HOW YOU BREED: Cymbidium Orchids

Pioneer Orchids celebrates their 20th Anniversary this year. Gail and Kane Matthews have been growing flowers and breeding orchids in Whangarei, New Zealand for the last two decades.

With plenty of fun memories and a huge amount of patience, the couple have achieved growing a range of home-bred cymbidium orchid varieties that they have cultivated for supply to the floristry community. Both incredible hard workers, Gail and Kane have spent the last 20 years working hard to breed a beautiful and unique collection of cymbidium orchids.


Orchids are probably the oldest cultivated flowers in the world and are used in many cultures as a flower that represents value. Green orchids symbolise good health, long life and strength, while white orchids symbolise innocence, elegance and respect.

They are a flower of substance and are really long lasting. Orchids are often used for weddings, and special events and occasions. Florists love that they have a such a good vase life — usually 2-3 weeks.

L to R | Cherokee — Jedi — A New Zealand breed, Maori Warrior

THE PROCESS OF: Breeding Cymbidium Orchids

Breeding orchids is a fascinating process and one that takes time. Cymbidium hybridising is not that common in New Zealand, with just a few commercial growers who spend the time and effort to produce varieties that are suitable for cut flowers. It is a patience game: taking 9 months to achieve a viable pod, 12-18 months in the laboratory, and then another 3-5 years until the flowering plant is performing.

Though, according to the Matthews, crossing orchids is easy. Choose the parents you have in mind to breed with and know what you want to produce, what colour, shape, timing and other attributes. Then pollinate one with one another.


The first thing you do is remove the pollen off the flower you want to pollinate, and then remove the pollen cap from the other parent and carefully stick the pollen under the stamen. Remember to tie a label on with the names and date. Watch as the stamen fattens up and lengthens into a green pod, usually taking 8-9 months.


Once the green pod has fattened up and is looking swollen, send it to a specialised laboratory to be propagated in agar under sterile conditions. Millions of seeds are in the pod and they are very fine. The laboratory chooses the best and strongest seedlings that develop on the agar jelly, and separate them to grow the best plants. Each plant from that seedpod will be different. This process can take 12-18 months before the flasks are ready.


Wash the roots and agar in warm water gently, before potting them into pumice and sphagnum moss, or orchid potting mix.  After caring for the plants for another 3-4 years, flower spikes will develop and flowering can be achieved. A long, but rewarding process!


Gail and Kane’s breeding program primarily aims to breed an early-season white orchid with a red lip, and secondly, a late-season green orchid with a red lip, followed by late-season reds and oranges. Pioneer Orchids recognised a gap in the market, where there’s a shortage of supply over these periods in the season.

Some examples of the orchids Pioneer has bred recently — A green orchid called “Trifactor” is aptly named for its 3 exemplary traits: strong stems, a red lip, and good production. “Parakeet” is another early season orchid with a red lip and clear green petals coloured like a parrot. And the latest addition to Pioneer’s orchid family is “Gecko” — a cute flower that has a wonderful round shape that reminds Gail of a little gecko’s suction pad feet. Drawing on a nostalgic memory from Gail and Kane’s days living in Zimbabwe, where these little lizards would scamper up the wall in their farmhouse.

A monorail with freshly picked flowers making its way to the pack shed to get ready for florists.

A monorail with freshly picked flowers making its way to the pack shed to get ready for florists.