Finally, the orchid you have spent so long nurturing has produced a keiki! And now, you are anticipating the production of tiny new roots on this little offshoot.
Fast forward a short time and, despite your best care, your baby orchid is growing new leaves but still there is no signs of new roots. Why is that?
So, is it normal for an orchid keiki to have no roots? How long does it take for a keiki to grow roots? Let us find out!
How orchids produce offspring
Perhaps, just when you were about to prune the flower spikes off your orchid, you suddenly noticed tiny new leaves forming there. This should make you very happy, because it means your beautiful orchid is producing a baby.
The new growth you are seeing is referred to as a keiki, which is a Hawaiian word for “baby” or “child”. Keikies are produced by mature orchids through the process of asexual propagation, resulting in an exact clone of the mother plant.
The orchids’ asexual reproduction is achieved in this instance through the accumulation of growth hormones at the plant’s node. Sometimes, growers actually induce the production of keikies by applying a concentrated growth hormone, called keiki paste, to the node of the flower spike.
Not all keikis, however, are produced through healthy growth and an abundance of growth hormones. Sometimes, orchids under extreme stress will produce keikis in an attempt to save their species. The mother plant will use all of its remaining energy to produce a beautiful flower and a keiki before it finally expires.
More often than not, it can be a bit challenging to know whether a keiki is the result of excess hormones or plant stress. So do not be too complacent – check for signs of issues in your orchids, as well as their growing conditions. Are your plants getting the appropriate temperature, humidity, sunlight, fertilizer, and watering? It is also important to check the potting medium. Orchids might have a large and devoted fan-base, but these beautiful blooms are known for being fussy and challenging to grow.
Once you are confident that your plants are well-nurtured and growing healthily, then you can celebrate your new keiki.
No roots on orchid keiki – is it normal?
Newbie growers are understandably baffled if their keikis do not have any roots despite producing a few leaves.
However, be reassured that keikis do, in fact, produce some roots. It might just take a long time for their roots to show up. When a keiki first develops on the mother plant, its growth is mainly focused on producing a few leaves. These leaves can grow up to four inches long, but despite this you might still not see any roots, and this is normal.
Keikis grow roots at a very slow speed, and you might see well-developed leaves and blooms before any roots appear. You just need to be patient – your keikis will sprout roots when they are ready!
How long does an orchid keiki take to grow roots?
On average, a keiki takes about eight months to send out roots. Some might even take over a year! This is absolutely normal, as baby orchids tend to focus their energy on foliage before roots.
Keep in mind, though, that keikis’ roots will only grow for as long as the mother plant is actively growing, which is usually in the spring and summer seasons. Like most houseplants, orchids go through a dormant stage during winter, so you should not expect any root growth at this time. So, if you are wondering about your keiki’s roots, also check the parent plant to know if it is actively growing at the moment. One way to tell is the presence of active roots that look like tentacles along the plant’s stems.
How do I root my keiki orchid?
Nothing gives an orchid grower greater joy than to see their keikis finally growing a few roots. But the journey to this point is not always easy, since orchids are known to be tough to care for and can be unpredictable. Some gardeners might try misting, improving the lighting conditions, or even not watering the mother plant, just to induce the growth of roots on their baby orchids. Still, none of these is guaranteed to work.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks that have proved effective to hasten the growth of keiki roots. Consider trying the tips below to see if they work on your plants:
- Moisten a cotton ball or sphagnum moss and wrap it around the base of your orchid’s keiki. Secure the material using a rubber band. Check your keikies every now and then, and hydrate the base with a few drops of water whenever it starts to become dry. However, make sure not to overdo the watering to prevent rotting and fungal growth.
- Use an auxin-based rooting hormone, preferably in the form of seaweed or kelp extract, to encourage cell division and root growth. Add a small drop of the extract to the cotton ball or moss attached to the keiki’s base.
- Avoid using keiki paste if you are aiming for root growth. Keiki paste contains cytokinin hormone which is mainly used to stimulate shoot growth, rather than roots.
- Once the mother plant stops blooming, you can remove the flower spike and cut back about an inch from where the baby orchid has grown. Pruning after the flowering phase is over will help the parent orchid to focus its energy on the little keiki.
- Lastly, keep in mind that patience is key when it comes to growing your keikis. Let the baby orchid grow healthily and happily and, in its own time, it will start putting out its roots.
When to separate a keiki from the parent orchid
An orchid keiki can be separated from its mother plant once it has grown a total of three inches of roots. This could mean three roots, each an inch long, or one single root with a length of three inches. Usually, this length can be reached in one to one-and-a-half years, starting from the keiki’s first growth.
Never remove the keiki from the parent plant too early, otherwise the baby orchid could die. The plantlet needs to have several leaves and strong roots so that it can survive on its own.
If you think your keiki is ready to be removed and repotted, follow these steps:
- Using a sterilized pair of cutters, cut the spike about an inch above and below where the keiki is attached. Carefully cut the tissue at the base of the plantlet. Do not twist the keiki with your fingers or you may damage it.
- After cutting the keiki from the parent, sprinkle the wound of both the keiki and the parent plant with cinnamon. This will help prevent fungal infections from developing on the open wounds.
- Soak the keiki roots in clean water for about ten minutes to help soften them before potting them.
- Place the new plant in a small pot, preferably about three inches wide. The pot should have drainage holes and not be too large for the keiki. If it is too big, it will take longer for the potting mix to dry after each watering, thus increasing the risk of root rot.
- Finally, fill the pot with a soil mix designed for orchids. Depending on the orchid variety, a potting mix made of vermiculite, sphagnum moss, perlite, and shredded bark should work wonders for your new plant.
Once your baby orchid is all set, make sure to protect it from harsh direct sunlight. Gradually introduce it to its new environment until it becomes well-acclimatized. You can slowly increase its light exposure once it starts showing signs of growth.
Keikis usually take about two to three years to produce their first flowers, sometimes over the course of a year, depending on the variety. Hence, patience is key!
Can an orchid keiki without roots be saved?
There are many instances when a keiki is separated from its mother plant before it has developed a few healthy roots. The reason could be due to an accident, physical damage, or the parent plant is simply too sick to support the plantlet. Sometimes, the parent plant has died before the keiki can grow its own roots.
If a parent plant is sick but has a chance of bouncing back, then removing the keiki is the best thing to do to save both parent and keiki. However, if the sick parent plant is not showing any healthy roots and leaves and its survival is unlikely, then only the baby orchid can be saved.
So, is there hope for an orchid keiki to survive without roots? The answer is yes, provided the plantlet has grown a few healthy leaves and is a few months old. However, caring for a fragile baby orchid with no roots involves intensive care. If you do not have the knowledge and experience, it may well die.
Caring for a rootless orchid keiki requires constant monitoring and adequate moisture around the base of the plant. Let it sit on moist sphagnum moss until it starts to grow roots, and remember that the moss must be damp at all times – but never watery, to prevent rotting. The “sphag and bag” method works, too. To do this, simply place your keiki in a bag of moist moss to encourage growth.
With proper care, your orchid keiki should start showing signs of growth after about a month.
Orchid keikis generally take a lot of time to produce roots. During their early stages of growth, the root system is not given top priority; instead, you will see the baby plants producing foliage and, sometimes, a few blooms, despite not having roots.
But do not worry – your keiki should send out roots at the right time, which is typically about a year. All you need to do is continue nurturing both the mother and baby plant until they are ready to be separated.
Image: istockphoto.com / aLittleSilhouetto