Monday, March 17, 2008

Germinating Giants

(Originally Posted November 16, 2007 on MySpace)
I have had an astounding success that I feel like I need to share with everyone! If you’ve been following along with the blog for a while, you’re already familiar with one of my favorite tropical plants, Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Strain’. I bought my original plant from my buddy Robert Wilson at the now-defunct Gum Tree Farm in Hermitage, TN. They had SUCH cool stuff!!! But anyway…..

Walking around my “nursery” area one afternoon in September I noticed the distinct odor of ripening fruit. Much to my surprise, one of the pods that I had been keeping an eye on on the giant colocasia had fallen over and was exuding a quite pleasant “come and find me” sort of fruity fragrance. I investigated and found the inside of the pod to be full of translucent “berries”, each of which was in turn absolutely and completely loaded with seeds that were smaller than the head of a pin. I was convinced that these seeds probably were underdeveloped and wouldn’t germinate, but also knew that I couldn’t let the opportunity escape, so I turned to the internet to see what I could find out about the germination of Colocasia gigantea.

The information was limited, at best, but I did find a few references to the fact that the seed needed to be sowed immediately, while it was still fresh, and never allowed to dry out. If the seed dried out, they said, you may never get it to germinate. It also said the seeds germinated best at temperatures over 80 degrees. Had the seed ripened a month earlier, I would have been set, but we had FINALLY had a much-needed break in the temperatures and as much as I was personally enjoying it, I felt these tropical seeds would not. So I set about “squishing” the tiny seeds out of their berries and rubbing them between paper towels to get as much of the gelatinous membrane off of them as possible. There were hundreds (possibly thousands) of little seeds sticking to the paper towels, so I scraped them up with a butter knife (so technical, I know) and mixed them with a few tablespoons of finely sieved seed starting mix so that they would separate and not all be stuck together.

Next, I sowed them on the surface of several small flats, dusted over the top of them VERY lightly with some additional seedling mix, carefully misted them until they were good and damp and then set them to germinating on the heating pad that use for my back when it flares up (again, very technical, I know) set on the lowest setting and with a kitchen towel folded in half to buffer the heat. All I could do now was wait and hope for the best. For the first few days there was no action at all, but on about the 7th day I swore that the little seeds looked like they were beginning to swell a little. Sure enough! By day 10 I had tiny little elephant ears beginning to emerge–and they emerged, and emerged, and emerged! I swear that every seed I sowed must have germinated twice!

It’s almost 2 months later now and so far, so good. My house runs very cool in the fall and winter, so they’re not growing very quickly, but they are still alive and I have lost very, very few so far. I noticed this week that a good many of the seedlings are now beginning to put out their first true leaf–tiny, but growing nonetheless. I’ve decide I may have to rig a small greenhouse for them on the kitchen counter to keep them warmer and more humid. We’ll see. But for now, I’m the proud papa of about seven or eight hundred elephant ears, each of which may grow 8-10 feet tall with a 12-15 foot spread. I think I’d better start looking for more land!

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