Setting seed for the future

One of the most popular tasks at Writhlington is pollinating plants to produce seed to use in the orchid laboratory. We produce most of our seed this way which means that we can be absolutely sure that seedlings are the correct species and keep photographs of the parent plants. The job of pollination goes the the student in charge of that group of plants and since Cattleya percivaliana was in flower last week it was Heather that had the job of polinating it.

Pollinating Cattleya percivaliana

Seedlings of Cattleya species are always popular and we find most of them produce good strong seedlings. In the photo you can see that Heather is using a thin stick to transfer pollen to the stigmatic surface. If pollination is successful she will see the seed capsule swelling behind the flower in a week or so. The seed will be ripe and ready to sow in about twelve months. We will keep you informed on progress.


Building a Mountain!

Yesterday was a rather exciting day at Writhlington – an inset day!  We are still amazed at the amount of work you can get done in the labs without those annoying lessons getting in the way!

This inset was, however, to be unlike any preceding it.  We turned the classroom into a workshop and set about building a mountain.  This would be no ordinary mountain though!  This mountain would be ‘The Himalayas’ and have space for two orchids at the correct altitudes on the scale.  It would also have a table that is exactly big enough for a laptop and a large book.

No easy task, I’m sure you’ll agree, but a large piece of MDF, some chicken wire and a lot of modrock later (yes – an awful lot of modrock!) we had it finished!

This model will make up the center piece for my entry in the National Science Competition at The Big Bang on the 10th-13th March this year.  The before, during, and after shots of this building project can be found below or at our Picasa web Albums.


Spring Arrives at Writhlington

At Writhlington school we always feel that spring has arrived when our plants of Coelogyne cristata start to flower. Matt isn’t the tallest member of greenhouse club but he still shows the scale of this magnificent plant. Coelogyne cristata featured as one of our favourite orchids in an earlier blog and I am sure you can see why. Its flowers are a beautiful crystal white ..rather reminicent of the snow we have all had enough of this year.

Coelogyne cristata is a species our expedition to Sikkim had the great pleasure of finding in the wildin April 2009 growing at 1200m in mossy forest near Tinkitam. This Writhlington plant is really heavy. We aren’t quite sure how we will carry it to the new greenhouse next month but are confident we will think of something.

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Ready for Moveover

As many of you will be aware, we’re moving to our brand new greenhouses very soon. March 2nd to be precise! We’re all very excited and, through all our excitement, are somehow managing to organise things in preparation.

I say ‘we’… what I really mean is the greenhouse team. My Lab team, myself included, have done very little in preparation so far – mostly because our equipment is already in boxes!

Anyway, the greenhouse teem have been starting to sort plants into the new, 5 climatic zone system that will be used in the new greenhouses. This is no simple task. At present we have 4ish ‘climatic zones’. These are based on the realisation that ‘further from the boiler is colder’. The new greenhouses will not only have a more advanced temperature control system, but they will also be divided geographically, rather than climatically.

This means that the greenhouses will by much easier to learn from, as plants from the same area, for example Guatemala, will be all together in the section ‘Warm Americas’.

The mass sorting operation, characterised by yellow labels!


Seeds – lots of them!

Orchid seed is the key to everything we do at the Writhlington Orchid Project.  It is from orchid seed that we get the plants that we sell to make money for our trips.  It is also these seeds that will grow up to make up our collection that is taken to shows.  I mentioned seed earlier this month, so will not dwell on all of the ins and outs of orchid seed.

I will mention that there are lots of seeds in one seed pod.  Hundreds of them! Thousands and, in many cases, millions!  All of this seed needs sorting before it can be sown.

Zoe and Heather viability testing seed

All of our seed is stored in the fridge in small, labeled jars, but before it can be refrigerated it must be dried.  Now we have a hi-tech seed drying chamber to do this in a matter of days, but in the past the seed had to be left in paper envelopes, in a large box on a top shelf.  We found one such box today and have been going through the seed, packet by packet, testing for viability.

Viability testing is one of the most useful things we do in the labs.  Sure, sowing the seed is important, as is splitting the seeds up, but if the seed is not viable, i.e. not going to germinate anyway, there is no point in it even being sown.  For this reason, before it is refrigerated, all seed must be viability tested.

As hi-tech as it sounds, viability testing is a relatively simple task.  A small sample of the seed is placed on a microscope slide and examined.  Under a microscope, it is clear whether or not an embryo is present in the seed.  No embryo = non-viable seed.