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Orchids: Reproduction by seeds

Like many other plants that live in the forest canopy, orchids develop seeds that can be carried by the wind. A single seed capsule can contain more than 2 million seeds as fine as dust. So why don’t we find orchids all over the place?

Though the mother plant produces many seeds, it doesn’t provide any food for the voyage. The seed is almost all embryo and no endosperm. If the orchid seed lands on a potential host tree, it sticks to its bark. Fungi living on the bark, penetrate with their hyphae into the orchid seed. Then something unusual happens: the orchid seedling dissolves and digests the fungus hyphae, using them as a source of energy and nutrients. Without the fungus, the orchid cannot germinate. Later the orchid grows green leaves, it does no longer depend on its fungus.

So, to successfully germinate, an orchid seed has to not only find the right tree, but also one colonized by just the right fungus. The probabilty for that is very low, so the orchid makes up for it by producing a huge number of seeds.

Audio file download
Orchids: Reproduction by seeds (MP3, 478 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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