going to discuss the fascinating aspects of the orchid life cycle and the orchid reproduction process in this section. There are a variety of habitats in which the orchid is able to grow, and we will also discuss that.

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Orchid Life Cycle in 6 stages

Orchids are beautiful plants with a unique life cycle. Understanding this cycle is essential for providing the appropriate care to ensure your orchid thrives. The orchid’s life cycle consists of six stages: seed germination, root growth, leaf production, flower spike growth, blooming, and dormancy.

1) Seed Germination / Keiki Development

In the first stage, the orchid seedling starts to grow and develop, and it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. During this stage, it is essential to provide general care, regular watering, and good vibes.

2) Root Growth

Root growth is the second stage of the orchid life cycle, during which the orchid produces new growths from its root system called pseudobulbs. The plant’s aerial roots provide nutrients and support, and regular fertilizing during this stage is essential to support strong root growth.

3) Leaf Production

It takes about a year for an orchid plant to produce a new leaf. The cells in the meristem divide and grow rapidly, causing the orchid plant to elongate. As the plant grows taller, the leaves begin to emerge from the tips of the stems. Regular watering and fertilizing during this stage optimize leaf growth.

4) Growing Flower Spikes

Orchids start to grow a flower spike after the stem and the first set of leaves have developed, which can take up to three months depending on the type of orchid. The flower spike is a stem-like structure with nodes and indicates that flowering is imminent. Once the flower spike has reached its full length, flowering will begin. If a flower spike has been accidentally broken off, the plant can still bloom again, but it may take a few months for the orchid to grow a new stem. To encourage the growth of a new stem, it is recommended to cut the old one down to the bottom.


After a flower spike grows, the orchid typically blooms in 2-3 months, with blooming lasting for several weeks or months depending on the species. Orchids usually bloom once a year, but some species may bloom more than once. After the blooms fall off, it’s important to continue caring for the plant by cutting back the stem a few inches above where the blooms were, removing dead leaves, and providing regular watering and fertilizing. It can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years for an orchid to rebloom, and it may rebloom on the same stem within 6-8 weeks after the initial bloom. Encouraging reblooming depends on the health of the plant and growing conditions.


After the blooming stage, the growth of an orchid slows down and it enters a period of dormancy. This is a normal part of the plant’s life cycle and it allows the plant to rest and rejuvenate itself. Many orchid owners mistake this period as the death of their plant because the leaves may yellow and fall off and the stem may become thinner. It is important to continue watering the plant during this period, but less frequently, and to cut back on fertilizing to prevent fertilizer burn. After the dormancy period, the orchid will start to grow and bloom again.

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The Orchid growth habit

Orchids have two main growth habits: sympodial and monopodial.

Sympodial orchids produce new growth from lateral shoots and form bulb-like structures called pseudobulbs that store moisture and nutrients. This is the most common growth habit among orchid species, and examples include the Cymbidium orchid, which produces cylindrical pseudobulbs along the rhizome that appear to be connected like a thread, and the Bulbophylum orchid, which grows pseudobulbs about three to four centimeters apart along the rhizome.

The flowers, stems, and leaves of orchids develop from new growth on the pseudobulb. As new growth emerges, a new bulb forms along the rhizome. Once the new growth has fully developed, the existing pseudobulb becomes dormant and turns into a back bulb. The back bulb then provides energy reserves for the new growth until it too reaches the back bulb phase and shrivels up and dies.

Some sympodial orchids do not develop pseudobulbs.

Paphiopedilum orchids, in particular, are known for growing strong shoots from their base, especially in humid environments. When the leaves and shoots die, new growth will emerge from the existing base. The roots of Paphiopedilum are thick and fleshy, allowing them to store abundant moisture.

In contrast, the monopodial growth habit of orchids enables them to reach incredible heights, with some Vanda orchid species growing several meters tall. Monopodial orchids do not develop pseudobulbs. Instead, new growth emerges from the end bud of old growth, and along the new growth appear leaves and flowers. The new growth is supported by succulent leaves which provide nutrients and moisture.

Orchids can grow in a variety of habitats, including marshes, wetlands, trees, the ground, and piles of decomposing organic matter. There are three main groups of orchids: epiphytes, lithophytes, and terrestrials. Orchids may switch habitats depending on their circumstances. For example, an orchid growing near the base of a tree may grow on the trunk and become an epiphyte. In some cases, orchids will even grow on rocks if there is enough moisture and nutrients for growth.

Epiphytic orchids

Most orchid species, including the most stunning ones, are found in tropical and subtropical regions. They usually grow on host trees, relying on the trunk and sturdy branches for support. Sometimes, they even cling to small twigs at the very top of the tree canopy. Epiphytic orchids have strong root systems that utilize the moisture and organic material found in the bark and crevices of their host plants. In addition, the humid tropical air provides them with the moisture and nutrients they need to thrive. This highlights the significant role of air movement in the growth of epiphytic orchids.

Epiphytic orchids also take advantage of the microclimates provided by their hosts. Many of them prefer shaded or moderately dappled light, and so they grow on the lower trunks or branches of the host tree. Others that need direct sunlight and more ventilation will grow in the topmost part of the canopy. The most notable epiphytic orchid species include Oncidium orchids, Miltonia orchids, and Cattleya orchids.

Terrestrial orchids

Terrestrial orchids are able to thrive in a variety of environments, from bogs to forests, sand dunes to semi-arid desert soil. Their roots are adaptable and can produce tubers at different depths in the soil, depending on the situation. These tubers allow the plants to store nutrients and moisture, enabling them to survive times of total dryness.

During the winter, the leaves and flowers of terrestrial orchids fade away, and they remain underground until the new growth season begins. When new growth appears, a single leafy stem with flowers at the top emerges. Terrestrial orchids can grow either singly or in clumps of several hundred plants. Some examples of terrestrial orchids include Stenoglottis, Disa uniflora, Bartholina, Satyrium, as well as semi-terrestrial orchids such as Cymbidium, Paphiopedilum, and Calanthe, which have underground tubers and/or rhizomes.

Lithophytic orchids

Lithophytic orchids are predominantly found in tropical regions, with some species growing on tall outcrops. These plants possess robust roots that absorb moisture and nutrients from the air, while any other necessary resources are obtained from organic debris and moss that accumulates in the crevices of rocks. The leaves of lithophytic orchids are typically thick and fleshy, and the pseudobulbs are succulent to aid the plant in surviving long periods of drought.

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The Orchid Life Cycle In Detail

Orchids follow a life cycle similar to other flowers: seed production, germination, seedling growth, maturation into plants, flowering, and reproduction.

Pollination triggers a chemical reaction that initiates the orchid’s reproductive cycle. As the orchid flower withers, the sepals and petals shrink and die, a process that appears typical but is distinct in orchids. After pollination, it takes an orchid between nine and fourteen months to complete its full life cycle.

Orchids are known for their prolific seed formation, though the time to mature varies by species. Cymbidium and Cattleya orchids, for example, can take up to twelve months for their seeds to mature.

To ensure their survival in nature, most orchid species require specific adaptations to their habitat. For instance, epiphytic orchids have evolved feather-light, tiny, delicate seeds that can be easily airborne and land on hospitable spots, as heavy seeds would fall to the ground, which is not suitable for epiphytic growth.

On the other hand, terrestrial orchids require specific soil conditions, which means they must disperse more seeds to adapt to their natural habitat and increase their chances of survival. Although the amount of seeds produced and dispersed may seem like a waste, only a small percentage of them will land in an environment conducive to growth.

Another way in which orchid plants differ from conventional flowering plants is the absence of endosperm in their seeds. During germination, orchid seeds rely on a fungus to act as the endosperm by providing the required energy. Therefore, the mycorrhiza fungus is crucial for orchids to complete their reproduction cycle.

The orchid reproduction cycle: form, fragrance, and function

Orchid flowers emit a range of fragrances, from sweet and musky to stinky and acrid, depending on the species. These fragrances attract specific pollinators, with the orchid’s lip containing special glands responsible for producing them.

Orchids adapt their fragrance release to the activity levels and photo-sensitivity of their pollinators. For instance, orchids that require bees for pollination do not produce fragrances at night when bees are inactive. In contrast, orchids that depend on moths for pollination intensify their fragrance at night when moths are active.

Some orchids can even mimic the pollinating agents they wish to attract. One such orchid, Ophrys sphegodes, creates a remarkable imitation of a type of female bee. When this orchid blooms, it coincides with the time when male bees are actively seeking female mates, making it a possible target for them. The male bees are tricked into copulating with the orchid flower, which results in pollination.

Orchids are adapted to attract pollinating insects, which are often shortsighted, through their fragrances and colors. The fragrances and scents entice the pollinators, and the orchids rely on these insects for their reproduction.