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Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality

Michael S. Reid

Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis

Maturity & Quality


Cattleya, Cymbidium, cvs. and hybrids. Additional genera in the plant family Orchidaceae are Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Vanda and Paphiopedilum. In addition to their exotic forms and colors, one of the principal attractions of cut orchid flowers is their outstanding longevity. Even out of water, an orchid flower will last for an evening in a corsage. Spikes of cymbidiums will often last a month in a vase.

Quality Indices

Orchid flowers are usually harvested 3 to 4 days after opening, because flowers cut prematurely will fail to develop normally off the plant. Early and late in the season, individual flowers are cut from the spike as they develop, because prices are high at these times. In mid-season, the whole spike is cut. Virus diseases can be spread from plant to plant during harvest, so cutting tools should be sterilized before being used on the next plant or disposable razor blades should be used. As individual flowers, purchase when fully opens. Spikes should be purchased when at least two flowers per spike are open.

Grading and Bunching

There are no formal grade standards for orchids. Freedom from defects is a primary measure of quality.

Ethylene Sensitivity

Some genera (e.g. Cymbidium, Phalaenopsis) are very sensitive to ethylene; others (e.g. Dendrobium) are less sensitive.


Pretreatment with 1-MCP is very effective in preventing the effects of ethylene and increasing the life of orchid flowers, and should be standard practice for these flowers.

Storage Conditions

Can range from 0 to 12.5ºC depending on cultivar. Many cultivars are not chill sensitive and therefore can be stored as other cut flowers at 0-1ºC. If feasible, leaving flowers on the plants at room temperature is a good storage procedure. Be careful not to remove or knock off the pollinia (anthers) as this causes an immediate surge in ethylene production, which, in turn, causes premature death.


Because of their fragility and relatively high value, most orchids are packed as individual flowers or spikes, frequently in shredded paper to cushion and protect them from mechanical injury to the blooms. They are then packed 12 to 24 flowers in each carton. Box inserts hold the individual water tubes stationary. Shredded wax paper is tucked around and between the flowers for additional protection.

Special Considerations

Only some species and cultivars are ethylene sensitive which explains why anti-ethylene treatments like STS and 1-MCP work only some of the time. The two most common ethylene-induced symptoms are flower discoloration and premature wilting and flower fall. Demand has increased for this species prepared as a corsage and sold through mass market outlets at Easter and Mothers’ Day. When sold for corsages the use of water picks filled with fresh-flower solution (not plain tap water) is beneficial.


October 2004

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The information in this fact sheet represents our best understanding of the current state of knowledge at the time of the latest update, and does not represent an exhaustive review of all research results. Links to any of these UC Postharvest Technology Center pages are permitted, but no endorsement of the linking site or products mentioned in the linking page is intended or implied by such a link.

How to Cite

Author(s) names. Initial publication or update date (located at the top). Title. Link to the specific Produce Fact Sheet webpage (Accessed date)

Example: Cantwell, M. and T. Suslow. 2002. Lettuce, Crisphead: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality. (Accessed January 18, 2014).

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