Monday, October 26, 2015

Saving Seeds - Phylica

Phylica Plumosa
Phylica are a genus of plants that mostly come from South Africa.  They occur in the shrubby heathland of the western Cape region known as Fynbos.  I have been growing two different varieties of Phylica for a few years now and I love them.   

Phylica Plumosa
The shrubs that are covered in fine hairs and when they flower, the hairs catch the sunlight and seem to glow.  This variety is Phylica Plumosa, characterised by a greenish tinge with light flowers, and sometimes called Green Phylica.  The other variety I grow is Phylica Pubescens which is known as Golden Phylica.  It has a yellowy green appearance and is more hairy on the leaves as well as the flowers.  Both are really spectacular in late winter when they flower.  

Phylica Plumosa in flower
A close up of the "flowers" reveal that there are tiny little flowers tucked in at the base of the feathery, showy bracts.  Phylica are sometimes called Featherhead, and its easy to see why.  

Phylica Plumosa flowers
My plants have been getting older and less productive.   I just LOVE them though, so after searching the web for a supplier of new plants and not finding anyone who could provide them, I decided to do some propagating of my own. 

When in full bloom, the Phylica bushes are swarming with busy, happy bees.  They go from flower to flower and pollinate them.  I have to hold myself back from cutting all the flowers to use!  It's for a good cause.

Phylica Plumosa seed heads
After the flowers are spent, the bracts close around them and those that have been pollinated begin to swell with seeds.  

Phylica Plumosa seed head nearly ready to harvest
Brushing aside some of the bracts, you can see seed pods starting to darken.  The seed heads are ready to harvest in November/December, once they change to a dark brown. The seeds are attractive to ants so its good to check regularly and make sure you get to them first.  Alternatively, cover the flower heads with a little organza pouch and tie them gently closed.  A physical barrier helps to keep them safe until you can harvest them.

I take the entire flower head, which pops off easily, and leave them to dry a little in a paper bag.  

When they've dried out, you can see the seed pods are sectioned into thirds.  Not every section will contain a seed.

Squeezing the pod between your fingers, the sections break apart and if fertilised, will reveal a plump black shiny seed.  Shrivelled or light brown seeds are no good. I have found that the seed stays viable for many years.  I had surprising success in germinating seed that was 6 years old.

The seeds have little "caps" called elaiosomes.  It is these appendages which attract the ants to the seed. They can break off without damaging the seed.
I soaked my seeds overnight in warm water first and had good success with this.  They seem to have a toughish outer casing so the soaking softened up the seeds ready for germination. All the viable seeds sank to the bottom, and I threw out the one or two that floated.

I sowed my seeds in a shallow tray in a mixture of seed raising mix and coarse river sand. The tray was put in a warm sunny position on a north facing windowsill.  From the little information I had been able to find to read regarding germinating these seeds, it was thought that they would take 4 - 6 weeks.  My experience was that they took a little longer than that.  But once they started to sprout, the germination rate was good.  My advice if you were to try your own seedlings would be to continue to look after them until they start to germinate, even if it takes 2 months or more.  Keep them moist, warm and sheltered.

Once they were past the cotyledon stage I potted them up into little pots.  Their roots spread quickly and they began to grow tall - ready for pinching out the tips.  

Phylica Plumosa
I'm looking forward to planting these out into the field next winter, so I can continue to enjoy using these striking and unusual flowers.  Its such a satisfying thing to harvest and raise your own seeds!

Wedding Boutonniere using Phylica Plumosa, Gumnuts, Berzelia, Kangaroo paw and eucalyptus foliage