Clone your own plants

Baby phalaenopsis orchids grow in a transparent bowl with moss with keiki orchid reproduction at...
Baby phalaenopsis orchids grow in a transparent bowl with moss with keiki orchid reproduction at home. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
A miraculous paste encourages new growth and lets you easily propagate orchids, begonias and monstera, writes James Wong.

Many of our oldest gardening techniques, such as the pruning, bending and shaping of plants, are really about manipulating their internal chemistry, via hormones, to persuade them to change their natural behaviour. But what if instead of this elaborate and uncertain coaxing, we could just get a vial of these miraculous, growth-regulating compounds and apply them directly wherever it was needed? Think of it as hacking plant biology to free us up to do things that would normally be botanically impossible.

Flowering keiki on pink phalaenopsis orchid.
Flowering keiki on pink phalaenopsis orchid.
Keiki paste is a wondrous substance that does exactly that. Mixed into its thick, lanolin base is a cocktail of natural botanical compounds that promote cell division in plants. Little vials can be bought really quite reasonably online, so you can start tinkering as soon as they arrive. The most common use for it is in cloning orchid plants which, since they cannot be produced via cuttings, is a total game-changer.

On a moth orchid, phalaenopsis, for example, simply scrape away the thin, green sheaths that cover dormant buds on their mature flower stems with tweezers or a toothpick and dab on a tiny amount of the paste with a cotton swab. Within two to eight weeks, a baby plant (called a keiki from the Hawaiian word for baby) will start to grow on the stem. Once its roots and leaves reach 5cm, this little clone can be snipped off and potted up on its own.

The same technique works on the dormant buds of African violet (Saintpaulia) flower stems, allowing perfect clones to be made of unusual, unstable mutations (like variegation) that often pop up in these plants, which might not come true from cuttings.

Place a tiny amount of the paste on the central whorl of a rare begonia leaf and a baby will pop up right there, without the risk of removing leaves to make cuttings or damaging plant health. Do you have one of those crazy-expensive variegated aroids like monstera or philodendron, or carnivorous plants like nepenthes that you want to make a perfect copy of? Add some keiki paste to one of the dormant nodes — as close as possible to growth level — and watch it come to life.

The bud-wakening power of keiki paste is not just about propagation. Add some to buds on bonsai trees to encourage growth in a particular direction, to the lateral buds on the stems of leggy plants to make them bushier, even on the unfurling buds of new orchid stems prior to flowering to encourage these to branch out into sprays, thus giving you loads more flowers.

Orchid keiki or offshoot growing on a stem.
Orchid keiki or offshoot growing on a stem.
The best bit? These are just the experiments I have done so far — there are hundreds of potential applications. On some things it works while on some things it does not, but that is all part of the fun. It’s a perfect project if you are up for playing mad scientist this weekend in your living room.

— Guardian News and Media

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