SEEDLINGS AND MERICLONES by Julian Coker
So often people are confused with the difference between a seedling and a mericlone. A seedling is a plant resulting from the growth of a single orchid seed, formed by the union of a male pollen grain with a female ovum. It is a uniquely new plant that has inherited various features from both of its parents. Even when an orchid is crossed with itself (selfing), or where two plants of the same species are crossed with each other, variation is obvious in the resultant seedlings. A mericlone on the other hand is a plant that results from the multiplication of tissue from the meristematic area of a single plant. All resulting plants have an exactly identical makeup and barring mutation, will all be identical.
A six to nine month period from pollination to harvesting of the seed, followed by a nine to twelve month period in tissue culture to produce a viable plant for the outside environment, followed by three to five years to produce a flowering plant, gives a five to seven year generation time, so growing seedlings, where there is no guarantee of a desirable result, is generally for the commercial grower or the genuine devotee. It is however, almost invariably through seedlings that advances in cymbidiums appear.
Advances may take the form of a show champion, a new shape or colour, or some other outstanding feature. The chances of achieving this is small, perhaps one in a hundred or one in a thousand, but with the constant improvement in genetic material available in parents and the increasing knowledge possessed by hybridisers, the chances are improving and the satisfaction is great when the exceptional seedling appears.
Many avenues are now available in cymbidium breeding lines and rewards are available in all of them. Most hybrids are produced with commercial benefit paramount but for some hybridisers the showbench orchid is more appealing and many seedlings are also produced with this end in view. In addition, seedlings with the potential to provide new shapes and colours and colour combinations are becoming more available, as well as those with extended flowering times, perfumes, warmth tolerance, super-productivity and other desirable features.
All good collections contain a number of seedlings, and it is best to add to these regularly. With small collections, a few may be purchased each year from the various catalogues available. Bear in mind that accompanying descriptions describe expectations and that hybridisers are great optimists. With larger collections, more seedlings or a few community pots comprising a number of seedlings from the same grex may be grown.
You are never too old or too young to start growing seedlings. Once a collection has become established over a period of time, there is the constant excitement of seeing what unique flowers appear each year. Be part of the excitement and the future of the cymbidium. You may be the lucky one!