The Bad Seed Redemption

P91103The seed is not really bad. At least I do not think that it is. It is merely misunderstood. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is simply unidentified. I really do not know what it is. I do not say that very often, especially about seed that I bother to collect to sow elsewhere. I believe that it is of American bellflower, Campanula americana. If not, it is very closely related.

It appeared in part of one of the landscapes at work. Because it looked like some sort of campanula, we left it to see what it would do. It got quite tall, but never started to look like something we did not want to take a chance on. We were rewarded for taking the risk when it bloomed with these elegant spikes of small sky blue flowers. That was a little more than a year or so ago.

No one bothered to deadhead it immediately after bloom. It was only a few plants on the back edge of rather relaxed landscape, so was easy to ignore. By the time the dried floral stalks were noticed and removed, the seed had already been tossed. Consequently, there were many more of them through this last season, both in the same area, and in adjacent parts of the landscape.

In fact, there were too many to ignore when their floral spikes had finished blooming. I deadheaded them myself so that I could collect the dried floral carcasses in a small bucket. Some seed had already been tossed for next year. Nonetheless, there is enough dust-like seed in the bottom of the bucket to share with other landscapes. I intend to sow it just prior to winter storms.

So, this unidentified seed should be an asset to the landscapes.

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Save Some Seed For Later

90717thumbFlowers do not last forever. Whether they last for only a day, or weeks, they all eventually finish what they were designed to do, and then whither and deteriorate. They only need to stay fresh and appealing to pollinators long enough to get pollinated. After all, that is their only job. The next priority is the development of seed and any associated fruit structures that contain the maturing seed.

After bloom, most flowers are just ignored as they deteriorate and fall. Those in big shrubbery, vines and trees are out of reach anyway. Others are either too numerous or too insignificant to worry about. Of course, fruit and fruiting vegetable plants get to produce the fruits that they are grown to produce. Then there are few flowers that need to be ‘deadheaded’ after they are done blooming.

Deadheading is simply the removal of deteriorating flowers. The remains of sterile flowers might be deadheaded because they are unappealing. Deteriorating flowers that would like to produce undesirable seed or fruit after pollination might get deadheaded for the same reason, and to conserve resources that would otherwise be consumed by the developing seed and associated fruit.

However, there are a few flowers that might be left intentionally to provide seed for later. Different flowers finish at different times, and their seed gets sown in particular seasons, but most of those allowed to produce seed should probably be deadheaded through most of their season, with the last few blooms left to go to seed. The same applies to fruiting vegetable plants like pole beans.

Many flowering plants are genetically stable enough to produce progeny that will bloom mostly like the parents. Most are likely to be more variable, or revert to a more genetically stable form, even if it takes a few generations. Sunflower, cosmos, marigold, calendula, morning glory, columbine, snapdragon, campion and hollyhock are all worth trying.

California poppy, alyssum, nasturtium, money plant (honesty) and a few annuals that do not get deadheaded are often happy to sow their own seed.

Clustered Bellflower

90508Do they seem to be early this year? Clustered bellflower, Campanula glomerata, typically waits until the end of spring to bloom. Once the initial and most prolific bloom phase finishes, sporadic bloom should continue almost through summer. Blue is their most popular and traditional color. White is their second most popular option. Bluish purple and purplish pink are still somewhat rare.

Vegetative growth stays relatively low and unassuming through autumn and winter, and then starts to stand up and get noticed just before spring bloom. Short varieties might bloom without getting even a foot tall, while tall varieties can get two feet tall or a bit taller in partial shade. Each blooming stem supports a dozen or so five-pointed flowers that are about thee quarters to an inch wide.

Clustered bellflower looks neater and probably blooms a bit better as the season progresses if stalks are pruned out as they finish bloom and start to deteriorate. However, a few stalks of some varieties might be retained after bloom to produce seed to scatter elsewhere. Some of the fancier or newer varieties do not produce many viable seed, and such seed may not be true to to type.

Saving Seed For Next Season

80718thumbThe gardens with the most flowers need the most deadheading. This involves the removal of deteriorating flowers and any developing fruiting structures and seed associated with them so that they do not divert resources from subsequent bloom or vegetative growth. Old flowers that do not produce seed because they are sterile or lack pollinators might get deadheaded too if unsightly.

Deadheading is not for everyone though. Flowers up in trees, big shrubbery or large vines are obviously out of reach. Many annuals, like alyssum and nasturtium, produce far too many flowers to be deadheaded. Most plants bloom and disperse seed without bothering anyone, or even getting noticed. Bougainvillea blooms too flamboyantly to miss, but then sheds neatly without any help.

Bougainvillea does not set seed anyway. The insects that naturally pollinate it within its native range in the Amazon River Basin probably do not live here. Yuccas that live far from their native range likewise lack the specific yucca moth that they rely on for pollination, although some get pollinated by accident. Big yucca stalks get deadheaded just because they are not appealing after bloom.

What is more fun than what gets deadhead is what does not get deadhead. The alyssum and nasturtium mentioned earlier naturally naturalize where they get watered. They toss so many seed around that they can replace themselves as readily as the old plants die out. California poppy, cosmos, calendula, campion, and many other annuals as well as a few perennials, can do the same.

Besides that, there are all sorts of seed that can be collected from old flowers for the following season. Each variety of flower finishes in its own season. Each variety likewise gets sown in its own season. It is not necessary to leave all fading flowers if only a few can provide enough seed for later. It is important to remember that hybridized and some overly bred cultivars do not produce viable seed, and that subsequent generations of the fancier varieties will revert to be more similar to their simpler ancestral parents.