Cultivating Orchids & Crafting Terrariums

My Orchid Spike Broke Off!! What Now??

When an orchid spike breaks off the plant, it tears us apart. It happens to the best of us… We wake up anxiously to see if the spike has opened up into a beautiful blossom. Instead of happiness, we find the orchid fallen on the floor.

Worse yet—the spike is snapped and broken, half still on the orchid, half with unopened buds a foot away from the pot. Before you actually kill the cat, first let’s find out what you can do to save this orchid.

Once an orchid spike with unopened buds breaks off completely, there is not much that can be done to save it. The best remedy is to place the spike in a vase of water a sometimes it will bloom. If the orchid spike has partially broken, with some plant tissue still attached, there are a few remedies to still save the spike, such as the band-aid treatment, the splint treatment, and the straw treatment.

The orchid spike can break off completely or just partially. I hate to say this, but there are slim chances of recuperating this orchid. Yet, it’s better to try something than to give up from the get-go.

If they work, they work. If they don’t well, at least we tried. I’ve had success and failure with all these methods, so it’s more about how badly the spike is broken more than anything.

In the first half of this article, I’ll focus on how to save the partially attached orchid spike, fixing the broken spike. In the second half, I’ll focus on what will happen with the completely severed orchid spike and how the orchid will react.
orchid Spike in Bloom
Image Credit: "Orchid Taipei Intl 11-27-14 2" by THE Holy Hand Grenade! is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

What Causes Orchid Spikes to Break?

The main reason orchid spikes break is mechanical damage, but they also can break due to not being staked properly.

If the orchids are on a window sill and a wind storm hits, the top-heavy pots may turn over easily. It’s always a good idea to place some decorative rocks either on top of the medium opposite to the side the plant leans, or use the rocks to prop the orchid vase up so it doesn’t turn over (I use short, fat candles).

Clay pots and terracotta pots are less likely to turn and topple, but if the wind is strong enough and if the orchid is top-heavy, they still can fall over.

Mechanical damage can also be during watering or moving orchids around on the shelf. It’s best if you can find a way to move the orchids as less as possible, preventing the spikes from brushing up against other objects.

If the orchid is growing a staked spike and you decide to unstake it and let it hang down like a cascading waterfall, the sudden pressure applied to the spike will weaken the plant cells, eventually breaking them. It’s always best to either stake the spike early and keep it staked, or let it naturally hang down. Don’t try to stake it later after the flowers have blossomed, since new pressure points are applied with the move.

A naturally cascading orchid is not going to break the spike. In nature, orchids grow in the wild with their flowers hanging down from the plant. If this was an unsustainable position, orchids wouldn’t grow this way in nature. The orchid spike breaks because it had been naturally hanging and the spike focused on where to make the cells stronger.

When it suddenly is staked, the spike has new points of pressure, and the plant cells aren’t ready for it. The most common is vice-versa, when the plant is staked and only later released from the stake to hang down as a pendant spike.

The last reason is the cat… Midnight!!!! Really??? I love you, yet… C’mon! You’re breaking my heart!
Orchids, Amanda Matthews, and a Cat
Image Credit: © 2020 Orchideria.  All Rights Reserved. 

Partially Broken Orchid Spikes Can Be Redeemable

Since there is some plant tissue that is still in contact with the former portion of the spike, there might still be a viable flow of nutrients through the xylem that hasn’t been harmed.

This could mean that the orchid spike can still receive a few nutrients, although not the recommended portions or quantities.

If you find a way to attach the slightly severed orchid spike back on to the original point of breakage, you can save this orchid spike. There are three ways to do this: the band-aid treatment, the splint treatment, and the cut straw treatment. Let’s look at these three separately.

1. Band-Aid Treatment for Orchid Broken Orchid Spikes

When the broken orchid spike hasn’t totally fallen off the orchid, there is some hope in tapping the two partially severed points together. If the orchid spike is thin and relatively new, this is the best method. It will not work with a hard, more established spike that is nearing bloom or already has bloomed.

Wrapping tape around the two parts works because the spike (at this point) is not that heavy and the tape can sustain the furthest part without much work. Once the flower blooms, the blooms will weigh considerably more than the tape will be able to support. The tape (or Band-Aid) will not hold up well and may need to be traded for another method.

This method is used in hopes that the orchid might mend itself. That is why it only works with younger spikes but not older ones.

I have found that just one Band-Aid doesn’t hold up and that significant portions both above and below the orchid spike need to be wrapped up to support the weight.

How valid is this method? Not much… It’s a desperate attempt to save the newly broken spike and is better than doing nothing.

Even though band-Aids are permeable (or so say so on the box) since you’ll be using considerably more than one, the plant tissue under the Band-Aid tends to turn too much and doesn’t do so well.

This is a temporary method and used as soon as the spike breaks, but should be removed as soon as possible and substituted for one of the other two methods listed below. Overall, the Band-Aid method does not hold up well over time.

2. The Cut Straw Method for Saving Broken Orchid Spikes

Similar to the method above, the cut straw method works for spikes that have not been completely severed and are still somewhat attached. The spike is still green and functions, but is just badly bent.

To make sure the spike will still hang on and not completely break, there needs to be extra support keeping both parts together. If the straw is flimsy, it will fold under the weight of the blossoms.

This method is successful by using a hard, plastic drinking straw. Soft flimsy straws will not work. I found that MacDonald’s straws are the best.

If you cut the straw significantly bigger than the bent orchid spike and make a slit down the middle, it creates the perfect “cast” for the bent orchid spike. Airflow can still reach the plant cells, which won’t promote cell death, as the band-aid method does.

The downside of this method is that the straw doesn’t apply pressure to the broken area to reattach, as the Band-Aid method does. Once the buds start to bloom, they will be pulled away from the spike due to the increased weight. There is the risk that the spike snaps later on, the more the buds open.

3. The Splint Method For Saving Orchid Spikes

The splint method is reapplying techniques used in plant grafting to orchid care. This method involves making a splint as you would for a broken bone, supporting the broken orchid spike on both sides to allow healing. Even though the vascular system is severed, if placed soon enough in contact with the other part of the spike, the orchid may be able to heal the connective plant tissue.

You can use any two similar materials that provide support: pencils, popsicle sticks, barbecue or bamboo skewers. Place one skewer on each side of the broken orchid spike, and tie them together tightly so they won’t move. You can use raffia, nylon, plant tape, plastic ties, or any material that ensures that the splints are secure and will not move.

In essence, the splint method has the same principles as the cut straw method, which allows sustainability and support. There is also plenty of ventilation so the plant cells won’t suffocate under the wooden splints.

In all three of these methods, the broken area is extremely sensitive to water and can mold or rot easily. After all, the plant cells are injured and bacteria can easily enter.

When the Orchid Spike is Completely Broken Off

For the methods described above, there is some hope of recovering your orchid spike.

When the spike has totally severed from the mother plant, then there isn’t much you can do in terms of attaching the spike back to the orchid. Well, let me put it this way: I haven’t had success. If you have, please comment in the section below.

As for the spike, you can place it in a vase with 1 inch of water and hope the buds still blossom. Change the water every other day. If they are near blossoming and just about to open, this may be the solution. You can still hope to get a flower out of this orchid after all. If the buds are more than one week from opening, it’s going to be harder to see them bloom.

As for the orchid, the place where the orchid spike broke needs to be healed. The broken plant cells will recover and a new spike might emerge from a lateral bud on that same spike.

Because of this, don’t cut the spike back just yet. Wait a few weeks to see what happens to the spike. If it starts to turn brown, leave it alone and see exactly where the re-absorption of nutrients occurs. Sometimes the tips will turn brown but a new flowering spike will spurt out from beneath the older node.

Sometimes the orchid might abandon that spike entirely and a new spike will form laterally from the orchid stem. It is a true waiting game to see how the orchid will react. The good news is that your orchid won’t die and the spike is not an essential part of the orchid.

If the stem broke off and snapped into 2 pieces, that would be a different story. To deal with a broken or severed stem, then this article about orchid topping is where you should start. In that article, I talk about orchid cuttings and one of the methods is severing the stem. (I’m against it by the way….)
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In all, I hope this article has provided help so you can (maybe) get your orchid to still blossom. Don’t lose hope because with these methods, there might be a way to save your orchid. If you know of another method, please mention that in the comments below. I’d love to know your methods.

Happy Cultivating!

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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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