Seedlings, seedlings and more seedlings…

I have more monster plants in store. After a few weeks of waiting, some Lobelia tupa seeds have begun to germinate. The seeds are very fresh, collected just hours before I set them up in their germination trays. Since this lobelia is native to seasonally chilly regions of South America, I was a little worried that they wouldn’t germinate without some sort of cold stratification. After exactly 14 days, I see a few little green leaves showing. Apparently it can germinate without stratification, but it remains to be seen exactly how many will germinate. I still have hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds, so I can do a little bit of experimentation in the refrigerator.

lobelia tupa germination
It’s difficult to see right now, but that little green martian in the center will become a towering Lobelia tupa covered in giant red hummingbird feeders. I’m hoping for dozens more! As a side note, plant lights do wonders for plants, but make it difficult to get good colors in a photo…

The parent plants that my seeds came from are large. Nearly as tall as I am, they are well over 5 feet, with leaves easily 5 or 6 inches wide near the base of the plant. I’m hoping that most of my seedlings will end up being as impressive! This plant has been very difficult for me to come by, and I’m pretty excited that I have a few now. I’m envisioning dozens of plants, each reaching incredible heights (for a lobelia, anyway) to bring those hummingbirds that find them so irresistible up to eye level. Wouldn’t that be great?

My life seems to revolve around seeds these days. I few months ago I picked up a few acacia seeds off the ground at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Springs, California. About a month ago I decided to give them a shot in the germination trays, and they did not disappoint. Every seed germinated within about 4 days, surprising me. One species, which I was able to identify as Acacia confusa, is growing quickly and have gotten me a little worried that I may run out of room for them. Their thorns are pleasant to look at, as are their pale green leaves, but I wonder how much room I will have over the winter when I will likely need to protect them from the rain. My neighbors have some really impressive and healthy Cordyline australis that are about 8 feet tall and live unprotected and completely exposed to the weather, so I’m not without hope that I can keep these acacias alive over the winter. The weather in southern California and western Washington is very different, however with a bit of careful planning I think I may able to make it work.

The other species of acacia is a mystery to me. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the seeds before I germinated them, and the advantage of identifying them from seeds is now lost. The seeds were very flat, about 1/2 inch (1cm) in diameter, light tan in color, and had a very distinctive “U” pattern in the center of the seed that was very dark brown in color. Honestly, it looked exactly like a smiley face emoji without the eyes. The seeds have germinated into some very interesting trees. They are very thorny, with short distances between leaf nodes, and have begun to swell at the base of the trunk. It seems like a strictly arid tree, and I am planning on keeping them inside the house below 40 degrees. I hope they do well in a pot.

acacia seedlings
Acacia? Yes. Beyond that, I don’t know.

While I was in Palm Springs, I naturally did a little bit of exploring. That included exploring the local nurseries. One nursery that I visited was nice enough to let me try my hand at collecting and germinating their cactus seeds. Mariscal Cactus & Succulents is a great nursery with lots of incredible plants, and quite a few cactus were in bloom and fruiting while I was there. I was only able to find a single fruit from their large selection of Cereus peruvianus, but luckily each “apple” contains quite a few seeds.

cereus peruvianus seedlings
Of the 50 seeds that I tried, about 45 germinated. That’s a Cereus amount of spines…

There are plenty of C peruvianus that have started to grow differently that I had anticipated. Some have grown like the classic double armed look that we all associate with the giant Saguaro. Many have become crested right off the bat. I wonder if they’ll continue to grow like that as they get larger. Time will tell. Maybe in another 3 months I’ll have cactus large enough to photograph properly, and then I can put the effort in to light them with little less pink/purple saturation. Then we can really look at the Cereus, Pilosocereus, Cleistocactus, Ferocactus and Agave species that I’ve got growing!

2 thoughts on “Seedlings, seedlings and more seedlings…

  1. Hi Justin. Hopefully your neighbour’s Cordylines will always remain trouble-free, so perhaps the Acacias will follow suit as they seem to grow well in similar climes, as far as I can make out.
    I and most other gardeners in the UK have grown Cordyline Australis here for more than 150 years in all parts of the country without any problems. Here in the south of England, which can have cold winters with temperatures down to minus 10c (14f), snow, long bouts of cold, soggy rain and as many as 100 frosts each year the Cordylines can almost be heard laughing, and they are especially popular in all British seaside holiday resorts where their tolerance of strong winds makes them ideal – and in massive abundance around our balmiest, least frosty counties, Devon and Cornwall, the Cordylines continue growing all year round. Sometimes the wonderful scent from the strong Cordyline flowers pervades large areas on still, cool days at any time of year, and after each flowering the branch divides into two or three. In New Zealand the trees are very tall with a good spread – regularly 60′ tall and 40′ wide. Long stretches of road are lined with them, and it’s a wonderful sight for us Cordyline lovers.
    Underneath most Cordylines, wherever they are growing, you will see, from time to time, a profusion of little grass-like seedlings growing away merrily. They are best removed and protected for the first couple of winters. They quickly grow long tap roots so at any age need careful transplanting and deep, well-drained holes of good soil to really get them to grow away quickly.
    The seeds are easy to germinate, and you quickly learn to differentiate between them and the inevitable blades of grass in seed trays. Some say that removing the black, beetle-shell coating assists speedy germination.
    Mature plants are often ‘pollarded’ and multiple shoots quickly sprout from below the wound.
    We are often pleased to see new varieties arriving in nurseries, like the lovely gaudy pink and red ones that have various imaginative marketing names like Torbay Dazzler Pink Passion and Electric Pink, or the dark chocolate coloured ones such as Black Knight. Along with the dark brown/black versions they are invariably far less hardy and rarely survive our winters, especially when young, so along with the absolutely breath-taking C. Indivisa – no photo could do it justice – they can only venture out from around April till November, although places like The Lost Gardens Of Heligan in Cornwall are blessed with such gentle weather that they stay planted outside all year round. Indivisa are horrible plants to try to grow as they have secret rules that only after decades of trial and error start to become less hazy. These rules vary, just to make sure we don’t get confident, and plants will suddenly, inexplicably expire. But as the plant grows older it becomes slightly less pernickety, and when they are about 10′ tall the heart-stopping spectacle of many very broad, intricately marked, strappy, alien planet-like leaves seems to make you forget the anxiety and misery suffered arriving at that point. If you buy a youngster – say around 12″ tall, don’t get too attached to it. Nature has decreed that they will be a rare sight, and us mortals have little or no control over that. Nature ensures we can never sit back on our laurels, so to speak.

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    1. Thank you David! That is so true, and that is also why I enjoy doing this so much. It sounds like you are a fan of Cordylines too. Some day I plan on visiting the UK and I’m sure I’ll be reminded of New Zealand, with all of those Cordylines!

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