A keiki is a baby orchid that grows as an offshoot of its mother plant. Keiki is the Hawaiian word for baby or child, and it’s pronounced “kay-kee.” Besides their Hawaiian name, they’re sometimes called aerials or plantlets.
By growing keikis, orchids can reproduce without flowering and seeding. Some orchid varieties are more likely to make keikis. Besides the Phal and Arundina above, Dendrobiums, Epidendrums, and Vandas often produce them. Keikis are exact genetic copies of their mother plants.
While a baby orchid may seem like welcome news, it often indicates a problem with growing conditions, and it appears in lieu of flowers. Common causes include overwatering, low light, prolonged hot temps, or lack of winter dormancy. In the event of a broken flower spike, some Phals and Epidendrums grow keikis from the flower spike just below the break. The keikis then grow their own flower spikes.
Not only are keikis potential red flags, but they also have a couple of drawbacks. First, the mother orchid probably won’t bloom while nurturing the baby. If your priority is flowers, remove the keikis promptly. Second, some varieties can take as long as 7 years to mature and flower. Others may flower in just a year, even while still attached to the mother plant. If you don’t know which category your orchid falls in, you may need a lot of patience.
If you want to keep your baby orchids, leave the keikis attached until they have 2 or more leaves, and their roots are at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. Depending on your orchid variety and growing conditions, that may take just a few weeks or more than a year. Cut them off the mother plant with a sterile blade, and pot them separately. Congratulations, you have a baby orchid!
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