The Magic of Germination

Using giberellic acid as an aid in germination

More species are germinating and because it’s still cold outside it’s a good time to ‘blag’ a bit about the germination. Each individual seed is a little wonder in itself: it does contain the plant we want – only if we can make it germinate! What I don’t like when growing from seed is not the ‘un-germination’ but the incertitude of what happened – what went wrong? – bad seeds, bad soil mix, too deep, too cold, too dry, not enough light, too much light… Also toooo much information on the web now can make things even more confusing. Here I’ll talk only about what I personally do.

Glaucidium palmatum seed germination

Glaucidium palmatum seed germination

Quite a few species (the most desirable) require ‘special treatments’ for germination like: stratification (moist & cold), alternation of cold and warm periods, incantations, sanding, soaking in GA3, frustrations… you get the idea. If you cannot easily provide a cold and moist period, the treatment with GA3 (acid giberellic) works in some cases wonders. I really like the convenience of GA3, which eliminates some variables from the process.


Aquilegia canadensis – semi-double flower form seedlings

There is no need to seed way ahead of time or get buried under endless small pots that will get lost in the sway of other spring garden jobs. If the seeds are viable, they’ll germinate; if not, at least you’ll know it wasn’t your ‘brown’ finger at fault. Good to know, however, that GA3 at inappropriate concentrations can also destroy the seeds or lead to poor quality seedlings.

 These are two methods I use:

 1. Keep seeds in their package in the fridge (dry storage). When time to sow, prepare a GA3 solution 500-1000 ppm, soak seeds until next day, plant them in pots, cover with a thin layer of mix – place under lights (or outside if you sow late spring).

 2. For the most recalcitrant – place the seeds into a moist paper towel inside a Ziploc bag, keep in the fridge (moist storage). When time to sow, squeeze the moist paper and add the GA3 solution over seeds, then keep until next day and then sow.

 Germination should occur in 1-2(3) weeks.

Most excited about Thalictrums I am trying this year: T. delavayi – a Chinese meadow rue, with large lilac-mauve flowers (petal-like sepals; the one I bought a couple of years ago was really small and didn’t make it) and T. isopyroides with a really tiny, steel blue foliage that can grow in full sun – would be good for a rockery (from Turkey, Iran, Syria, Altai Mts.).

Note: Aquilegia also prefer/require light for germination so you should cover them with a very fine layer of potting mix (in case you forget about this they’ll still germinate but much slower).





The point of no return…Spring Equinox

Spring air –
woven moon
and plum scent.

We’ve been told that officially today it is the first day of Spring.  I looked outside at the snow flurries dancing in the air and tried to act accordingly. I replaced the plum flowers with the flurries and I substituted the scent with a few potted dwarf irises.

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata

But more is happening proving that spring is nearby:

New seedlings 2014

The first germinated seedlings are basking under lights

For a few years now I keep my seedlings and other potted plants in our (unheated) garage. What bewildered us in the first year – some plants remaining green and happy till spring (with some careful minimum watering), it has become a common way of going through the winter. My little ‘garage garden’ is no doubt awakening:

All early flowering Arisaema species are swelling:

Arisaema sazensoo

Arisaema sazensoo

And outside, the first snowdrop shyly showed up on the rockery’s sunny face:

The first Snowdrop

The first Snowdrop

Forgive me if I seem too excited about these little signs of spring – it has been a long and hard winter for us, from any angle we may look at it. It may not look like Spring right now but no doubt we reached somehow the point of no return.


Schizanthus coccineus seedlings

Mariposita update – Schizanthus coccineus

At some point in January, during a planetary alignment I received a few seeds of Schizanthus coccineus and a red Rhodophiala from a seed exchange – just at the moment when I found seeds of Alstroemeria zoelnerii germinating in the fridge. We’ve seen all of them growing in their native habitats during our trip to Chile three years ago and would be very exciting to have them growing in our garden.

Another recent planetary alignment made it that from all species Schizanthus coccineus seeds were the first to germinate (in the fridge actually). Good that I caught them on time and now they are growing happily under lights. And it is not alone – seeds of its ‘sister’ in name – Dahlia coccinea, keeps him company. They were kindly gifted by my blogger friend, Gill from On the edge gardening. Dahlia coccinea it is native of Mexico, usually growing at elevations above 1500 m and in oak and pine-oak forests and has bright coloured flowers from yellow to orange and scarlet red.


 Note: There are about 15 Schizanthus species in Chile and Argentina (Fam. Solanaceae), commonly called ‘mariposita’, or ‘flor the pajarito’. The common names used for the few cultivated species are: Butterfly flower and Poor Man’s Orchid. The flowers have a particular morphology resembling somehow a flying butterfly and are brightly coloured. They are perennials or annuals, growing in full sun in various habitats; those at high elevations are characterized by large amounts of snow in the winter and dry summer months. One thing is sure – we don’t have to worry about not getting enough snow here… :)


A snowfall in March and Lilium martagon

Hard to believe it but yesterday we got another 20 cm of fresh snow – mid March, eh?

Perfect for updating my post about the martagon lilies – Lilium martagon. It seems that Basho wrote this haiku  with Lilium martagon var. album in mind:

 If there were fragrance/ these heavy snow-flakes settling…./Lilies on the rocks. – Basho

Lilium martagon

Lilium martagon var. album – a snowfall in June at Lost Horizons Nursery

Lilium martagon belongs to a group of lilies called ‘turk’s cap lilies’, from the resemblance of their flowers with a turban. Original from S.C. Europe to NE Asia, the martagon lily is the most widespread of all lilies and the commonest in Europe. It occurs widely in the Alps where it is generally a meadow plant that grows up to an elevation of 2100 m on a wide range of soils, including calcareous ones (Alpine Garden Society). It is quite a common lily (pink form) to encounter also in the Central Carpathian Mountains, including in the Bucegi Mountains.

Lilium martagon has a long history as a garden plant. There are reports that it has been known in Sweden since the Middle Ages. It is said that in Uppsala, in the garden of Carl Linnaeus, the ‘Father of modern taxonomy’, martagon lilies bloom every year under ancient trees. It was also listed in the first garden catalogue ever published (1596), that of John Gerard (author of the famous and controversial Herbal). The white flowered variety, Lilium martagon var. album has been treasured in gardens since the 16th century, and received an AGM in 1993.

 It can be variable in height: 0.6 – 1.5 m or more depending on the variety, location and age (bulb size). The flowers have six tepals, recurved with purple or brown spots with 6 long stamens; disposed on rigid stems; fragrant only in the evening and night as pollination is carried out by moths which feed on the nectar. Leaves: arranged in whorls in the middle lower- half of the stem and alternate in the upper half. Fruit – a capsule with lots of seeds and after flowering, the flower-stalk is reversed and the capsules end up in an erect position.

Propagation: easy by seeds or from bulb scales, which are yellow, hence the common French name ‘racine d’or’. Bulbs are also edible; in fact even chipmunks enjoy them very much, reason why I am not able to have one in my garden.  It is slow to establish, especially if grown from seeds but then it is long lived, forming large clumps and flowering for a long time, usually starting in June. Most definitely it is well worth the wait!  Best in a part-sun location but can grow in full sun too, on a slightly alkaline, well-drained substrate.

Myths and symbolism: According to medieval beliefs that linked plants and planets for healing purposes, the Martagon lily was connected with the planet Mars, hence the name ‘martagon’ (Health and healing from the medieval garden: Peter Dendle and Alain Touwaide).

On the symbolic side, ‘Fleur de Lys’, which is a stylized lily flower, is a very old emblem that has been used for over 1500 years to represent France. The best known is the representation on the coats of arms of Catherine de Medici. While no one says clearly that it is a L. martagon, the illustration shows a turk’s cap lily with recurved tepals. Legend has it that in those times the soldiers were wearing a Martagon lily bulb around their neck (as a necklace), for protection (by the way, another common name in French is ‘Lis de Catherine’).

All this history and symbolism makes it even more desirable! I hope to make it a species present on my Wild crafted seeds Catalogue, along with other species from Carpathian Mountains.

If not keen on growing it from seeds, it is available from Lost Horizons Nursery and Fraser’s Thimble Farms in Canada; in Europe countless nurseries are selling not only L. martagon but also a whole range of hybrids derived from L. martagon with various flowers colour from white and pink to orange and purple.

Likely a hybrid of L. martagon




The last push…

towards the Machu Picchu and I hope until the spring arrives

Trekking on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu – part III

After reaching the highest point at the Dead’s Women pass, what follows is really an up and down ‘climb’ of three more mountain passes and a few Inca ruins with similar sounding names: Runcurakay, Sayaqmarka and Phuyupatamarca.  The trail itself varies from wide and promenade-like to steep, cut-in-stone stairs. When in the cloud forest, there is the unforgettable imagery of trees dripping with lichens, moss, orchids and bromeliads. At some point, we even passed a sphagnum and peat bog area resembling a coral reef habitat at the bottom of the ocean, but with orchids. Then there were tree ferns and some odd looking Araceae, and then more orchids…and some more.

In the featured image – Vallea stipularis (capuli) is a somewhat rare evergreen shrub native to South America (fam. Elaeocarpaceae), usually growing above the cloud forest. I am sure we missed many plants when too tired to look away from the slippery stone steps.

Phuyupatamarca, called ‘Town in the Clouds’ and Winay Wayna (translated “Eternal Youth’ or ‘Forever Young’), both relatively close to Machu Picchu displayed the characteristic clusters of houses interconnected by long and abrupt staircases with fountain structures (called ‘baths’ at Winay Wayna); and to deal with the steep slopes – large terraced areas of what where, presumably agricultural terraces. Too much to explore and too little available time…

The first sight of Huana Picchu is an exhilarating moment. Some are lucky to arrive there in a sunny day, and some are not – like us. It was rainy, cloudy, misty, and we were soaked to the skin. But that didn’t temper our enthusiasm, just made everything more mysterious.


Solomon’s-seals – are you kidding?

 A gardener’s look at how our preconceived ideas prevent us from experiencing new plants in the garden.

Most specialty nurseries nowadays are carrying a wide range of Solomon’s Seals – Polygonatum spp., of which quite a few don’t look at all like the common, North American native Polygonatum biflorum. Although the Great Solomon’s seal is a great addition to any woodland garden of a certain size, its size and spreading behaviour have been extended wrongly to the genus Polygonatum in general. If we are willing to look beyond, there are species and varieties that look and/or ‘behave’ in the garden completely different. I cannot say it better than Tony Avent from Plant Delights Nursery did when talking about Polygonatum kingianum: “forget everything you know about Solomon’s seal, except that it grows from a rhizome in the shade.”

I am sure the list can be longer but I’ll resume to a few species that I have images and are available at Lost Horizons Nursery in Ontario.

Polygonatum kingianum grows to 1-3 m tall, erect or as a climber; its leaves are narrow and arranged in whorls, each ending in a tendril-like tip. Flowers can be white to pink or orange and berries red. Flora of China specifies it is a highly variable species, which stands true for a few others Polygonatum sp. with whorled leaves.

 Polygonatum verticillatum has also narrow leaves in disposed in whorls (but no tip-tendrils) and creamy-white flowers. A very tall form in cultivation is P. verticillatum ‘Himalayan Giant’. Another beauty with narrow, whorled leaves and smoky-rose flowers is Polygonatum curvistylum (I don’t have an image so you’ll have to believe me). Another species presented in the gallery, with umbel-like inflorescences might be P. zanlanscianense, but I’m not very sure. For more unusual species Flora of China is a good source of descriptions, although in some cases given their variability is hard to ascertain a proper identity, looking only at a few plants.

 My preferate – Polygonatum hookeri is a dwarf Solomon-seal that you’ll fall in love with at first sight.  It is a native from parts of China and N. India, where it grows at altitudes over 3000 m. It reaches only 10 cm in height and the leaves are crowded on the stems. The pink or lavender flowers resemble those of a hyacinth, and berries are red. In time it will form a lovely groundcover mat allowing other taller plants to peak through. Perfect for a small rockery in part shade. Available also at Wrightman Alpines – after all it is an alpine solomon’s seal!




The tale of Davidia involucrata

Musing on my favourite plant explorer – E.H. Wilson

The name of botanical explorer Ernest Henry Wilson is attached to the introduction of many plants growing in our gardens today, including a dear one to me: Deinanthe caerulea. There are so many interesting books to read on the subject of plant explorers and certainly one would have to pick some favourites. What I really like is that many of the plants they discovered bear their name in recognition, in the specific epithet. When being associated with a real person they suddenly become familiar, which makes remembering their botanical name a piece of cake. Specific epithets like: menziesii, wilsonii, hookeri, fortunei, farreri, douglasii, van houttei and so on, are bringing back the memories of great plant exlporers like: A. Menzies, E.H.Wilson, J.D.Hooker, Robert Fortune, C.P. Thunberg, Reginald Farreri, David Douglas, L. van Houtte and all the others. Considered by some as ‘crazy’ people, they often risked their lives collecting plants in far away countries, many times for very little financial reward. E.H. Wilson first started collecting plants on behalf of Veitch & Son Nursery in 1899 and then he worked as a collector for Arnold Arboretum. From his many expeditions in China, Japan, Korea and so on, he collected a wide variety of plants. The list of his plant introductions runs into the thousands!

I enjoyed mostly the story of his first mission in China, which was very specific: to find and collect seeds of Davidia involucrata, the Dove Tree, known only from a herbarium collection sent back to France by French missionary Father Armand David.

Davidia involucrata

Davidia involucrata

To make a long story short, he found a new grove of Davidia trees and collected lots of seeds, along with many other plant species, but still the credit for introducing this tree went to Father Paul Guillame Farges, because from a package with seeds he had sent to a friend (supposedly exactly 37 of them!), one germinated exactly in the same year Wilson started his trip! The tree was named in honor of the first collector Father A. David. The main feature of this medium size tree, that sparkled the frenzy of collecting it, are the flower bracts. Like other members of Fam. Cornaceae (some say Nyssaceae), the flowers are small but with a pair of large, up to 25 cm, pure white bracts which look like petals. When it flowers in May-June, the branches are loaded with the white bracts that are fluttering with each breeze looking like white doves or handkerchiefs. Wilson himself compared them with “huge butterflies hovering amongst the trees”. Botanically speaking is worth noting that although nearly all flowers in the head are staminate only a single bisexual flower develops into a fruit upon fertilization (fruit is a hard nut with a long peduncle).

 Another of Wilson’s introduction – Acer griseum, the Paperbark Maple, wasn’t ignored that bad by the horticultural tradesmen but still is not enough utilized considering his qualities. And I cannot stop and have to mention another rare, exquisite small tree that we owe to Wilson: Heptacodium miconioides – The Seven Sons tree.

The centenary of E.H. Wilson birth was marked and celebrated in his town of origin – Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, England with the creation of a garden including about 1200 of the species he collected and introduced in cultivation (mainly of Chinese and Japanese origin) – Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden.

The Alvars World of Bruce Peninsula

Alvar is the name used for a distinctive habitat formed by a thin covering of soil or no soil at all, over a base of limestone or dolostone bedrock. These alvars support specialized species communities and are found only in the North America Great Lakes Basin, Estonia, Sweden, Ireland and UK. Ontario contains 75% of the alvars in North America.

Campanula rotundifolia and Packera paupercula

Campanula rotundifolia and Packera paupercula

I find the extreme conditions in which plants can grow in the alvars, especially the open pavement and shoreline alvars, quite fascinating. Pools of water collect in slight depressions in the surface of the rock ‘pavement’ after rain and spring snow melt, and then small amounts of silt and sand accumulate and provide a habitat for plants to take root in the shallow holes, grikes and joint fractures shaped by water erosion. The reason I found the alvars and the plants growing there so fascinating is that they remind me of a rock garden situation, a really though one, with little soil and rooting space for the plants, high temperatures in the summer and more than this with high variation on the moisture levels throughout the seasons.

Many of the alvar plant species are perennials, of which some are more or less confined to this particular environment. For example species like Cirsium hillii, Solidago ptarmicoides and Astragalus neglectus have a high alvar confinement (above 70%), while others like Zigadenus elegans have a low<50 % alvar confinement. Besides knowing and protecting them, the ability to grow in such conditions it is a proof of their adaptability and more of them should be tested into cultivation.

The following images have been taken in the Bruce Peninsula area, in Ontario – it is a gallery that gradually it will be updated with more species.

Seriously, again the Arisaema?

Musing on Arisaema propagation

I can keep bragging about Arisaema for a long time, but this post was triggered last year in early March when I found Arisaema galeatum tuber with emerging roots – a bit too early. So, I started a small scale potting operation in our living room :) On the same time a few Arisaema younglins were already playing under the lights so what better time to muse on cobra lilies propagation?

I have become acquainted and got fond on the cobra lilies while working at Lost Horizons Nursery, a small scale specialty nursery which grows and offers for sale quite a few Arisaema species. Commonly called Jack-in-the-Pulpits and Cobra lilies, they are best known as plants that are propagating through offsets, small tubers that form around/from the old one, but the majority are easily propagated through seeds.

There are reports that some Arisaema species are still dug out from the wild (mostly the ones with a Himalayan distribution) and the tubers offered for sale in bulk by Chinese and Indian nurseries. While you cannot always be sure about the stock origin, be aware in case of big size tubers offered at a lower cost, as very few nurseries are propagating and growing their own plants and if so they cannot be sold at derisory prices. (I would mention A. griffithii, A. franchetianum, A. fargesii and A. candidissimum but probably the list should be longer…) Most often it is lots of fun to propagate and grown your own, not to mention that this way you won’t contribute to the depletion of wild growing Arisaema species.

Propagation by seeds is required in other cases too: species that naturally don’t form tuberlets (A. sikokianum), rare sp. of which you can acquire only a few seeds, in the case of rust infected plants (because it is not transmitted through seeds), for the selection of new varieties or if mass propagation is desired. The setback is that 2-4+ years are needed to have a flowering size plant, depending how well/fast the tuber is increasing in size.

Now it’s the exciting time to seed again – if one would persevere enough, probably species identification after seeds would be possible too! Not a bad idea considering that sometime even from known sources, seeds are not true to species and you can only found out the truth a couple of years later when they flower! Regarding the seeds below, I can only say they are 99% true to type:

Luckily, most Arisaema spp. are easy germinators (I will not go into details for the exceptions). A new Japanese study has found that in same cases, the seeds germinate better if kept dry at room temperature for 1-2 months. The biggest problem is actually managing to get fruits/seeds from some of them (a quirky subject). The second difficulty is then to successfully navigate the highs and lows of their watering requirements.

From green to mosaics of green and orange to red, the fruits are an attractive feature of the Arisaema spp. The seeds have to be cleaned from the pulp (go creative, and wear gloves – the oxalic acid from the pulp can cause irritation of the skin), sowed, and kept warm and moist. Most seedlings will grow a few months and then go dormant once a small tuberlet is formed, to resume its growth only the next year. It is worth mentioning the particular case known for a few species, of germination with protocorm only (no aerial leaf blade forms in the first season, so don’t throw away your pots!).


Giorgio Pozzi in the article: ‘Geophyte seed germination’, came with the idea of inducing an ‘artificial wintering’ of 3 months in order to trick them to start growing during the same season. That’s something interesting to experiment with on a small scale. The tuberlets will increase gradually in size and form tubers of variable shapes and colors depending on the species, which can also be used for ID purposes.

Arisaema is a large genus with lots of species of which unfortunately only two natives to North America: A. triphyllum and A. dracontium. Therefore there is a big variability in regards with their propagation. Care should be taken with a few species that can prove quite ‘weedy’, like A. dracontium, A. flavum and A. serratum and by this I mean that they propagate easily both by seeds and tuberlets when grown in favourable conditions. The propagation through offsets or small tubers (lovingly called ‘tuberlets), which form around/from the old one is very easy. Expect a huge variation among species in the number of offsets/tubers and the way they are produced.

 Lots more information on Arisaema species on the Pacific Bulb Society page – HERE.



Vivero (Spanish) – from Latin vivarium (from vivo “I live”)

In all the Latin languages, and even in English, many words have Latin roots, which usually helps inferring their meaning. That’s why I like a lot the Spanish word used for a plant nursery: vivero, viveros (pl.), coming from the Latin vivere – to live. The best expression of the abundance of life forms, which LIVE and are being brought to life, in these magical places.

Last year we got the chance to visit in Mexico a small vivero for succulent plants. Situated close to Ajijic, on the Hyw. Chapala Jocotepec (Jalisco), it is very easy to miss the modest sign advertising the entrance for VIVERO CACTUS (actually our host/driver had to turn around on the hyw, which I highly NOT recommend doing on Mexican roads).  Upon entering, a small display garden greets you with towering plants of the native Cactus king – Brackebergia militaris. Among other interesting succulents, with its farinose bluish look and orange flowers, Echeveria laui, was incontestably the queen of the show.

Displayed in pots along the main alley, thorny, fatty looking Pachypodium lamerei, flanked by Adenium roseum (Desert rose) plants in flower, drew our attention right away. Both members of Apocynaceae family, they are characterized by pachycaule trunks/stems: enlarged, adapted to store water so as to survive seasonal drought and/or periods of root desiccation in adverse conditions. They are also cultivated as house plants in other cooler climates (hmm, do I need more?).

In a nearby shade-house, cacti and their relatives were sold in small pots, neatly arranged and with their Latin names written on the trays or the pots. Finally, we got to learn the names of a few plants that we have at home. Here in Canada they are all sold under the generic name: succulents or cactus, with the names of the species or even the genus for cacti totally ignored. It was toward the closing time but we manage to take a glimpse to other areas and I’m sure all cactus afficionados will enjoy the gallery bellow and wonder at the wide range of Mammillaria, Agave, Crassula and other interesting species like Titanopsis.

Obviously not a big budget operation, but very charming, orderly and well organized, trying to offer in-house propagated native species, as well as from other regions of the world – a wonderful effort.

 Vivat, crescat, floreat!

(lat. – May it live, grow and flourish)