April 28, 2012

Adventures with Seeds

I still have some Japanese Morning Glory seeds from a trip that I took to Japan for work a few years ago. I assume that they are still viable. In Japan, the Morning Glory is treasured as a potted plant, and clubs, societies and groups are dedicated to this plant, and the many Japanese cultivars particularly the mutated forms, some that even have shredded petals.  I have some books on growing these Asagao ( the Japanese word for these plants), so I may add these to my project list for this year, if they germinate.  The plants are traditionally grown in small pots, pinched to encourage flowers and dwarfed, like bonsai Morning Glories. 

Bells of Ireland or Moluccella laevis seeds can be extremely challenging to germniate,, but thanks to a readers tricks, I've been able to get this far. Now, the second harder part - growing them to blooming size.
Success at last! Thanks for a reader of this blog who shared their trick for getting their Bells of Ireland to germinate ( wet paper towels and seed, in a plastic zip lock stored in the refrigerator for three weeks, then sow in individual pots and carefully transplant), I have success - at least so far. Here is a shot of the young seedlings.

Arisaema sp. seedlings from the Himalaya will form one leaflet their first year - the rest of the plant is growing underground. Not all of my pots of this genus are showing the leaves, but I know that some species spend all of their entergy underground. I can't research which species I have yet as some are unidenditfied by the collector, and even could be a new species to science.
 The plant collector Chris Chadwell wrote me today, to ask how the seeds from his last collecting trip to  Tibet and Nepal were germinating, so I wanted to share this shot of some Jack In The Pulpits ( Arisaema species) from the Himalaya were doing.  I think I'm all set in the Himalayan Arisaema department for now.

A Romulea species removed from the sand bulb plunge bed, will spend a month on the back of the potting bench in full sun, where the roots and corms can slowly begin their drying process for their long, hot dry summer dormancy, but most importantly, for these seed pods, which have been produced in profusion. They will dry and split within a couple of weeks, and I don't want the seed dropping back into the sand bed. I place the pot on a white plate to catch any loose seed. The seed will be sown, and not watered until autumn.
 Sometime, I save my own seed, especially when the plant is rare, or hard to find, such as this South African bulb plant known as Romulea. Like many Cape bulbs, the plants set seed profusely, but the plants tend to get rather ugly ( or at least to non-plant people) before the seed pods dry. These pod are almost ripe, so I set the pots on dinner plates, so that the seed can drop onto the plate for easy harvest. Sometimes I am lazy, and sow the seed back into the same pot as the mature bulbs, which is OK with many South African bulbs like Romulea, as they seem to like tight quarters, but also, I share seed with rare plant societies and their respective seed exchanges.

 Speaking of rare seed, some South African geophytes in my collection produce very few seeds, like Clivia. These gems are ripe seeds from a variegated yellow-flowered Clivia ( worth about $1500 each on the black market - really). From Japan, we only have two of these plants that we received from Mr. Nakamura. Red berries produce orange clivia, yellow berries produce yellow clivia, and these are yellow-striped seeds......get the picture? There might be 2 or 3 seeds in each of these fruit, which take about 14 months to ripen on the plant, before they can be sown.

These unusual summer dormant geophyte is also from South Africa.  Melasphaerula raemosa can be a prolific seed producer.  I am ready to share with serious collectors. This is a plant that I will be sharing with plant societies this autumn in plant sales and rare plant auctions. It requires a cold greenhouse for culture in pots, as it is a winter grower. 

 Still planning for the moon border, these snapdragon seedlings have been transplanted into a dibbled grid, and old fashioned method for transplanting seedlings into a large flat. I remember my parents doing this when I was young, especially with zinnia, marigolds and snapdragons - those annuals that can handle being torn apart from their kin in a flat without much noticeable damage.  These white snaps may seem small, buy remember, it is still April. With a hard frost tonight, a lesson will be taught to those who have already purchased their tomato plants from the home center. I was shocked at the annuals and the large tomato plants that were available at Home Depot and Lowes last week - it is far too early to be planting any tender annual yet. Memorial day folks, and that is 6 weeks away!

 Amaranthus dislike any root disturbance, but I've found that an early start still helps plants survive, as seeds sown int he garden directly, can be lost easily. It's always an impressive show - those tiny, nearly microscopic seeds growing into monsters within a few weeks, but the tiny seedlings can get lost if sown in early June here in New England, as weeds will quickly grow around them. If started early, Amaranthus can survive transplanting if individual seedlings are slid from pots into prepared holes once the soil is above 60 deg. F. I find that the seedling transplant well when tiny. Care must be taken, for one cannot find Amaranthus at garden centers, for if you do, they will be already too large, and they will go into shock an die once transplanted, but if timed properly, a seedling can be stealthly transplanted as long as it is not too large by the end of May.

 Speaking of annuals that one cannot find at garden centers, Scabiosa must be mentioned. These seedlings are ready to be transplanted from their 4 inch pots into the garden where they will remain, blooming for most of the summer. These tap rooted annuals dislike any root disturbance, and since they will not bloom until mid July, they are rarely carried as 6 pack annuals for sale at retail, as growers know that a plant will no longer sell, if it is not in bloom, so only the annuals that are bred for early bloom are carried by nurseries. These, you will need to grow from seed yourself. The wiry stems and long lasting flowers ranging from near black to pink, are a favorite of mine.

My tomato seedlings were sown on April 14th, and with 24 varieties of heirloom and hybrids, we will have plenty of tomatoes come August. Planted side-by-side a hormone drenched, thick-stemmed home center plant purchased now, these seedlings will win. Try it for yourself and see.

Our New England Primrose Society show will be held next weekend at Tower Hill Botanic Garden near us in Boylston, MA. This pot of Primula forestii may still be in bloom, if the weather remains cold, but it is short lived, and may be gone by next weekend.
When I came home from work yesterday, I found this scene - Lydia, destroying the pansies, trying to get at a Chick-a-dee nesting box on our deck. She is like a spry rabbit, jumping up onto the window box with ease. Old Fergus was clearly directing her, hoping to share their meal of a Black Capped Chick-a-dee. ( Please pardon the mess!).


  1. Wow. I didn't get to plant any of my great seeds this year due to a divorce situation and just reading about all of these great plants makes me so excited to keep at it once life is settled again. I love reading posts about seeds germinating so thanks for writing one. It just made my day.

  2. I just pricked out and potted up several hundred seedlings.

    Oof. I think I overdid it as I still have many more seedlings to go.

  3. I have had luck with morning glory seed at 5+ years, provided it was properly stored. If you get your bells of Ireland to the 3rd, 4th leaf stage, you're good to go.

    Nice pictures!

  4. Hi there Matt,

    Great site, great dogs :).

    I live in Cape Town and grow Cape bulbs from seed. I have a successful batch of bulblets that I planted in spring (instead of autumn) so now they have gone dormant as winter sets in. Is there a way I can get them kick-started into growing this winter so as to get them in synch? Or will I have to wait 18 months and potentially lose some?

    Sorry to just jump into a technical question but I'm having trouble finding this info on the web. I know a fridge can help forcing summer bulbs - does this mean I need to somehow create a couple of weeks of fake summer? (argh :))

    Thanks for a great site and some lovely pictures.


  5. David - what are your bulblets of? If they are of a South African bulb, you generally can switch seasons after 6 weeks or so. I find that depending on the species, both night temperatures and day temperatures can affect regeneration. I have better luck with Cytanthus, but Oxalis are more challenging to try and get two seasons in. Arisaema work very well, and many professional growers allow young bulblets to go dormant, refrigerated them for 6 weeks and the re-start.


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