Cultivating Orchids & Crafting Terrariums

Top 8 Questions & Answers
about Orchid Keikis

An orchid keiki is a baby replica of the mother plant, a clone with the exact same DNA, reproduced asexually—not by pollination. This new baby plant will display the same flower pattern, shape, colors, and texture as the mother plant.

Keiki means “the little one, child, or baby” in Hawaiian, which is where the term originated.

 When it comes to orchid propagation, many questions arise. Below are the most common questions about keikis and detailed answers on how to care for them.

Why is My Orchid Growing Leaves on the Stem?

This is a common question until you realize that it’s not exactly a leaf. When there are growth hormones in excess, naturally produced during the development of a flower spike or new leaf, these hormones can induce the birth a of a keiki.
oncidium
 "Aloha" by Shaun@KL is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Some orchids have a tendency to produce more keiki’s than others. Dendrobiums,
Oncidiums,
Epidendrums, and
Phalaenopsis
orchids all have a high production rate of keikis. Other orchids hardly ever produce keikis.
Keikis can be produced in two main places:

1) on a node along the flower spike and

2) near the stem, by the pseudobulb.


Each orchid will have its own natural preference, but generally, Phalaenopsis produce keikis along the middle to end nodes on the flower spike. Occasionally, Phals might develop a keiki at the base of the orchid. Dendrobiums produce keikis along the cane.

What do Keiki’s Say About the Health of my Orchid?

Don’t be extremely overjoyed at the first keiki that develops. Sometimes, this might be a sign that the orchid is under extreme stress and is trying to save its species before it dies. In attempts to not go extinct, it will use all its energy to produce a keiki.

It’s extremely hard to know when the keiki is a result of great growth and excess hormones, or when it’s a sign of stress. One good indicator is if a flower spike has shoot out along with the keiki. This is an extreme sign of stress: let’s got some flower and produce a new plant before I die. Bucket list complete.

Other times, orchids are so healthy they have plenty of energy to produce a new plant. Check all the signs of proper orchid growth: temperature, humidity, air flow and circulation, sunlight, fertilizer, and watering to see if your orchid is in the right conditions.

Most important: check the potting medium. If you change potting mediums from something the orchid was familiar with to a totally new potting medium, it might not adapt well. Check all the conditions before rejoicing with the new keiki.

Once verified, then party! You have achieved a job well done in orchid growing!!

What’s the Difference Between Keikis and New Growth?

Don’t mistake a keiki for a normal growth on your orchid. Orchids will produce flower spikes and new leaves constantly, which is the normal life cycle of an orchid. Especially if you leave the old flower spike on the plant after the blossoming period is over. This will naturally induce another bloom, whereas cutting back the flower spike will prevent any new growth from the spike.
Sometimes, though,
it’s not a bloom
that the orchid
will produce.
orchid keiki
.Photo by Kelly Kiernan on Unsplash
A keiki is very different, in that it will start producing its own roots and leaves. It might look like a flower spike at first, but “soon” new leaves and roots will spring forth from this growth, and not from the original stem. By soon, I mean in six to 8 months.

How Do I Get Rid of Orchid Keikis?

The elegance of the Phal orchid is maintained by removing keikis whenever possible. If you leave the keikis on the mother plant, they will eventually grow into their own plant.

There’s nothing wrong with this, except you won’t get the long, elongated look of a classic Phalaenopsis orchid. It will become bushy, side-heavy, and look like an unplanned road map.

To prevent any keikis from growing, cut back the flower spike as soon as all the blooms fall off. This will force the orchid to either go dormant for a few weeks, or focus on root and new leaf growth.

Be sure to cut back the flower spike with a sterilized knife and apply cinnamon to the open wound on the spike after the blossoming period is over.

What is Keiki Paste and How Does it Work?

orchid keiki
Photo by Jean-Louis Paulin on Unsplash
On the other hand, let’s say you want to induce new growth after the yearly blossom has fallen off. What induced the new birth of a keiki is the excess hormones in the mother plant. This phenomenon was studied by orchid enthusiasts, and they replicated these hormones into a paste.
Keiki paste is a stimulant that is rich in growth hormones. Not all pastes are keiki paste, so read carefully what you buy. Most pastes are for root growth. Orchid growers discovered that if you apply a paste that is rich in growth hormones (cytokinin hormone) to specific places—nodes—on the orchid, keikis will be induced.

The science behind the keiki paste: all plants have auxins that flow within the plant. Auxins are specific plant hormones that cause the elongation of cells in plants, giving them the growth pattern that is necessary. Auxins concentrate on the higher portion of the plant, where active growth is forming.

If the plant suffers from a fire, broken off, or devoured by a predator, the auxins in the base of the plant will sense the loss of flow from the top, and kick in at a lower point on the plant. They produce new growth from the dormant nodes closer to the base. This growth can be new leaves, a new flower spike, or in our high hopes, a keiki.

Don’t cut back the spike, or at least, cut it back leaving a few nodes on the stem. Then apply keiki paste to the nodes, before they develop into either a new spike or new leaves.

When Do You Remove Keikis To Repot Them?

You should keep the keiki on the mother plant until it has at least 2 leaves and 4 roots of its own. Some people say to leave the keiki on the mother plant until the roots are 3 inches long.

I prefer to go by number of roots than length.

Why? If you are relying on only one root that is three or four inches long, the possibility that the root will be able to supply enough nutrients to maintain survival are minimal.

Three or four roots, even though shorter, can spread through the potting medium, expanding the surface area to access water and nutrients. If one root dies, you still can count on the other three to keep the orchid alive.

How Long Does It Take for a Keiki to Grow?

This can take anywhere from 8 months to a year to form. Be patient. Removing the keiki from the mother plant too early will hurt it, since it relies on the mother plant to maintain its survival.

How Do You Repot a Keiki?

Once the 4 roots are healthy and firm, cut the flower spike about two fingers from the keiki. Let’s say you cut it too near the keiki. If an infection sets in, there will be no way to remove it without damaging the keiki.

Always leave room for possible ways to remedy causalities.

Also, the flower spike—even though small—will give the new keiki some stability when it comes to potting the keiki in its new pot.

To be safe, pot the keiki in the same pot as its mother. The mother plant can regulate the humidity, water levels, fertilizer needs, and pH better than the keiki. This maintains the keiki stable until it has enough roots that can do this by itself, which will coincide with the next potting period in 2 years.
If you want to repot the new keiki in its own pot, chose a tiny pot and repot with a finer-grade potting medium, preferably bark. In most cases, the rots on the keiki will be areal roots, since they grew from the mother plant on the flower spike.
orchid adaptations
Photo by den-cops-76exmnyzomo-unsplash
Areal roots don’t like to be placed under potting medium. Worse if it’s humid sphagnum moss. This is why bark is more appropriate, since bark lets the roots dry out thoroughly in between each watering. The moss, on the other hand, will retain water and humidity.

If you use too much sphagnum moss, the areal roots will have a hard time adapting. These will eventually die, not being able to grow as areal roots, but in their place, new potting medium roots will form.

You’ll need to mist the new keiki plant daily until it is stable and old enough to wait a few days between watering. Tender, loving care is always good when treating keikis.
If this article was useful, or if you have any questions, please comment in the box below! We love to interact with other orchid growers and enthusiasts, no matter what level of expertise.

Happy Cultivating!


Credits: Cover image by"IMG_7075" by rsteele38 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Signature Amanda Matthews
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6 comments on “Top 8 Orchid Questions & Answers about Keikis”

  1. I have an orchid the kids bought me from Kroger last year. The flowers died off then the leaves fell off. I set whole pot with holes in bottom in a bowl with water. The stems never started turning brown. In February of this year it started growing leaves about 33 or 4 inches from the top. Yesterday I cut the baby off and replanted by itself. I also have another (something growing but not sure what it is.

    1. Hi Ruth! That is so thoughtful of your kids to get you an orchid. The flowers falling off is normal and expected. If it was a Phalaenopsis (or moth orchid) than they will stay in bloom for three months, sometimes four, but they eventually fall off. What I was more concerned with was the leaves falling off too, which makes me think you don't have a Phal, but another orchid that has a longer dormancy cycle. (If it is a Phal, then you need to check on watering and fertilizer, because something went wrong...) Good news: you have leaf growth, which is always a great sign. I hope the baby keiki you cut off had enough roots to stabilize itself, and a few good leaves. If yes, you're on your way to success! Wish you the best in cultivating your orchid!

  2. I'm so happy to see this post! I have several orchids which re-bloom on the old bloom stem or grow a new stem from the base (I'm experimenting with cutting or not cutting the bloom stems). One orchid is making TWO babies now which I've never seen before! So glad to learn how to replant them when it's time.

    1. Hi Beach Gal! I'm so glad that your orchid is producing not 1, but 2 keikis! Wow! That is so exciting! I wish you all the best when you replant them.

  3. Amanda i'm very new to orchids but i have one orchid which has a keiki growing below the leaves just above the wood chips. it's too young to remove. it has two leaves but no aerial roots. when roots do come how do i remove this from the mother plant and should i put it in the same pot at the mother plant which really now needs repotting? thanks.

    1. Hi Diane,

      You're right about leaving the keiki on until it has good roots. It's best if the roots are above 3 inches long, but as long as they are plump, healthy, green, and will supply the orchid with nutrients on their own, you're ready to remove the keiki.

      Keiki's will twist off the plant if you hold them tightly between your fingers and turn. There is always a risk of ripping a leaf, so go slow.

      Another way to remove the keiki is with a sterile knife, and pull the keiki away from the stem as you cut/slice. I think this way provides a cleaner, smoother cut that is easier to heal later on with cinnamon.

      As for the mother plant in the pot, you can repot them together, but if you have to repot, it's ok to pot it in sphagnum moss by itself or fine-grade orchid bark, made for seedlings. Sphagnum workds better in my opinion, but be careful about how much water you provide. If you weren't going to repot, then I'd plant it with the mother.

      Wishing you the best with your keiki and tell me how it goes. 🙂

      -Amanda

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ABOUT ME 
Amanda June Matthews at Orchideria
Hi, there! I'm Amanda Matthews.

I write all the tutorials on Orchideria so unfortunately, I can't blame anyone else for all the spelling mistakes.   :)

By profession, I'm a theologian, author, and seminary professor, yet I  spend my free time enjoying nature hikes, building terrariums, and cultivating orchids. I also love to mountain bike on trails, dance, and play with my dog, Max.

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