Sunday, February 8, 2015


I have been challenging myself to grow more interesting and "difficult" plants from seed. In the past, I have tried a variety of "off the shelf" seed packets from nurseries and other stores of all types of plants. Many were annuals like Eschscholzia, Calendula, Borago, and others, and then to perennials like Echinacea, Salvia, Allium, Lavendula, Nicotiana and many more. The above mentioned were successes, while many others were failures. However, the failures can teach as much as the successes, so it has just fed my desire to try more.

Besides just taking on the challenge of growing from seed, I want to have more options of what I can plant in my garden. Garden centers and nurseries offer limited selections, and mail order plants can be a bit pricey. Seed is cheap to buy, cheap to ship, and can pay you back tenfold, or more.

Horizon Herbs in Williams, OR has an excellent selection of medicinal or otherwise uncommon open pollinated unselected plant species from around the world. Also this year I have become a member of the Pacific Bulb Society which offers several seed and bulb exchanges of almost any geophytic wildflower in cultivation. Saving seed from my own plants has also been a recent interest for the purpose of getting more plants and the opportunity to share them with others. This effort has been inspired in part by Ian Young's Bulb Log.

Most of what I like to grow is to be useful to the local pollinating insects and birds (maybe bats too), but some of the things I've had an interest in are just too cool to pass up. Here are a few of the species that I have just found germinating this weekend, all sown in the Autumn, though some you may have to open the expanded picture to find the germinating seed(s):

A single tiny shoot of the Narcissus seed I collected last year has appeared. These were from generic yellow trumpet type daffodils, particularly early blooming ones that were favored over the others by bumblebees. This was an experiment, as the idea of growing Narcissus from seed was a bit intimidating to me. That I know of, one must wait several years before the first flower is to be seen. However, Judy Glattstein in her book 'Bulbs for Garden Habitats' put it best, that if you plant seeds now you will have flowers in seven years, and if not, in seven years you will have nothing. This single shoot is encouraging, and just may push me to try a special species or two from the PBS seed exchange.

I had stored the seed in the refrigerator all year until fall, when I took them out and discovered mold all over them! Then I panicked and decided, for no reason whatsoever, to mix a small amount of vinegar in with the seeds before sowing them in the pot. I had read conflicting testimonies as to how deep to sow the seeds, so I decided to sow them both halfway down and onto the surface. Having not seen any of the surface seeds doing anything, I assume the one that grew was at depth. Who knows, I think it was just luck.

Cynoglossum grande
Pacific hounds tongue, featured a few posts ago coming into leaf, is a native relative of Borage and Myosotis (Forget-me-not). It is a summer dormant species, disdaining summer water, very appropriate for our summer dry climate. The large seeds, much like Borage seeds in appearance and texture, but over twice as large, were sown on the surface. This works best as the root goes down into the soil while the two cotyledons (seed leaves) are already formed inside the seed, which you may be able to see in this picture.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum 
 Wavy-leaved soap plant, so-called because of the presence of saponins in the bulbs, often used by herbalists as a soap by grinding up the bulb and lathering for use as a shampoo. They are lily relatives that send up three foot tall branched inflorescence's consisting of small six-petaled white flowers with striped centers that open only at night. They are said to be strongly scented, but they open after dark and close at any hint of sunshine. I have never seen them open in person. The seed was sown on the surface as well as up to an inch deep. Close inspection of the picture reveals the success of surface sowing, as you can see the root plunging down into the soil reminiscent of Allium germination.

Mandragora autumnalis 
This is one of the stranger plants that I wanted to try. There is much folklore and mysticism surrounding this plant, and it's close relative, Mandragora officinarum. The root was said in medieval times to be magical, evil, seductive, and deadly. Science has only been able to confirm the latter, as many harmful alkaloids are present in the entire plant. This shouldn't be a surprise being in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae). Perhaps I am just being overexcited, and the sprout I see here is just a weed. The seed was relatively expensive, and apparently rare in the trade either due to low demand or difficulty in cultivation. I just had to try it. The seed was sown about one half inch down, as per the instructions from Horizon Herbs.

Xerophyllum tenax
Beargrass, a Western native, grows to five feet give or take and has hundreds of tiny white lily-like flowers held in a cyme. The grass-like leaves are tough and were used in Native American basketry. This is a rhizomatous monocarpic species, meaning that the main flowering plant dies after setting seed, but a number of clonal offshoots are produced to keep the plant going. Seed was from Horizon Herbs.

I counted five germinating seeds in this pot (I didn't check the other two pots). They were surface sown, and just like the other surface sown species here, the root is first to emerge, plunging into the soil medium to get the growth process going. Maybe this is common in plants from summer dry regions? A good start means more time to grow before the ground dries up.

X. tenax is reported to take as long as ten years to flower, but I decided I wanted to make such a commitment. If I can be married, I can grow Beargrass. I asked myself, why not? I plan on being alive in ten years, may as well have some cool flowers that nobody else will have. I just couldn't find a good reason not to. Also, I can only imagine the joy I would have to see these things flower. Failure? If it happens, at least I tried.

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