Sole Survivor

One is the loneliest number. (It is in the middle of the far edge of the flat.)

By now, I can safely assume that any of the various old seed that were sown late last February that have not yet germinated are not likely to do so. They were all so old that I knew at the time that their viability was questionable. Nonetheless, I could not discard them without confirming that they were no longer viable. Four months later, this empty flat just about confirms it.

So far, the sole survivor is a seedling of a California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera. It looks silly all alone in the otherwise empty flat. Yet, even if no other seedlings germinate, the effort will have been worth this dinky palm seedling. California fan palm happens to be my favorite palm; but I would have been just as pleased with something that is not a favorite.

This little seedling is still too young to be pulled and canned. It will therefore wait and grow in the flat for now, and perhaps until autumn. I still hope that other seed will germinate during that time. Even if they do not, the empty flat will get set aside where it will continue to be irrigated as needed until late next spring. Viable but old seed may be unusually slow to germinate.

I can not help but wonder if some of the seed did not get enough chill after they were sown late in February. Maple, ash, elm, birch and arborvitae might require more of a chill through more of winter to be convinced that the warm weather afterward really is spring. I am not quite ready to give up on them yet.

There are still many more very old seed to sow this autumn. For most, I do not expect germination to be any better than it was for this previous batch.

This little California fan palm seedling certainly seems determined to survive.


Lunaria annua is known more for coin shaped seed pods than bloom.

Money plant, Lunaria annua, which some may know as ‘honesty’, is honestly not a wildflower here. It is neither native nor naturalized. Yet, it seems to grow wild on roadsides, in drainage ditches, and around the perimeters of some of the landscapes. It certainly produces enough seed to naturalize. It just would not have done so in this climate without a bit of intervention.

Many years ago, someone who maintained the landscapes here started sowing seed for money plant. I do not know if he was the first to sow the seed, or if he collected it from plants that someone else grew. He collected seed annually to disperse randomly by simply tossing it out wherever he though it might happily grow into more money plant.

Since money plant wants a bit more water than it gets from annual rainfall here, it was happiest where it is most often seen now, in roadside drainage ditches and on the perimeters of irrigated landscapes. It somehow competes effectively with other seemingly more aggressive vegetation. In the more favorable situations, it self sows, but can not perpetuate indefinitely.

The horticulturist who dispersed the seed for so many years retired a few years ago. Consequently, there has been a bit less money plant annually since then. It certainly tries to naturalize, but was rather scarce last year.

We could not allow it to go extinct just yet. We collected some of the seed from the plants that bloomed last year. I dispersed a few where I thought they would be happy without being obtrusive in the landscapes. I gave most of the seed to a neighbor who happens to enjoy tossing random seed into random (but hopefully suitable) spots where wildflowers would be nice.

It is such a delightful tradition that is worth continuing.

Expiration Date

All those palm seed . . . and saguaro cactus.

This is worse than the various seed that I happen to collect at work. It is worse than the seed of various species that I brought back from Oklahoma. These are seed that I purchased online and then misplaced . . . for a few years . . . or actually several years. Some were already old at the time, so are about a decade old now. There are leftovers from seed that were sown in 2010.

There was not much expense involved. Back then, they were even less expensive than they would be now. Those that I got a significant volume of were purchased mainly because they were so inexpensive. I figured I could find homes for the surplus that grew from them later. Most of the seed were purchased from eBay. Some were randomly collected for free from my job sites.

With few exceptions, these seed are not remarkably rare. Some are common within the regions from which they were obtained. Some are in small batches of only a few, while there are more than a hundred or a few hundred of others. There are seed for several palms, many yuccas, all but one of the North American firs, and all of the North American spruces. Not all are pictured.

Some seed are in significant quantity. That is more than 300 Yucca aloifolia, and 500 balsam fir.

Neither the expense nor the scarcity of these misplaced seed is a problem. What bothers me is that after so much effort to acquire them, and after so many others put the effort into sending them to me, and after the parent plants put their effort into producing all these seed, they were wasted. As I mentioned about the palm seed yesterday, few are likely viable after a decade.

Nonetheless, all will be sown. Even if none germinate, it will be more tolerable than discarding them without trying.

These actually look as good as fresh. I will find out.


Horridculture – Soaking Seeds

P91030Hooey! It’s a bunch of hooey! Sweet pea seed that gets sown this time of year for next spring does NOT need to be soaked before sowing. In fact, unless there is some strange species of plant that has become that dependent on human intervention, NO seed need to be soaked prior to sowing. Not only is the technique completely unnecessary, but it is completely unnatural as well.

Think of it. In the wild, plants grow, bloom and produce seed. This seed does what it can to disperse and get into or onto the soil to germinate and grow into new plants to repeat the process. Some seed appeal to squirrels for burial. Some prefer to be partly digested by animals who eat their tasty fruit. Heck, some are reluctant to germinate until heated by a cleansing forest fire.

Plants employ quite a range of techniques to disperse their seed and promote germination. As strange as some of these techniques seem to us, they are all justified. They all exploit processes of the respective ecosystems they naturally inhabit. For example, seed that crave heat know that the fire that provides such heat also incinerates competing plants, leaving them vacant soil.

Regardless, there are NO plants that produce seed with an expectation that anyone will collect and soak them. Dry seed that need to rehydrate can and actually prefer to collect the moisture they need from the moist soil in which they grow. If the soil is too dry for them to rehydrate, they do not waste effort trying. They merely assume that they should wait for rainier weather.

Furthermore, seed that are needlessly soaked prior to sowing must be sown shortly after rehydrating. Unlike dry seed, rehydrated seed can not be returned to their original packet and stored for later.

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.