|Plant Propagation, Seeds Germination|
Now here's something from the "Science is the ever self-correct mechanism ever evolving ever improving animal" Department, that I would have thought was figured out and completely understood a long time ago when it comes to seed germination. So is science really self correcting ????? emmmm, well sort of ! Quite often it's ideologically, politically, economically or even on rare occasions religiously driven, but that's another subject. One of the claims by those who have blind faith in the way Science is supposed to work, is that the advantage of scientific investigation is that if someone claims to have made a discovery of how to create cold-fussion energy, then that claim can be proven to be false or unwarranted by further research and scientific testing. This rosy picture of this science as an infallible enterprise suggests that scientific errors will be recognized and corrected, with false claims falling by the wayside during science’s inexorable march forward. There's one problem with this worshipful affirmation. The problem is that things never really work that way because life is far more complicated as a result of human imperfection and error. Like any other human endeavor, scientists & scientific inquiry can become stained or tainted by the same imperfect qualities of stupidity, bias, negligence, lying and deceit that plague all other human beings. Still, one would hope that certain progress in some simple areas would have changed by now even after many decades.
This brings me to what is the best Nature-Based techniques for seed germination ? By nature based, I mean how does it work best in nature ? Surely many of the professional Plant Nurseries know what good propagation techniques are all about. Why they are in the business of caring about good result$, but then maybe some don't know after all. Maybe it's a numbers game for them too and they may play by the percentages game as well. Here's what I'm talking about. A few days ago I visited the San Diego Safari Park's website. I guess they've changed their name from San Diego Wild Animal Park, - whatever. I didn't realize it at the time, but their website has a blog section where articles from various departments within the Zoo are published with public comments allowed at the bottom.
|Planting Tecate Cypress Seeds|
Lee from Vancouver:
"An interesting blog Lauren. How do you get the cones you collected to open. I gather you used heat, but how is this done without burning the cones?"
Now the answer to this question didn't come from Lauren, but from I imagine her Supervisor named
Laurie Lippitt, Sr. Research Technician:
"Lee – Greetings. The Reforestation Center first soaked the cones in 92°C water for 24 hours. The cones were then surface-dried and placed into a drying chamber at 49°C for 4 hours. When the cones did not start to open , they used 52°C for about 8 hours and finally another day at 54°C. The cones that had partially opened received a final drying period at 52°C while the cones that had not opened went through another round of hot water soaking followed by drying at 52°C. So, you can see that the process was not just a single step. Once the cones were opened, they were tumbled to extract the seed and upgraded in an air separator to remove some empty seed. The finished seedlot had 42% germination, which is rather good for cypress seed."
|Image - Penn State|
Registered Forester in the Southern US with 30 years experience in managing pines. Expert in pine forest health from management to control of pests to ID of species.
Here is the question he published followed by his expertise answer:
Question from reader:
I have a cone collected from an Italian Cypress tree, not from the ground. The cone dried and opened up with seeds falling out of it. I’m not sure how long the cone had been growing and if it was time to harvest, but I collected it in spring. Could this seeds be germinated successfully? What is the best way to germinate them?
Jim's answer Answer:
"There is a chance that they will germinate but I would not expect a high rate say about 50% would be good but you will more than likely get around 25%. First they need to be stratified-cold-stratify (wet a paper towel, wring out, and put the seeds between the folds of the towel; seal in a plastic baggie and keep in fridge for a month). Before you do this they should have wings on the seed--rub the seeds in your hand and remove the seed from the wings."
"After a month in the fridge plant them in potting soil just barely under the soil. Seed - sow late winter in a cold frame and only just cover the seed. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 2 months at 20°c. The seedlings are very subject to damping off so should be watered with care and kept well-ventilated. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Now this is what amazes me. These numbers predicted to germinate are so low. Why ? If I can get almost 100% (okay 99.5% - .05 for error) then why can't they ? Or maybe it's technique from the old conventional school thinking of propagation method to potting. My problem here is once again I am a critical skeptic, but I was trained that way by one of my former instructors. I like science, but I'm also a science realist. A lot of Science has also helped destroy much of our planet because many & most of their technologies are based on making fast profit$ and the bosses of these researchers who work for most of these big corporations want results NOW, not when it's safe to be revealed. So as always, in my mind I'm thinking again, there must be a better way.
Well, the first thing I wondered about when I was in my late teens, 'How does this work in nature?' When I went out in nature, what I most often saw after a fire swept through an area were the high numbers of seedling (100%?) on the ground, not the low (45%). But WHY ?? As I've written about previously when I went with my brother to a friends house for a Bar-B-Q on North Peak in the Cuyamaca Mountains just exactly one year after that horrible Cedar Fire in 2003, the ground was covered with millions upon millions of Incense Cedar Seedlings which were so thick and heavy at 3-4 inches high, I at first thought they were annual grasses growing up first before the other plants. Closer inspection proved otherwise.
Okay so back to the early 1980s. I made a special point of exploring regions where Tecate Cypress could be located. In fact I've always wanted to establish an example of a Tecate Cypress Forest woodland setting in an urban landscape as I attempted to do at my mother's home which I wrote about on my "Earth's Internet" blog. The title of the article was about the correct Soil and I used the Tecate Cypress as my example of what not to do. Trust me, Tecate Cypress needs specific structural requirements withing the soil to succeed. "Is the Plant in the Right Soil ?" One of the first things I meditated on was the way the seeds were dispersed. It was also without exception by a fast moving fire which was necessary to melt the resins which glued the cone compartments together. These seeds and cones can stay viable for decades on end. There were a number of other things that came to mind.
The fire sterilizes the soils for the most part and that helps take care of any possible pathogen problems later on and also a common problem in nurseries, "Damping off " where the plant's root collar is attacked, rots and the tiny week/s old seedling falls over dead. So I reasoned fire will also take care of that pathogen issue, so great, some form of a fire component is necessary. The other issue was weather and climate. What was/is it and how do I replicate it. At 3500' to 4500' elevation it is windy and bitterly cold and very wet in wintertime when these seeds would have been first influenced. So both wet and cold are a must at the same time. Now admittedly, the AllExperts guy Jim Hyland, did touch on some of these points, but he didn't fully go all the way or far enough. I believe because he was in a hurry for results & that's what the client asking the question wanted to hear. He mentioned one month, and no doubt thereafter out planted into seeding trays.
There is one other important thing of note here about seeds reaction to winter dormancy. They actually are not all that dormant. They are actually slowly working under the ground, though you may not see them doing this. I once did some experiments with both Coulter and Torrey Pine seeds by actually outplanting them directly into the ground in November with no extra help from me and I had locations marked off where they were located to later check on their progress. By late January most of these seedlings were pushing up through the snow at my property in Anza Ca and any further cold spells from then on seemed as water off a duck's back to them. They were un-effected. Just a side point understanding, but interesting to know. Something is always going on all that time, though slowly.
Here's how it has always worked for me and anyone reading can replicate these results with any cypress seed. First thing I did was create a fire component scenario. I pulled out a sheet of Aluminum Tin Foil and laid this sheet on a Weber Bar-B-Q Grill. Underneath this grill I have already placed very small dry twigs and dried pine needles. I want a hot fast burning but not too long of a fire. The foil has holes in it to allow some fire & smoke in through the slits but not to much. I don't want the cones burnt up and cooked along with the seeds. Once 30-50 cones are piled in there on top of the tin foil, I light the fire which burns quickly hot and fast. Sure enough all of the cones popped open as a result of the heat melting processes. The smoke and heat under the slightly closed lid also destroy any pathogens that may have been on the outside cone shells as well. Now the seeds easily fall out onto a table as I work each cone clean. I have no need of a professional seed tumbler as a lot of that is for the science class as a visual in my opinion and is an unnecessary expense. There is absolutely no mess at all.
Now here's how to work the weather component. What I already knew about that area's climate is that it is cold and wet for at least 4-5 months up in the mountains at high elevations. It's not like down below along the coast. I find a small to medium sized clear glass jar and put all of the seeds in it. I next boil some water and pour this over the seeds and allow them to soak overnight. I call this Chitting Soaking. Chitting is a proven method of seed-starting which delivers maximum seed sprouting efficiency. Saves you time because you will only plant the viable seeds. Makes certain you will experience only gardening success even when spring has not yet sprung. I do this with all seeds of various chaparral and native trees, pre-soak even if the seeds are vegetable garden seeds. Next & this is import, unlike the mention of letting the seeds dry out - NEVER LET THEM DRY OUT!!! Just drain the water out when it has cooled.
They suggested a wet paper towel holding the seeds in plastic zip-lock, but the jar works better for me. What I do the very next day is again just drain off the excess water in that same jar and close the lid tight, swish the seeds around inside the jar to where they are evenly dispersed around the inside coating glass walls where they easily stick, then place this jar of wet seeds on the bottom shelf of a Fridge and wait approximately 3 months exactly. I say three months because that is the length of time it takes for the seed to swell enough to where all the seeds are baring that small white germ where the taproot is about to pop through. I found this same thing worked when I outplanted Torrey Pine and Coulter Pine seeds out in my property in Anza with seeds in the ground. I've seen Torrey Pines up there at elevation 4,500' push through snow still on the ground. Another advantage of seed behaving this way is that while still young they are suseptible to damping off. Under cold conditions pathogens are not as active as late Spring and Summertime.
At this point it's time to plant in seed germination flats, but you first better have your potting media ready. This is another one those interesting life changing experiences of something you had as a student in school. I wanted something safer in potting preparation than the conventional chemical program offered in the textbooks. One Ag instructor of mine, Mr Robert Rutherford & James Dyer challenged me to figure it out logically if I disagreed with the book. I did.
Nursery Potting Soil PreparationMake this real easy. Go to your favourite garden outlet and get some bags of good potting soil. You are going to also need to purchase a large bag of Vermiculite which will look exactly as the material in the photo to the right here. This is nothing more than mica which heated up will have expanded like popcorn. These have air pockets and allow for good aeration of the potting soil to fight off pathogens spores which mostly want a airless anaerobic environment, but that's not enough. I also used Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide (35%) which I cut with water down to 3%. This also helps further oxygenate and kill any leftover nasties that may want to eat your seedlings. I never water the seedlings with it. I only pre-treated the potting soil inside the germination flats which is itself mix 50%-50% Vermiculite - Potting soil. I also use a slight bit of wood ashes in this mix. I then place potting mix in the flats to the top and proceed to then water with the H2O2 mixture. I like to purchase the food grade Hydrogen Peroxide (35%) because it doesn't have the chemical stabilizers and preservatives that the pharmacy over the counter stuff has. In the past I have bought from Peaceful Valley Nursery Supplies up in Grass Valley California which deals in organic gardening, landscaping and Nursery supplies. It has no preservatives. But you probably could get away with the standard store bought also. I have. I don't really water continuously with this mixture, but simply use it as a disinfecting drench initially in the flat containers packed with potting soil before planting seed in the potting media
Next I space each seed about one inch apart in all directions in the flats. All I need is for them to pop up and compete upwards for space and at about three or four inches I transplanted into 1 gallon containers with the same mix. I seriously have seen one seed germinate for every hole I've evenly spaced and planted (100% rate). I didn't like the manner in which they had the 40% rate at the SD Zoo. Here is what their planting instruction calls for taken from their own page. Notice in the photo how all of their spaced holes with the already provided for containerized tubing has 4-6 seeds in each space ? They are expecting failure and will thin them if more than one comes up. In my method I never expect or plan for any failure.
Eventually your trees in pots will look something like this photo of Vietnamese Golden Cypress seedlings to the right. At this point you should let them develop just a little bit further, then plant them in those one gallon containers. I water and feed them with a mixture of seaweed extract and they'll also feed on whatever was in the potting soil mix you used. There should be enough nutrition there to get them going until transplant into one gallon pots and then finally into the soil. Once the outplanting has proceeded, then inoculate the plant root area with a good blend of mycorrhizal inoculum applications later, which you really HAVE TO DO folks.
At that point they will quickly get a foot high and I'd plant them then. They grow extremely fast so make sure you have a tough rocky soil. And as always, please purchase a great mycorrhizal inoculum and mix the powder into the planting holes so that colonization is quick and efficient. Don't think you can get away without using one. If you still don't understand the Fungi thing, then quickly find out and save your money on the science-based chemical junk. You don't need it and you can spend your hard earned money elsewhere. Give them a huge healthy head start. There is no real extra work that goes into mixing a half teaspoon of mycorrhizal inoculent mix or less in the hole. The Search for Viable Seed Sources: In the photograph below, Gary Petersen, a Forest Service specialist, checks cones on a tecate cypress. The cones contain seeds. This is an area devastated by wildfire in the Santa Ana Mountains of Cleveland National Forest where a rare popuation of Tecate Cypress was almost obliterated. This are is more fire prone now as a result of human development than at any previous time in it's natural history.
|Image - Orange County Register|
|Omage - Orange County Register|
THE PLAN: “This is not rocket science,” said Gary Petersen, a silviculturist with the Forest Service. “You drop a few seeds, cover them up and walk a little farther – just like Johnny Appleseed.” Petersen is working to save rare tecate cypress trees that were damaged in a February wildfire in the Santa Ana Mountains.There are still numerous errors to be found in many many science text books within areas of Academia these days which have not been updated for years. Some of the same failed methods used back then should have been changed today with our newer understanding but they haven't. So what should a student do ? Be a thinker outside the conventional science box. Schools seem now days demand students follow unquestioning textbook studies, which provides high test scoes for textbook-based answers. They rarely encourage ongoing growth of the thinking processes that utilize logical simple to understand practical applications found in nature. Be creative based on what you observe out there.
Real science is NOT the Internet or some Lab, it's field observation as well and that more than anything else improves far greater learning ability that has been lost to many. I'm sorry that many of you students will not be able to observe a natural world in it's fully functional state as it was in the past. Nature has been reverse engineered by this world's Industrial Science Corporations the majority of mankind have put their faith in at the encouragment of your Professors. Hopefully with helpful suggestions from others in the Native Plant Nursery business who have gone through the hard knocks of industrial science only to realize how biomimicry is far superior to what was once considered the hallowed doctrine of Science, they will be able to provide further helpful assistance to you.
Vermiculite & Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide
Liquid Smoke and Seed Germination
Finally, here is an important Note on a post I wrote about the Fire Ecology of Tecate Cypress, which like other plants, the prevailing Science Experts insisted upon that the Tecate Cypress as needing fire to propagate is more fiction than reality. There are many other circumstances and natural anomalies that cause the cypress seed to germinate. You'll be amazed at how common sense this is.
How Tecate Cypress has other Strategies for Germination other than that much Celebrated Evolutionary Religious Concept known as "Burn Baby Burn"