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Teaching this week: Biting the bullet: when to be brave, and to rip out existing garden features, in a garden which is not giving the owner any joy!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Germinating Monkey Puzzle: how to grow Araucaria araucana from seed.

"First, collect your seed..."

Back in August of last year, a kind friend gave me a dozen enormous Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle tree) seeds: they are fully 2" long, probably the biggest seeds I have ever seen.

Having done a little internet research, I decided to germinate them using the ice-cream tub method, so I filled an old ice cream tub with clean new compost, nicely dampened but not soggy,  and pushed all 12 seeds into the compost, point first. I then lay the lid on top - but leaving it loose, not clipping it on - put the tub in front of the window, and let it get on with it.

Apparently the idea is to check every week or so by gently lifting one or two of the seeds, to see if they were germinating; if not, to gently replace them in their socket. 

I did this as per instructions, week after week after week, until finally, in, in mid November, hooray!

You can just see that the new root is starting to split the outer cover of the seed.

This means that the seed has successfully germinated, and can now be potted on individually.

Two weeks later, another two had started to produce a root, so they were likewise potted up, and I kept all of them indoors (as it was winter!), planning to put them outside in late spring, once everything has warmed up.

By the end of December, a fourth one was growing well,  and in early January a fifth one was ready to be potted up individually.

Meanwhile, the first three to be potted up were producing a tiny bundle of leaves at the base.

As you can see, there is still a large green stem going into the seed case:  I had assumed that these trees grew like sweet peas - once the case splits off, larger leaves unfold.

However, even though they are all making this strong-looking little sprout at the base, they all still having the thick green stem going into the seed. Is the little sprout the new tree? Or will the seed case yet split open? Ah, the joys of germination.


Being of an inquisitive mind, I cut one of the seeds open at the top, to see if it was now just an empty case, but to my horror it was still a tightly-packed white, fleshy mass. Eek! Have I killed that seedling? Luckily, it does not seem to have noticed, and it is now the largest of the five early ones.

Here's a close-up view of the chopped-off top of the seed, you can see the inner mass is shrinking away from the sides of the seed, but it is still firm, and is certainly not shrivelled up and dead-looking.

So should they be cut off? Are they essential to the seedling? How long will the seedlings need them?

There were no answers to be found on the internet (I can't be the only person to do this, surely?), so, putting aside these concerns, winter continued, and I continued to check the seeds in tub from time to time, and yesterday I found that another one had put out a root, so that makes 6: 50% germination!

As you can see - left - the first ones to germinate are growing strongly and are 4" high: that's the new one, the light brown one in the middle, which does not have any green growth as yet. It has about 3" of thick fleshy root, but of course that is under the soil.

Of the remaining six seeds, at least two of them are showing signs of swelling and splitting, so I am expecting a couple more successes - but I am beginning to think that six might be enough, as they are going to take up a lot of space!

Already, even at this size, the leaves are strongly spined and sharp to the touch.

And as for the "should I chop off the seed pod" debate, well,  I observed the following:

... yes, one of the strongly-growing ones is finally showing a shrivelled-up seed stem, so it clearly no longer needs the seed.

It therefore seems likely that it is best to leave the seed joined by the green stem until such time as the stem goes brown, at which time it can safely be removed.

Maybe, if one more germinates, I will sever the seed stem as soon as the plant produces some proper leaves, and see if it has any effect on the growth of the seedling.

Don't you just love botany! 


 

 

 

 

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16 comments:

  1. Outstanding post Rachel! I've been trying for 2 years to get these to grow (6 different batches from all different sources), and I'm finding that the overwhelming majority of seeds you find on the internet are not viable. Out of ~200 seeds, I got 1 to start sprouting. In my impatience, I "helped" the poor little guy along by cutting off the slumped over seed hull. That did not go well...turns out it's a little nutritional drop tank, so be patient and let it shrivel up on its own! As you noted, there is little to no info out there on how to grow these.

    I finally got a batch of real-live actual "fresh" seeds from a supplier in the UK, and I got 78 of 100 to sprout...now I have too many! I am at the point of slumped over seed hulls, and I read your post. I will just leave them be! Thanks again.

    Joe

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  2. Hi Joe, I'm happy to be of help, and well done, you!

    As for what to do with the excess - well, I gave some of them away and sold the others at £5 a time ("nice little earner" as they say) although you have to sell them while they are still quite small, as they are very difficult to pack.

    But at least they grow quite slowly at first!

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  3. Where can I get seeds to try this? My tree died a few years ago and they are too expensive to buy when they get bigger. I would love to start one from a seed.

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    Replies
    1. Hi there,

      Try eBay, there are dozens of listings there.

      Properly speaking, they should not be selling seeds without supplying a Plant Passport....

      For the best results, go through the listings to find a seller who is as close to you as possible: that way, the seeds will be from a tree which you know will thrive in your local environment.

      If possible, go and collect the seeds, then you can check for yourself that they are plump, viable seeds. Don't accept any that are dark, dried-looking, and weigh nothing at all.

      Never, ever buy seed from abroad, particularly from China!

      Good luck with the germination!

      Rachel

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    2. I got mine from plant world seeds I put them in propagator on the 13/10/2020 I have just looked again 14/12/2020 and two out of four seeds have germinated. I collected some myself in October from Daywick botanical gardens in Scotland ( they had fallen from tree)
      I put those in propagator but obviously Due to impatience I didn't leave them Long enough.
      I have now put some back in propagator.

      Delete
  4. I would just like to say, as a general comment, not aimed at anyone, honest:

    Collecting seeds from a paid-entry garden is probably against their rules.

    And collecting seeds from public parks has an unclear legal status.

    So, if you do choose to harvest seeds from public gardens, take care not to take too many, not to damage the tree/plant, and if you can see gardening staff at work in the area, go and ask them for permission, first.

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  5. this is awesome. thanks for posting. i just planted a bunch of seeds but i think they werent viable, they were nowehere near as plump looking as your seeds :( and if youre on the west coast of Oregon, I know a guy with a lovely female tree who is willing to let you collect as many seeds as you like!!!

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    1. HI Paul, I do think that plumpness of the seeds is a big part of getting them to germinate well.. but you never know, so fingers crossed for your batch!
      If you don't have any success this time, try again - and next time, look for the plumpest seeds you can find. I was lucky, in that mine were given to me by a friend with a Monkey Puzzle tree, who had collected freshly fallen ones for me. I think that, if "one" has to buy them, you don't know how old they are, how fresh they are. So the best way to get good fresh seed is definitely to find someone local to yourself that has one, and ask them if you can collect some seed. That way, you can pick the plumpest ones, and the owner should know what time of year they start shedding seeds: in the UK, that's Sept/October.
      Plus, if the tree is local, then you know that it is already accustomed to your climate, so there is a better chance of germination.
      Meanwhile, Patience, Paul!

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  6. Got seeds from Ireland more than 10 of 18 sprouted in two weeks must have been very fresh used bottom heat pad and cheap fluorescent grow light

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    Replies
    1. That's a great start!

      If you have patience, the remaining eight may yet sprout as well: as mentioned above, some were fast, others took a little longer.

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  7. Hi Rachel, have you done a follow up from this article? i sown 16 seeds i got from ebay last year and popped them in the airing cupboard and have since had 10 of those to germinate. They are all on the kitchen windowsill now and I was wondering if you had any advice on caring for them until they are able to be planted outside (i only want to give to family and friends when they will be big enough to survive outside in their gardens). I have looked on the internet and there does not seem to be any advice on what to do with them once they have germinated!!! Thank you for your article - I wish I had read this before i pulled off the seed heads on some of mine - the rest I will be leaving until that connecting stem goes brown!

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    1. Hi Ellie,

      I've written about Monkey Puzzle trees a couple of times: if you look at the very top left of the screen, there's a "Search" box. If you type Monkey in there, you'll get a list of them.

      But I don't think I specifically covered aftercare: in a nutshell (a monkey-nut-shell, ha! ha!), keep them growing indoors until early summer - June time, or so - then put them outside. Let them grow on through the summer, and by the following winter, they'll be tough enough to take outdoor life. If you think yours are still a bit small, by that first winter, then push them all together, and drape something like horticultural fleece over them, as frost protection. But conifers are tough! So they shouldn't need any protection.

      I rehomed all of mine during that summer: some went into containers, some went into the ground, in their final positions: some I simply sold off, so I have no idea what happened to them.

      As for "when" should you rehome them: I planted mine out when they were about, ooh, no more than 6" high. If you are worried, then hang on to them through next winter, and pot them on, as they grow: so by the following spring, they should be really quite nice, strong, little trees.

      Just remember, those leaves are devilishly prickly, right from the start!

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  8. thank you so much for your advice!

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  9. Brilliant article. Thankyou for the advice. I've just received 5 seeds and have followed your instructions. Fingers crossed...

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    Replies
    1. You're most welcome - they are such fun to grow!

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