Svante Malmgren         Henric Nyström

Orchid propagation



Ophrys               Orchis (Anacamptis),Himantoglossum               Dactylorhiza               Gymnadenia

Coeloglossum,Leucorchis,Platanthera,Neottianthe,Nigritella               Cypripedium

Ophrys, Serapias & Comperia


Ophrys is a genus that grows in Southern, and to some extent, in Central Europe. In Sweden we have just one of these species, namely Ophrys insectifera, also growing in Norway. In Germany and southern England four species may be found: Ophrys insectifera, holoserica, apifera and sphegodes. In Hungary an additional species, Ophrys scolopax, is native. This species was introduced to a site in Germany many years ago and it is now well established there.

Much effort has the last 10 years been done – more or less reasonably – to separate the Ophrys genus into a vast number of different species (for the moment more than 250!). However, there is a debate going onn concerning the correctness and sense of this. On the one hand there are the “morphologists”, finding a new form = a new species behind every bush, on the other hand there are the DNA-analysers, arguing for just a limited number of true species with some variations within the species. See also below, in the text about Ophrys hybrids!

All Ophrys, several Mediterranean Orchis, Serapias and similar species are amongst the most easily asymbiotically propagated orchids. Typically they exhibit a high germination rate and rapid development, in common with the situation in the wild where the short Mediterranean growing period requires hurried growth. On sterile media they behave similarily.

Sowing medium: “Standard medium” with the addition of 1 cm3 turnip in each flask à 20 ml medium. A few species germinate better on pine-apple-juice medium – but most species seem to grow on much better on turnip as organic complex.

Ophrys insectifera (of Swedish origin) seems to be one of the species prefering potato – pine-apple juice all the way, like Dacts, most Orchis etc.

Sowing time: April-June, possibly July. Different species have a little different growth speed on medium. Best thing is to have mature little tubers on medium next April-May, in order to come in phase with 4-5 months dry resting period after that, and then given water from Sept-early October (but a much shorter resting period for British and German Ophrys species

Seed treatment: Thin seed coats, normally 0,3-0,5% NaClO for 4-8 minutes.

Germination: In some cases after 2 days, in most cases 2-4 weeks. Exception: (Swedish) Ophrys insectifera, see below!

Growth on medium: No problems, se photos. One transplanting to fresh medium at 3-5 mm size. They produce nice little tubers on medium after 7-10 months, to be potted in soil early next summer.

Interesting question! Now, we can see differences between on the one hand the Mediterranean species programmed for a short vegetation period without threatening cold winter and on the other hand species/clones growing in Central Europe (and Sweden).

Ophrys holoserica, apifera and sphegodes from Central Europe have a slightly slower growth first autumn on medium. They do not neccessarily need a cool treatment, but significantly benefits by being kept cool 3-4 months (8-10-12 centigrades) in weak light first autumn/winter while leaves are developing. In spring they grow very quickly, producing good tubers, see photo.

Ophrys insectifera is a plant that in Sweden only grows on wet marshes on lime-stone, never on summer-dry habitats! It has a very short underground resting period, if any. In late summer, often while the old leaves still are green, a short new leaf develps for next years´ shoot. On the other hand, expecting a cold Swedish winter, this little leaf stops growing at 10-15 mm size – but survive heavy frost. If sown late summer – on potato plus pine-apple-juine-NH3 – just 10-20% of the seeds germinate after 4 weeks, and grow very slowly. However, if the flasks are kept cool, but frostfree during winter, more than 50% of the seeds will germinate before spring, and all protocorms/plants now grow very quickly, producing long leaves, a big tuber and a small new shoot in August. This illustrates an adaption to Swedish climate. But don´t keep the plant dry after potting in soil, there is a new shoot and a small root! 

Potting in soil:
Standard soil from lime-stone areas or similar, possibly with a little sand added to give good drainage. The little tubers from medium should be kept “dry” but not “too dry” first summer in soil. A simple trick is to add “a little” water to the pot when the soil has dried out, and then put it all in a plastic bag for 4-5 months. After given water from Sept or Oct, 75-95% of the tubers will develop leaves.
Ophrys from Central Europe should have a “semi-dry” resting period for just 4-6 weeks, just like Central European Orchis/Anacamptis.

Almost all species and hybrids bloom in their 2nd year in soil, which is slightly less than 3 years after sowing. Some strongly growing species and hybrids flower regularily at 2 years age if given good care, which is during their first year in soil.

Growing these Mediterranean species in more northerly parts of Europe requires the adoption of somewhat artificial conditions. Temperatures must be kept above 0 C for most of the winter – and 8-10 is better – and a little extra light should be provided. With care and possibly a little luck, however, excellent growing conditions can be achieved giving great pleasure to the grower the dark months of winter and early spring.


Ophrys species from Central Europe: holoserica, apifera, insectifera and sphegodes, on the other hand, are easy to grow in the garden in those areas (such as England and Germany) with a suitable climate. In order to test their hardiness, they have been grown in Denmark and preliminary results are very good. We raise Ophrys apifera (incl var. trollii), holoserica and sphegodes in large numbers. The demand for these species is much greater than for those from the Mediterranean.


Ophrys hybrids are very easy to raise and it seems that any two species can be crossed to produce vital offspring. The F1 generation of any particular cross exhibits just a small of floral variation. We have grown 14 or 15 different hybrids to flowering size so far but, with very few exceptions, it is worth noting that the F1 hybrids are sterile. In some cases they produce empty seed capsules and, in other cases, just a few unviable seeds.

The only exceptions that we have found so far are Ophrys cretica x holoserica F2 and Ophrys argolica x cornuta F2 which can be maintained in soil but the plants are very weak and seem poorly viable.The first one will probably never flower, it is now 8 years old and fewer and fewer plants survive each year. In the second case, Ophrys argolica x cornuta, a small number have flowered at 4 years age, and needed 2 years on medium. However, most plants die after producing a seed capsule. If these seeds are sown, just 2-3-4  seeds/capsule are viable – and produced similar, weak plants in a second generation. 















A very interesting observation is that it seems to be the pollen of the F1 hybrid that is defective. If pollen from a true species is used to fertilise a hybrid, then “new” hybrids develop och some of them are sufficiently viable to grow to flowering size in soil. In this way, more and more species can be “added” to a new hybrid. In some of these generation, just rather few plants can be raised, but in next maybe several more seeds are viable. We have several vital Ophrys insectifera x tenthredinifera x speculum x cretica x holoserixa x Spruneri in soil in this moment (winter 2008).

Whilst F1 hybrids appear to be very similar to their brothers and sisters, hybrids containing three or more different species, on the contrary, are very different from one another, not two single plants from the same seed pot of the crossing are alike. Not even two plants (of 20-25) produced similar flowers in the crossing Ophrys lutea x tenthredinifera x cretica x holoserica that bloomed in March 2006!



 As Ophrys hybrids almost always are sterile – with own pollen – this seems to indicate that “new” Ophrys species do not develop from hybridizing in nature!

Common genetic variation and common Darwinistic selection might produce “new” species, as usual.

Also, raising a number of plants from a single, self-pollinated seed capsule will illustrate the very big variation in markings and form of the flower within a single species. And these individual variations are not very genetically stable, so it will take many, many generations to produce a “new” species. Most of the “new” Ophrys species recently described, are just natural variations and probably not even genetically stable!





























Mediterranean Orchis species can be grown under the same conditions as Ophrys is many cases, and several, but not all, can be propagated just as easily. Orchis papilionacea regularily flowers two years after sowing. Orchis sancta, Orchis italica and some more are easy to propagate and grow on.  Some other species have recently been sown. See the Orchis page!







Serapias is another genus with several more or less well-defined species. We have propagated and grown Serapias vomeracea and Serapias cordigera and they are just as easy to raise as Ophrys. Serapias can form hybrids with some Orchis species, for example Orchis papilionacea.


(If you wish to experiment with orchid crossing, then simple freeze pollen or entire single flower of early flowering species and use the pollen to hybridize with species that bloom later. The pollen appears to retain excellent viability, but we have so far not tested pollen that has been frozen for more than 5-6 months.)

Comperia comperiana is a rare species from Turkey and some of the Greek islands. We recieved seed on one occation, and after some trial and error, discovered that the plants should be raised the same way as Himantoglossum. Just a dozen plants were retrieved from medium but grew well in soil. Hopefully flowering 2008, 4th year in soil.









In summary, species from the Mediterranean area exhibit the advantage of rapid growth and great beauty and in many cases are very easy to propagate. Of course, the climate poses problems for growing the plants in Central and Northern Europe, but nevertheless, it seems likely that Central European Ophrys species have the potential to become common garden plants.


Ophrys holoserica in a pot

Ophrys argolica, note the variation in shape and markings

Ophrys straussii

Ophrys insectifera x tenthredinifera

Germinating Ophrys lutea...

and 6-8 months later on

Mature tubers of Ophrys lutea, to be potted in soil, then kept semidry for 4 months

and then given water

Ophrys sphegodes first year in soil, photo December

Different size; Ophrys argolica and Ophrys regis-fernandi


Ophrys holoserica first year in soil, photo March (extra light in winter)

Ophrys insectifera, sown October, kept at 4-6 degrees C, photo February..

and growth speeds up quickly in summer

Ophrys insectifera, kept on medium until October...

and flowering first year in soil, photo in  May

Ophrys (+ Mediterranean Orchis) are potted in soil in April-May...

...but don´t exsiccate them, keep a little moisture in the soil - for example this way

Ophrys first year in soil - will bloom following year

Oprhys grown under artificial light

Ophrys tenthredinifera

Ophrys cretica

Ophrys argolica

Ophrys Bertolonii

Ophrys speculum

Ophrys lutea - note the variability!

Ophrys cornuta - note the variability!

Ophrys regis-fernandi

Ophrys scolopax


Ophrys apifera (from Germany)

Ophrys apifera Trollii

Ophrys lutea x tenthredinifera

Ophrys insectifera x holoserica

Ophrys lutea x speculum

Ophrys lutea x holoserica

Ophrys insectifera x speculum

Ophrys cretica x holoserica, a very vigorous hybrid!

Ophrys insectifera x lutea

Ophrys holoserica x tenthredinifera

Ophrys argolica x cornuta

Ophrys apifera x holoserica

Ophrys insectifera x tenthredinifera

Ophrys insectifera x tenthredinifera x speculum

Ophrys insect  x tenthred x speculum x cretica x holoserica...

...and crossed with Ophrys Spruneri, first year in soil winter 2007/2008

Ophrys lutea x tenthredinifera x argolica

Ophrys lutea x tenthredinifera x cretica x holoserica

Ophrys Sprunerii, raised from the same seed capsule


Ophrys hybrid - different flowers on the same spike!

Ophrys hybrid

Crazy Ophrys hybrids

Rabbit Ophrys?

Serapias vomeracea

Serapias parviflorum first year in soil

Serapias parviflorum 2nd year in soil, soon to flower


Comperia comperiana first year in soil

Seemingly all Ophrys can easily be propagated from seed - so go on!

Ophrys apifera on the left, hybrid and Ophrys scolopax

Ophrys are easily propagated - first year in soil

...also first year in soil - 75-90% will flower following year!