Seedlings stand test of time

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

ONE of our most spec­tac­u­lar camel­lias is grow­ing con­tent­edly in the dap­pled shade of a weep­ing rose­bud cherry mounted on to a 2m stan­dard.

It is an un­named seedling of a beau­ti­ful C. retic­u­lata “Crim­son Robe”.

Ev­ery year dur­ing Au­gust and Septem­ber, this seedling be­comes to­tally cov­ered with enor­mous deep pink fl ow­ers. In fact, they are so big and heavy they weigh the slen­der branches down al­most to the ground.

Last week I hap­pened to be walk­ing past this beau­ti­ful camel­lia. It is now en­ter­ing a semi­dor­mant stage for win­ter and al­ready cov­ered with fat fl ower buds. Then I no­ticed the huge seed cap­sules. All were as big as or­anges and when I lifted one to take a closer look, it vir­tu­ally fell into my hand, a clear in­di­ca­tion it was fully ripe.

Most camel­lias pro­duce the round seed cap­sules and most are packed with vi­able seeds, ideal for pro­duc­ing ex­cel­lent plants at vir­tu­ally no cost. How­ever, when it comes to ob­tain­ing strong ger­mi­na­tion we must act quickly.

Most camel­lias pro­duce the round seed cap­sules and most are packed with

vi­able seeds, ideal for pro­duc­ing ex­cel­lent plants

at vir­tu­ally no cost

’The seeds should be ex­tracted while still slightly moist and sown im­me­di­ately into a pas­teurised seedling- rais­ing com­post – not pot­ting soil – and are avail­able fairly cheaply at most gar­den cen­tres. If left to dry out, camel­lia seeds lock- up and are hard to ger­mi­nate.

Ex­tra- fresh, moist seeds en­sure a high ger­mi­na­tion rate, es­pe­cially if seedling trays are given gen­tle warmth. I put trays on top of our hot- wa­ter cylin­der, with in­su­lat­ing card­board wedged be­neath to pre­vent over- heat­ing. Seedlings will pop up in about three weeks and must be un­der bright, dif­fused light.

In­ter­est­ingly, the fl ow­ers of seedling camel­lias are dif­fer­ent from those of the mother plant – but bear a sig­nifi cant re­sem­blance.

Luck­ily, al­most all are sur­pris­ingly at­trac­tive and the re­ally good news is that seedling plants grow with ex­cep­tional vigour.

All seedlings of any plants are vari­able. Those raised from hy­brids can be dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from each other. Even seedlings from species of sil­ver birch, liq­uidambar or eu­ca­lyp­tus, al­though show­ing a close fam­ily sim­i­lar­ity, still pro­duce dis­cernible dif­fer­ences in leaf shape, vigour and even au­tumn colour­ing.

When the fi rst Euro­pean set­tlers ar­rived here, many had no choice but to im­port seeds of camel­lias and other ex­otic favourites rather than plants. We can still fi nd many of these early seedling trees grow­ing in old Tas­ma­nian gar­dens and parks.

Many years ago, I was as­ton­ished to see a row of gi­ant- sized Ja­panese camel­lia trees in an old gar­den near Devon­port. I re­call dis­cussing them with a lovely lady who re­mem­bered ger­mi­nat­ing im­ported camel­lia seeds and plant­ing the seedlings in 1910.

Ev­ery Au­gust these mas­sive, 20m trees were cov­ered in fl ow­ers, each tree pro­duc­ing dif­fer­ently shades of pink or red in sin­gle or dou­ble blooms.

Seedlings must al­ways dif­fer from mother plants be­cause of cross- pol­li­na­tion. When people am­bi­tiously sow pips from par­tic­u­larly tasty ap­ples or pears, or stones saved from favourite peaches, apri­cots and other stone­fruit, they are usu­ally dis­ap­pointed with the re­sults. Gen­er­ally the fruit is in­fe­rior and of lit­tle value, al­though very rarely, fruit of out­stand­ing fl avour, size and colour comes from seedlings.

There have been many ac­ci­den­tal suc­cesses. The fa­mous “Bram­ley’s Seedling” ap­ple came from a pip sown by an eightyear- old girl 300 years ago. “Granny Smith” orig­i­nated from a chance seedling grow­ing in a Syd­ney sub­urb in 1868.

Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is part of gar­den­ing. Our own gar­den con­tains many out­stand­ing plants in­clud­ing camel­lias, a collection of un­usual birch trees, a rare Mex­i­can spruce ( Picea chi­huahuana) with gor­geous fo­liage, a heavy­bear­ing pineap­ple guava ( Acca sel­l­owiana) and count­less Ja­panese wa­ter irises, all grown from seed. An­other mar­vel­lous, fas­ci­nat­ing way to ob­tain ex­tra plants, at vir­tu­ally no cost.

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