If you want to grow a new orchid, you can do so by producing a keiki. To do that, you need keiki paste. But what is keiki paste, and how does it work?
What is keiki paste? It’s a paste that contains synthetic cytokinins and lanolin. Cytokinins are a kind of plant hormone that encourage the growth of shoots and keikis. You apply the paste to your orchid’s flower spike by cutting away the small covering over one of the flower spike’s nodes and covering the opening in the paste. Keiki paste comes in tiny tubs, and can be quite expensive. You don’t need it unless you want your orchid to produce keikis.
The guide below answers every question you might have about keiki paste: what it is, what it’s made from, and its mechanism of action, how to propagate orchids with keiki paste, and even how to make keiki paste at home. It’s a comprehensive guide, so grab yourself a coffee and get ready!
What Is Keiki Paste?
Keiki paste is a kind of paste you can buy to grow keikis. Keikis are clones that orchids can produce as an alternative to producing seeds. It’s much easier to produce keikis than grow orchids from seed, so most growers grow keikis instead.
The paste contains a hormone that makes an orchid’s flower spike produce a keiki instead of a flower. Orchids can do this on their own, but keiki paste makes the process more consistent; it means that your orchid will grow a keiki when you want. This isn’t bad for your orchid, so long as you continue to care for it properly (feeding, watering, etc.)
You hardly need any keiki paste to produce a keiki. That’s why keiki paste comes in tiny 10g tubs. You take a tiny amount of the paste, apply it to an open node on your orchid’s flower spike, and let your orchid do the rest.
What Is Keiki Paste Made Of?
There are two key ingredients in keiki paste: cytokinins and lanolin.
Cytokinins are a kind of plant hormone. Plants have hormones just like we do, and these hormones are triggered by certain conditions like heat and light. Having more of one of these hormones than another triggers the growth of something, be that a root, a flower spike, a flower or a keiki.
Your orchid has cytokinins in its system already. If conditions are right for growing a keiki, it will flood the tip of its flower spike with them. Then, the next node that forms will be programmed (for want of a better word) to produce a keiki rather than a flower. By rubbing keiki paste on a forming flower spike node, you can flood it with this hormone manually rather than waiting for your orchid to do it. This has the same effect as the plant’s own hormones, and a keiki should result.
The other ingredient is lanolin. Lanolin is a kind of waxy grease that’s taken from sheep’s wool. It protects the sheep’s coat, and when the sheep is shorn and its woool processed, lanolin is a byproduct. It’s used in lots of things like cosmetics and even food. It gives keiki paste its pasty consistency, meaning you can dab it onto the flower spike node and it will stick there. It has the consistency of something like Vaseline, and feels about the same to the touch.
Some keiki paste manufacturers put vitamins in their products. KeikiGrow Plus, for example, contains vitamins B1 and B2. However, it seems like there’s only limited evidence—or none at all—that plants need these vitamins. They’re there anyway.
Does Keiki Paste Work?
Keiki paste works consistently. It’s the best way of growing new orchids by far. The only drawback is that you can’t make a hybrid by using keiki paste, because the keiki is a perfect clone of the mother.
That being said, sometimes applying keiki paste only makes the orchid produce a second flower spike. That’s because of how the nodes work on an orchid.
Each node is capable of doing three different things. It can either become a flower, become a keiki, or become a second flower spike. You’ve obviously seen a node become a flower, but you may have never seen one become a new spike. You can trigger this without using keiki paste by cutting the spike between two of its nodes. It will then produce what looks like a branch, which can, itself, produce flowers.
A node will, in a sense, decide what it wants to be in response to different conditions. The drawback is that once it has decided, it can’t change its mind. So if a node already ‘decided’ that it was going to become a new spike, applying keiki paste won’t turn that node into a keiki. It will grow into a spike anyway.
Can Keiki Paste Be Used for Plants Other than Orchids?
Orchids aren’t the only plants that use hormones to determine what they’re going to grow, and where. In fact, they’re found in all plants; they’re even found in very simple plants like algae. But they don’t produce the exact same reactions in all plants as they do in your orchid.
The exact range of plants that keiki paste will work on isn’t known. That’s because there are hundreds of thousands of plant species, and unsurprisingly, keiki paste hasn’t been tested on them all. We do know that it works on some houseplants. It seems to work on Monsteras, better known as Swiss cheese plants. It’s also known to work on philodendrons.
If you want to do an experiment, go for it: rub some keiki paste on some other of your houseplants and see what happens. It won’t kill them, but it likely won’t have a noticeable effect. It also won’t work on you, because plant hormones are different to animal hormones; you won’t grow a second hand if you get some keiki paste on your wrist. Not that I’ve tried to do that.
How Does Keiki Paste Work?
Keiki paste works by using the orchid’s own hormones to stimulate a certain type of growth. Cytokinins are what make this work.
Cytokinins were discovered in the 1950s by a man named Folke Skoog. A Swedish emigrant, he settled in the United States and became a plant physiologist. In plain English, he wanted to find out how plants’ ‘bodies’ work: how do they decide to grow a root or not, for example, without having a mind to think with?
His discoveries with regard to cytokinins began in the 1950s. He initially focused on kinetin, a synthetic compound that had the same effects as cytokinins, and was (rather unbelievably) derived from salmon sperm DNA. His research focused on why such a substance would promote growth in plants.
He subsequently discovered cytokinins, and studied specifically the relationship between cytokinins and auxins, another kind of plant hormone; it’s the balance between cytokinins and auxins which determines what a plant will grow: a root or a flower spike, for example, or a keiki or a flower. Dependent on the conditions that the plant is experiencing, it will move more of these hormones to places like its flower spike to ‘decide’ what will grow there.
His subsequent research—he investigated this issue and others like it for decades afterwards—found that many different developmental processes in plants are influenced by cytokinins and auxins, such as cell expansion, the inhibition of leaf aging, the moving of nutrients from one part of the plant to another, and root branching. He also invented a growing medium that is still used in labs to this day, which is no mean feat!
Using keiki paste is a brute-force method of introducing more of these cytokinins to an orchid’s flower spike. The orchid would shuttle these hormones around inside itself; but in this case, some of the cytokinins on the exterior of the plant are absorbed, and act the exact same as the plant’s own internal store of hormones.
Apical Dominance in Orchids
The growth on an orchid’s flower spike is governed by a principle known as apical dominance. This is something you commonly see in plants, where the tip of a spike or the central body of a plant suppresses growth elsewhere so that it can grow larger and stronger.
Take an orchid’s flower spike; it’s the perfect example. The buds at the very tip of the spike produce auxins, the hormone described above. These auxins flow down the spike to the nodes lower down, and suppress growth there. That’s why a flower spike typically only has flowers towards its end point, despite having many nodes all along it.
How Do You Clone an Orchid with Keiki Paste?
Using keiki paste to clone an orchid is easy. It doesn’t require specialist knowledge or specialist equipment. All you need is your paste, some tweezers, and a Q-tip or toothpick. Oh, and patience.
Step 1: Remove the Cover of the Orchid’s Node
You need to apply the keiki paste in exactly the right place. Otherwise, your keiki won’t grow.
Keikis grow from nodes. An orchid’s nodes are the tiny bumps, sometimes called eyes, on its flower spike. They appear on each side of the spike, alternating, all the way from the top to the bottom. The node is the point where a flower’s stem meets the flower spike; the point at which the flower branches off. Other nodes don’t have anything growing from them. It’s these nodes that you can use to grow keikis.
But if you want to grow a keiki from a node, you have to remove the cap from it first. The node has a small covering that almost looks like a tiny, folded-up leaf called a bract. Removing this will give you access to the bright green flower spike underneath; you can think of yourself as a doctor using a syringe to get something into your patient’s bloodstream. You need to get the keiki paste into your orchid’s ‘bloodstream’ for it to work.
There are two ways to remove the cap from the node. The first is with your thumb. You can gently pull and pry at it, gradually working it loose without damaging the body of the spike. The second way is with tweezers. Whichever way you choose to use, you have to be gentle at the same time as being forceful (which isn’t easy!) It can be difficult to pry the cap away, but if you force it too much, you could damage the flower spike, which is obviously counterproductive.
It is also possible to stimulate the growth of an orchid in the orchid’s stem. The stem is the orchid’s main body. It’s the big green bit in the middle that all of the leaves come from, not the long spike that the flowers are attached to. The flower spike does look like the kind of stem we’re all familiar with, but it isn’t one, physiologically speaking. Either way, a keiki that sprouts from the orchid’s stem is known as a basal keiki. These, like regular keikis, sometimes form on their own. If you are going to grow a keiki, don’t grow a basal one, as they’re more difficult to cut away.
Step 2: Dab The Keiki Paste on The Orchid’s ‘Eye’
Next, you have to apply the keiki paste. Obviously.
You want to apply the paste all over the node. I would recommend using a Q-tip (cotton swab), because the less you damage the node, the better. Using a swab will let you spread the paste all over the node, which provides the most consistent results. You won’t need much to fully cover the open node, because it’s small, but you may need to swab quite a bit to spread the paste evenly.
Once you’ve done that, you don’t need to do anything else. The mother orchid will do all the work of growing the keiki for you.
Step 3: Remove The Keiki from the Flower Spike
Once the keiki is large enough to support itself nutritionally and physically, it should be removed from the flower spike. That’s because the mother plant is still sending nutrients and water to the keiki to help it grow, which is detrimental to her own growth. By separating the two, you allow the mother to recover and continue growing her own blooms, roots and leaves.
Removing a keiki is fairly easy. The first step is to check that the keiki is ready. I would wait until it has at least two roots of two inches length or more, as without healthy roots, it won’t thrive. Any time after this is fine, and the decision is largely up to you; the longer you leave it on there, the quicker the keiki will become a ‘grown-up’ orchid. At the same time, though, the longer you leave it on the flower spike, the more of a drain the keiki is on the mother plant. As long as the mother plant appears to still be healthy, there’s no drawback to leaving the keiki on its spike.
The next step is to cut the flower spike above and below the keiki. Leave a good inch of gap between the cut and the body of the keiki. This will mean that any infection that enters the cut won’t immediately get into the orchid’s main body. Use a sterilized tool like a single-use razorblade to make the cut; alternatively, sterilize your own scissors or shears by holding the cutting surface over an open flame.
Once the keiki is cut away, you put it in a pot as you would any other orchid. Use a suitable potting mix like coconut chips or sphagnum moss. You may need to use stakes to keep the orchid upright as it roots in.
How Long Does it Take for Keiki Paste to Work?
Keiki paste doesn’t work instantly. Don’t expect to see your keiki forming in real time, like something from a stop-motion animation! It takes a week or two for the keiki to start forming. At this point, it won’t be obvious what the keiki is, and it takes 4-8 weeks before it looks like a tiny plant.
How quickly the keiki grows from there depends on the health of the mother plant. The mother plant supplies all of the energy that goes into making the initial growths of the keiki: its stem, its roots and its leaves. Once the keiki has small leaves, it can photosynthesize, but still relies on its mother for water and nutrients. So the bigger the mother plant, the quicker the keiki will grow; and if the mother is sick, e.g. if it has root rot, the slower the keiki will grow. It can take a year before the keiki is big enough to survive on its own.
Using more keiki paste doesn’t make the process go quicker. But if you think that this takes a long time, try growing orchids from seed: it takes years for the seed to become a full-sized orchid, let alone one that blooms.
Where Can I Buy Keiki Paste?
Keiki paste is easy to find if you look online. You can find it from Amazon or from independent stores.
The only drawback is that there aren’t many kinds for you to choose from. There are lots of brands that make orchid food, or at least liquid fertilizer. Keiki paste isn’t as popular, so you will likely only have a couple kinds to choose from (barring those that you have to pay exorbitant shipping fees on).
Where Can I Get Keiki Cloning Paste in Europe?
I would recommend buying from Amazon if you live in Europe. Most of the available brands can be found on there, and without expensive shipping. If you buy from a private site, it’s possible that they’re from the U.S. or Australia (both of which are big on growing orchids), in which case you’d have to pay double the price just to get it sent to you. There are lots of brands on Amazon, though, so you won’t be too limited in your choice.
How Much Does Keiki Cloning Paste Cost?
Keiki paste is expensive. Most brands cost somewhere between $20-30 for a tiny tub or vial of the stuff. That’s made up for by the fact that you don’t need much each time you apply it, but the cost will add up if you plan on making lots of keikis, e.g. to sell them. It’s more expensive than buying new orchids from a store.
The reason why it’s so expensive is that the synthetic cytokinins used in keiki paste are, themselves, expensive. They have to be made in a lab, and that’s a costly process. One gram of them—about a quarter of a teaspoon— costs $36 (at the time of writing). Add in the cost of the other materials (the wax, the tub) and any taxes or shipping fees, and manufacturers of keiki paste have to make their money back somehow!
This might rule you out if you were planning on only growing one or two keikis. I would say that if you really have your heart set on growing a baby orchid, and if you’re going to grow more than one, then it’s worth it. Growing and caring for keikis is lots of fun; something I’ve very much enjoyed. But as it’s cheaper and much less effort to just buy a new orchid from a store, it’s understandable if you want to do that instead.
Which Is The Best Keiki Paste?
The foremost brand is KeikiGrow Plus. It was invented by a Dr. James Brasch, who has brought lots of orchid products to market. It was initially created as part of a plan to save a sterile Phalaenopsis subspecies; since it couldn’t reproduce from seed, it had to be reproduced by cloning, which is what keiki paste is for. KeikiGrow Plus has been sold in the Bulletin of The American Orchid Society, now known as ORCHIDS, for decades now; it’s commonly sold with the tagline Accept No Substitutes!
Despite that, there are lots of substitutes available that you can buy. Keiki Power Pro is one of the many brands sold on Amazon.
To be clear, we don’t get any kickbacks or payments from mentioning these products. These are just the best known ones. Googling ‘keiki paste for sale’ comes up with all sorts of interesting results that I haven’t personally tried, but which mostly have good reviews.
Can I Make My Own Keiki Paste?
It is possible to make your own keiki paste. What you can’t do is make it from the leftover stuff in your kitchen like bicarb, flour and lemon juice. I don’t think it’s worth the effort unless you need lots and lots of paste, but it can be done.
How Do You Make Keiki Paste?
If you plan on making keiki paste from scratch, your ingredients will be the same as store-bought keiki paste is made from. There is no replacement for the synthetic cytokinins that go into these pastes. You can’t somehow bake your own at home.
As such, the first thing you’ll need is a chemical called BAP, also known as 6-BAP, 6-Benzylaminopurine or benzyl adenine. This comes in powder form. You can buy it online, but chemistry isn’t my strong suit and I’ve never ordered any for myself, so that’s not something I know a lot about. What I do know is that it’s expensive, so making your own keiki paste isn’t going to turn out much cheaper than just buying some. It’s also apparently an irritant, so if you are going to make your own keiki paste, you’ll need rubber gloves and goggles to keep safe.
You’ll also need:
- A small container that you can heat your lanolin in, and mix the product in
- Lanolin or a similar waxy product that’s solid at room temperature
- A toothpick or small skewer for mixing the mixture, and for applying it once it’s cooled down
You then take your lanolin and warm it up. This will melt it down. You obviously don’t need to get it boiling hot, just warm enough to loosen it so that you can properly mix the BAP into it. Lanolin is an animal product, so if you aren’t comfortable with that, use any kind of waxy oil that’s solid at room temperature instead. Vaseline is a good example. Mix the BAP into the wax and stir it around with the toothpick.
You want 1mg of BAP for every 1g of wax. That’s a ratio of 1000:1 in favor of wax. In other words, you hardly need any BAP, so if you are going to buy some—unless you’re planning on making your own keiki paste to sell—you should buy as little as possible. Again, there’s no point in putting in more BAP/cytokinins, because this won’t make the process go any quicker. It’s the nutrients and water that the mother can provide to the keiki that determine how fast it will grow; the cytokinins just trigger the growth in the first place. You can, if you want, add vitamins and minerals to the mix. But your keiki will get these from its mother anyway, and that’s if plants even need certain vitamins, which there’s only very limited evidence of. You therefore don’t need to, but it won’t hurt the keiki if you do put, say, part of a crushed up vitamin in there.
Once the wax has solidified again, take it on the end of your toothpick and apply it to the flower spike as you would with any other keiki paste. Then wait.
Does Homemade Keiki Paste Work?
Homemade keiki paste works in the same way that store-bought paste does, because it’s made from the same ingredients. If you follow a strict process in making it, then it should work just as well as any that you buy from a store.
I would only recommend making your own keiki paste if you’re growing your own orchids to sell them. If you want consistent results and bulk amounts of keiki paste, then making your own is better than buying lots and lots of tiny tubs from someone else. But if you just want some paste for your own indoor orchids, then there’s absolutely no reason to make your own keiki paste from scratch.