Keiki – A Baby Orchid

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.

Phal keiki on mother plantPhal keiki on old flower spikeBamboo Orchid keikis on broken stem

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.

Bamboo Orchid keikis growing on top of mother plantEpidendrum keiki on broken flower spikeEpidendrum keikis hanging from old flower spike

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.

Dendrobium keiki growing from mother plantClose up of Dendrobium keiki showing roots atop mother plant

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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8 Comments on “Keiki – A Baby Orchid”

  1. Hilary Says:

    I have a keiki on my Phal. which is flowering, I was advised to leave it until April to take it off the mother plant but it has just broken free itself. I have potted it on but the roots are aerial and stick out sideways so has been difficult to pot, will I loose the plant if the roots are bent into the pot? If they are aerial then how do I motivate ordinary roots? Mother or baby have been flowering for the last four + years non-stop, so I don’t want to loose them. Would welcome advice.

  2. Marc Says:

    Don’t worry about the roots sticking out sideways. They’re growing the way they want to naturally grow, and bending them may break them. On a small keiki, that could be fatal. As long as you have good humidity, the roots will be fine above the pot. Try to stake the keiki so it remains stable in the pot. If that doesn’t work, let the keiki rest on top of the pot until the roots grow a little longer, and then you can stake it.

  3. Joy Blake Says:

    I grew up in Hawaii and when we say keiki we’re usually talking about the kids. I didn’t know orchid people used the word too, but it makes sense.

  4. Salli Says:

    cool post thanks

  5. nancy Says:

    Keikis are great ways to share with friends too. I have an Australian dendrobium that makes a few every year. I used to cut them off and throw them away, but now I keep them unitl there big enough and give them to friends. Its part of my plot to make them into orchid addicts also! 😉

  6. J. Holmes Says:

    This is very helpful information. I will use it in my paper ok?

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  8. mercedes Says:

    Thanks for these good comments. There is some great info in your blog.