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17 January 2017

Winter Sowing Projects

Ceropegia woodi seed
If I had a bear, it would probably be out of hibernation and playing chess. The oscillations have been so confusing, even my adeniums have migraine. But, as is usual during winter when a blanket of freezing death covers the Atlantic seaboard, it is the perfect time to sow seeds. (No, really, it's not). Sometime in early autumn, I somehow ended up with two more samples of Dimmit seeds. More interesting, though, is that a number of plants on my rather meager bench actually went to seed. 

This post originally started as a shout-out to Rika, over at Lithops Stories (if you have not seen her blog, go there. NOW!). She had very generously sent me anacampseros seeds from her own plants and I was stupid with excitement to sow them over the winter. 

So I did, taking special care to follow all my usual steps---sterilization, two weeks to fallow after sterilization, mild warmth and light. None of the seeds germinated and I still can not figure out why. I'm a little mortified.

There were other sowing projects, mostly because a surprising number of my plants produced seeds. I am supposing a bunch of bugs have figured out how to harvest sugar from my immigrant plants. What I don't get is why nothing has managed to pollinate the adeniums. Knitty Kitty has seed horns coming out of her ears. I suggested some local moths might have done it, since neither butterflies nor bees seem attracted by adenium flowers. But she said it was more likely the ants did it. Ants!

This C. woodi  has been blooming all summer and actually took to seed at the end of autumn. That's slightly alarming since it was being kept in a screened-in pergola that was supposed to keep buggers out. Whoever went around pollinating the complicated flowers found a way in and, thanks, that means the facility is not secure. Hmp. It was bad enough the carpenter bees were drilling their way in all summer right up to first frost.

Anyway, if pollination was successful, you get this horn about four centimeters long. It takes about a couple of months for the fruit to ripen. There really is no visual cue that I can specifically point to. It does not turn red or change color at all while it matures. The pod just explodes after a couple of months and out come the seeds, adorned by long, wispy fluff that would have allowed them to travel for quite a distance. There were about 8 seeds in each pod that looked viable. The rest was fluff.

I'm not really keen to try and plant them--I'm fine with the ones I have and do not want any more. If you, whoever you are, want these seeds, drop a line below, they're yours for postage. But you have to be in the continental US, because we have to play nice with farmers whose crops we could end up destroying if we keep tossing plants and seeds across continents without the necessary precautions.  

Avonia albissima 
This is a newcomer, as the search for perennially small plants continues. This used to be part of the genus Anacampseros until someone decided it was probably a good idea to separate the ones with the papery scales on the stem instead of actual leaves. So now, they are Avonias

These ones in particular are delicate things. And they they freakily move around a lot during the day, bending this way and that, straining upwards and then seeming to pass out from the effort. They are perpetually reacting to heat and light. Do not be tempted to water every time you see them change pose. Just...you know, leave them the fuck alone. Whatever watering rhythm you have, stick with it. These have been kept in a hot box so it got slightly confused and bloomed. 
The papery bits at the terminal tips are spent flowers. They only last a few hours and then dry up to a crinkly mess.
The flowers are tiny things about 4 millimeters across that you can easily bother with a cat whisker. I think I stuck the soft end of the whisker all the way in to the style. I got seeds! Unfortunately I was not paying attention to how long it took.
The seeds were planted immediately, plopped on top of sterilized potting soil and left alone in the hot box inside one of those cheese boxes. My seeds were fresh so they germinated after two days. At this point, the cover was removed but they stayed in the box for a couple of weeks more until the papery scales started to develop.
About a week after that first seedling photo, they have started to look distinctly like the parent plant although they have not lost their cotyledons. But they were tall enough, rising above the soil that they had to be mulched with small-grain calcined clay. It doesn't have to be calcined clay, it's just what I have at the mo. Coarse-grain sand will probably work just as well but they are heavier and harder to put in without crushing the seedlings. They are only about 2 millimeters across. 
Avonia quinaria ssp alstonii
I got this amazing little specimen in late October. It is a tiny caudex-forming plant that is nothing short of terrifying. You just know it will die as soon as you start trying to care for it. I wish I had the presence of mind to measure it when I first got it but extrapolating from the size of that pot (which I still have), then it must have grown at least a quarter of a centimeter in diameter in the last three months. Or I am hallucinating. it originally came in a 2-inch nursery pot and the pot it is in is a three-inch dessert cup spray painted in metallic copper. Most people raise this plant to expose the caudex but this one will spend a few more years gaining girth under the substrate---if it survives that long.

Now, this was sold to me as Avonia quinaria ssp alstonii---a variety with white flowers. But this sister clearly blooms magenta. That makes it either Avonia quinaria or Avonia quinaria ssp quinaria. I have not gotten to the bottom of this thing so, to be continued, that one.


I have never ever caught it fully open. This photo above was the closest my camera got. This is weird because it isn't a night-blooming plant. At least I did not think so. But in case it was, I even tried putting it in a box at around noon to simulate a dark night, hoping to see the flower open by late evening. No banana. It stayed this way. Or maybe it opened for 17 seconds. Or snapped shut every time I lifted the box to check. 

Whatever. I don't like that color anyway.  


Ariocarpus fissuratus
This is probably my most ambitious sowing experiment this winter, considering how many times I have failed sowing cacti seeds. The parent plant seeded in summer and I did not even notice until I poked through all that fluff. In habitat, I bet the rain just washes them off. Otherwise, the seeds will stay hidden in the cushion forever. 
The plant is a native of the high deserts. Those who have figured out how to grow them from seeds are apparently successful; seed-grown plants are fairly common. So, I say, how hard can it be? 

So, the usual routine--zap more potting soil in the microwave oven for 10 minutes, cover and let stand for about a week. Sterilize a salad box and a small pot. Fill with sterilized soil, plop the seeds in, cover and put under lights, preferably on a heat mat.
The salad box said these seeds were sowed on October 10. Here they were about a month later, stunningly small.
The thing with cactus seeds is that they are misleadingly easy to germinate. I had 100 percent germination rate, in fact, since the seeds were minty fresh. Getting them to survive after that is where the shit falls apart. If you look at sources online, they will say keep spraying for three months and then seal the thing in for a year. I don't know who came up with this idea and how many people have actually tried and succeeded doing it this way. There's some dude on YouTube who assures you it really works. But long forum discussions, if you have the patience and desperation to go through them, would tell you exactly the opposite. 

Ariocarpus seedlings, specifically, are supposed to need fresh, free-moving dry air as soon as possible. In cactusspeak, this means after about three months from germination. I was determined to seal my seedlings in for a year, trust me. Since this involved largely ignoring them--a strategy I am particularly partial to. 

Unfortunately, they were turning ugly. I lost two seedlings during this period of confusion and vacillation. So, since I personally prefer fresh, free-moving air, I liberated the pot from its container and put it out there.
Believe it or not, this is them actually looking better after a whole day in low humidity and some sun through glass doors. Fingers crossed, mofo!

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