Friday, May 7, 2010

Cat's eyes: Hellebore's in seed

I was puttering around the garden when I noticed some odd looking things on one of the hellebore's leaves:

At first I thought they could be pest eggs, or little cocoons, but after they rolled right off the leaf into my hand I knew I had my mini-gold mine:  hellebore seeds!

They are surprisingly pretty, like gray cat's eyes, little gems  or black freshwater pearls.  If they didn't eventually turn into hellebores, I'd want to turn them into beads and make lovely drop earrings with them.  If, also hellebores didn't take forever to go to seed (at least to me) wouldn't these make great freshwater pearl substitutes?! (Except the seeds seems to lose water and get a bit shrivel-y like which is less attractive.)

(I like how they are next to my wedding band... though the colors aren't so good here in the pic,  I think they're prettier than diamonds)

(My postman, who was coming by at that time admired them and said they reminded him of "some awesome tempered steel," to which I replied was "very romantic." :)  He grinned and said he was more of a mechanical guy!)

I am sad to say, that while I have heard that hellebores self seed, I think, as the bed they were in is full of other things, I might have been pulling up little seedlings in the past years.

D'OH. (actual dictionary word now!)

Either way, now I have seeds, fresh ones that I can sow in their own happy little pots so I will know what a hellebore seedling looks like in real life (and not just on the internet if I so care to research it).  I know that this will be a red hellebore (more pink/mauve if I say so).  I do somewhat lust after the other colors and would like to cross my hellebores with my neighbor's, who has done nothing with his and didn't even know what they were (his mother planted them).  Mystery colors, that's what I want!

(Hellebore flower+bee=seeds! and now sad and dried out looking open pods)

To help me with propagating my gems, I turn to my trusty The American Horticultural Society book, Plant Propagation, edited by the nearly unbelievable gentleman's name, Alan Toogood. (A gift many Christmases ago by my wonderful sister in law).

In summary:
-sow fresh seed immediately as old dry seeds can be spotty in germination
-seed may need a winter to break dormancy
-will germinate in autumn or spring, and flower after 2-3 years.

Unfortunately, not many more details.  Hurray for the internet!  Of course there'd be a a society for hellebores!

Being a bit more specific, they suggest sowing under a quarter inch of soil (pretty much the 3-4 seed depth rule), will need to be stratified (aka, just let it sit outside for some seasons and wait), cite that it might take up to 6-18 months for germination and potentially take 3-4 years for flowering (bummer).

I wonder if I might be able to induce germination by freezing seeds for a day or two (works well with nasturtiums I have found).  I'll probably try that with a few of the seeds just as an experiment.  A couple of pots just sitting in the same area and conditions that the current hellebore is in, one with just fresh sown seed which will just sit around and be naturally stratified, the other pot with some previously frozen seed.  Of course, the problem with forcing the seeds to germinate early like that is that it will be forced to fend through the summer.  Oh, my curiosity can be cruel, sorry seedlings!

I'll update you (in 6-18 months apparently) if anything crops up and I don't forget about the pots :)