Day 10: Vitroflora

Last night was laundry night for me so I am currently writing under a string of clothes which stretches the full length of my room. We got to spend today learning more about in vitro ornamental plant production and got to follow the production from culture all the way to final flower shipment. In vitro by definition refers to the occurrence of a biological process in a laboratory setting or under controlled conditions rather than under natural conditions. Natalia, a professor of plant science at UTP, gave us a brief lecture on this type of plant production after which we had the opportunity to follow the process through from start to finish at a major production company known as Vitroflora. Here are the steps for the in vitro production of ornamental plants as I understand them from our tours today:

Jar sterilization and culture medium mixing

Step 1: Jar sterilization and culture medium production – The entire process of in vitro plant production is highly sterile. This prevents the introduction of microorganisms and allows the plant to thrive under ideal conditions and thus multiply more rapidly. Both glass jars and plastic boxes are used to contain the culture medium which is used to grow plant cuttings into seedlings but both must be sterilized before the medium is added. Although the representatives did not tell us exactly what the medium consists of, it can be assumed that it contained nutrients and sugars for the baby plant to grow without the presence of soil. Each plant produced by the company has its own unique culture.

Step 2: Cutting and placing cuttings in medium – Once culture is added to the jars, they are

Cutting and placing into the medium

labeled and sit in a cooled room for one week to ensure that no microorganisms grow. If no growth is observed then the jars can be used to hold cuttings or otherwise discarded. Seedlings grown in vitro are cut into smaller pieces, each containing a bud between the stem and petiole of the plant. These cuttings are placed into growing medium one at a time and require a high level of precision and speed. This stage of the production process is especially dependent on sterility and the staff responsibility for this process must take special care. Each plant must be cut on a fresh piece of sterile paper which is then discarded. Tools are sanitized between plants at high temperatures. Sterile air blows out from the hood where the cutting takes place and staff members wear masks, gowns, and shoe covers. A certain number of cuttings are placed in each jar or box and they are labeled according to when they were cut.

Growth under false lighting

Step 3: Growth under false lighting – Once the cuttings are placed, they are grown under false lighting for several weeks to allow for formation of stems and leaves as well as some short roots. Some light bulbs were colored LEDs which are a cheaper form of energy but more expensive to install. Some plants require different kinds of lighting from others. At this stage, the seedling varieties are more recognizable. Some of these seedlings will continue for further processing while others will be recycled to make more cuttings.

Step 4: Transport for further development – At this stage, the plant is ready for transport to a seedling nursery. Every step of this process is done with tremendous care and precision and with extreme attention to sterilization.

Transplant from culture to soil

Step 5: Transplant into planting trays – We traveled a relatively short distance of 30 miles or so to Vitroflora’s greenhouse operation. This facility made the previous steps of production seem primitive. Whereas the first facility had been almost exclusively run by human labor, this facility was huge and highly mechanized. Even still, certain steps of production here required meticulous skill. After the plant cuttings are shipped to this facility and to others around the world, they are transplanted from the medium into a soil medium. Since it can be somewhat “shocking” for the plant to transition, the seedlings are kept in covered beds with 100% humidity and high temperature until they can develop a sufficient root structure.

Continued growth

Step 6: Continued growth – After the plants are established in the trays, the trays are placed on larger tables in climate controlled greenhouses where their growth is regulated by computer systems responsible for watering and applying any necessary chemicals/fertilizers. These are of course overseen by employees. Water and nutrient requirements vary as they grow larger and according to different seasons so the technique used to meet those needs may also change. The stage of growth desired for shipment may vary according to the plant type and size. One of the most fascinating pieces of machinery we saw in this facility was an automatic sorter which sorted seedlings according to their leaf area and height. Once they have reached the desired stage of growth, they are shipped all over the world.

Step 7 : Enjoyment – Outside of the facility itself, there was a beautiful garden bursting with colorful flowers and shrubs (not to mention snails). We were told all of these plants were developed by Vitroflora and had the wonderful opportunity to briefly wander around the grounds and enjoy the old stables, pond, and gardens. It was all incredibly beautiful.

Part of the garden and pond on the Vitroflora grounds.

Polish żurek soup

After spending most of this cold and rainy day learning about plant production, we were content to find a new restaurant from which we could get some warm food. On the way to the old city, we stopped to pick up the wife of Leszek (or Frederick as we call our driver) which was a huge excitement for us as we considered it a new step in our (probably fanciful) friendship with him. I decided to order a traditional Polish soup called żurek which is made from sour rye flour and had potatoes and meatballs. I have to say this soup changed my life and gave me visions – highly recommended!

Today’s Small Victories:

  • Meeting Frederick’s wife
  • Riding the tram all by myself
  • Branching out from my normal coffee order – living la vida mocha
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