Mericlone vs. seedling orchids

It’s time to explore some more orchid terminology; ‘mericlone orchid’ and ‘seedling orchid’. There is a distinct difference between the two terms and both types of plant propagation offer different things. Whilst it isn’t essential for you to know the ins and outs of the different types, it is interesting to find out more about how our orchids can be propagated.

What is a ‘mericlone’ orchid?

Put simply, mericloning is a method of producing orchids by meristem propagation. Meristem propagation is achieved by removing tissue from the parent orchid to produce new plants. Orchids created using this method are exact copies of the parent orchid, and is commonly used to mass produce a particular species or hybrid. It is usually a mericlone orchid that you will purchase in garden centres.

Mericloning is a popular method when growers wish to mass produce an award winning or sought after orchid. This is true of orchids that have particular traits such as near black flowers – not something that is easy to replicate, so these are usually grown by meristem propagation. Excessive cloning i.e. cloning a clone, of a clone, of a clone (does your head hurt yet?) can lead to anomalies and weaknesses developing, which is something to be mindful of.

Mericlone orchids are cloned and grown in sterile laboratory conditions. Orchids can be particularly fussy about the conditions they are grown in and can take years to grow into almost full size plants. The Nelly Isler orchid I have in my collection is an example of a mericlone orchid.

Oncidopsis Nelly Isler
Oncidopsis Nelly Isler in bloom

What is a ‘seedling’ orchid?

As the same suggests, it is an orchid grown from seed. Once an orchid flower is pollinated, it will produce a seed pod with thousands of seeds contained within it. The seeds are so small, they actually look like dust when dispersed. These seeds can be germinated in sterile laboratory conditions, but can also take years to grow.

Seedling orchids are different to mericlone orchids because they will not be identical to the parent plant. There is a genetic lottery with seedling orchids; no two seeds will develop the same way. Seedling orchids are usually created when growers wish to produce a new hybrid. The majority of my collection are probably mericlone orchids, but I have one exception – my Cattleya orchid. This is a cross between two mature plants and the nursery I purchased it from are not 100% sure how my orchid will develop…it will be a surprise!

Cattleya seedling
My Cattleya seedling will bloom in a few years, but I’ve no idea what the flowers will look like!

Which is best to buy?

That depends entirely on you. If there is a specific orchid that you want, then it is likely to be a mericlone. If it is widely available then there should be plenty of information you can find on the internet about how to care for it. With seedling orchids, this may be trickier as growers don’t really know what care needs it has right away, but some growers like the surprise element of a seedling orchid.

Whilst it is wonderful having orchids that I have seen other people grow, like the Nelly Isler, I’m also excited to see how my Cattleya develops. Nobody else will have that particular orchid which is brilliant. Who knows, in time I may be able to register a new hybrid with the RHS – wouldn’t that be exciting?

There are other ways to propagate orchids but I’ll cover that in a different post. Two new terms is quite enough for one post 😉

I hope this was helpful – if you have any questions, please leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Happy growing!



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