Most plant seeds (except orchids) are relatively large and contain a large store of nutrition to sustain the young plant before leaves and roots develop enough to continue sustaining the growing plant. With this type of seed, you just pop the seed in soil, water, and watch the seedling grow. Most garden plant seeds are of this type. Examples are beans, peas, corn, tomatoes and lettuce, all the seeds you see at your local nursery or produce store. Orchid seed, in comparison, is tiny, like dust. It contains virtually no nutrition to grow the new plant, so orchid seed relies on a mycorrhizal fungus to provide the nutrition required to grow. Until the young orchid grows leaves and roots large enough to support the orchid, the fungus must provide all the nutrition for the growing plant. Without this fungus, there is no possibility of the seed developing.
Now, back to how to grow your seed. If you just put your seed in a pot and water, it will not grow without the required fungus. Early orchid growers had little success growing orchids from seed due to this problem. They found to have any chance of success, the seed should be sown on the mother pot around the roots of the parent plant. Here, the potting media will be moist due to normal watering of the pot and will also contain suitable mycorrhizal fungus from the parent plant. Many species will grow using this method. Phaius, for example, grow extremely well using this method. A soon as the seedlings are of sufficient size, they should be moved into their own pot as the young plants will suffer from the competition from the parent plant. Many epiphytes will germinate using this method, so it may be worth a try with your pod.
The most reliable method is asymbiotic germination, or flasking. This method involves growing the seeds in a nutrient solution which provides the necessary nutrients for the growing plants. This avoids the necessity of the mycorrhizal fungus. The nutrient solution is mixed into agar, a gel, to provide mechanical support for the seedlings. Unfortunately, other organisms, like bacteria and fungus, also love growing in the nutrient solution and will overrun the seedling, just like weeds in our gardens, smothering and killing the seedlings. To prevent this, the agar media, flask and seed is sterilised ensuring that there is nothing in the flask to compete with the young seedlings.
Flasking is the method used commercially to grow orchid from seed. It has proven to be reliable, relatively cheap and simple. All seed can be reliably grown in flasks only requiring a change to the flask formulation for some difficult to grow species. There are many books describing flasking techniques in detail and many articles on the internet. Flasking can be done very simply at home using common household appliances and no special equipment. Media can be made using mostly household items from variety of formulas, or commercial mixtures are available at reasonable prices. Flasking is not out of reach of the home hobbyist with some of our own members producing many of their own flasks quiet successfully and reliably.
The question you now need to ask yourself is ‘Do I really want to grow from seed?’ You are looking at three to twelve months for the pod to ripen, one to four years of growing in the flask followed by one to ten years or more of growing the young orchid before you see your first flower if growing by flask. If growing symbiotically, you will still need 3 to 12 months for the pod to ripen, followed by two to 10 years of growing the orchid to achieve a flower. All up, you are looking at about 3 to 15 years, including years of watering, fertilising and repotting before you see a flower.