To find the characteristics of somatic embryogenesis of orchids and elucidate the mechanism, we had previously established an efficient plant regeneration system via somatic embryogenesis in Dendrobium candidum Wall ex Lindl. In this study, a detailed cytological investigation was carried out on the initiation and developmental process of somatic embryogenesis. Based on our observations, the somatic embryogenesis in D. candidum originated from the transition of an embryonic callus cell to the initial somatic embryo cell, and the somatic embryos initiated from those cells. During the transition process, condensation and devacuolation successively occurred in the cytoplasm of the embryonic callus cells, giving rise to the formation of a typical initial somatic embryo cell with dense cytoplasm and a clear nucleus. One of the two pathways in somatic embryogenesis is the single-cell-derived somatic embryo which is generated from an inner initial somatic embryo cell in embryonic callus and develops into a globular somatic embryo in a way similar to zygotic embryogenesis and then keeps developing into a protocorm-like body (PLB). The other is a multiple-cell-derived somatic embryo which is generated from peripheral grouped initial somatic cells in embryonic calli and directly forms globular embryo or multicellular somatic proembryo, lacking the typical early stages of embryogenesis. Both pathways were observed in the somatic embryogenesis system, indicating that the culture system in D. candidum can be a useful tool for investigating the mechanisms underlying orchid embryogenesis.