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  • Karma Glos

Seed Passion

By Karma Glos

That each seed is a magical packet of life is not in doubt.  That each seed promises a food, a flower, or a medicine is outstanding!  Every time I collect seeds, I preserve that plant’s future, yet I generally do it with wild abandon.  I am not a sophisticated plant breeder or a disciplined seed collector; I am a rogue pollen mover and impulsive fruit collector.  I have been randomly crossing passion flowers for years.  I have been opportunistically harvesting seeds from miraculously pollinated rare succulents in my conservatory whenever possible.  The magic of propagating all these exotic plants from warm climates from cuttings, pups, and seeds is endlessly incredible and a little addictive.

An important part of our current farm diversity is the production of houseplants and passion flowers.  I propagate all these plants from my own mother plants - certified organic stock in certified organic greenhouses.  Producing certified organic houseplants seemed natural since they share our home, and their production impacts the environment just like food plants do.  Maintaining the mother plants and producing seed has many challenges, but interacting with the plants so extensively expands my knowledge of each plant I sell.  I grow everything I sell, giving me insight I share with my customers.  It’s a very intimate relationship.

Passion Flower
Passion Flower

My primary effort in hybridizing and seed production has been with passion flowers.  I generally have at least 20 species/varieties of passion flowers in my greenhouse during the growing season.  I actively cross certain plants that might produce interesting hybrids and pray for fruit.  This rather random method has resulted in a few hybrids of interest.  My favorite is a large white flower with a purple corona, Passiflora X ‘Paloma.’  Messing with the pollination of Passiflora ciliata has also resulted in some interesting selections.  Easily pollinated passion flowers like Passiflora ciliata provide plenty of new seed each year.  Seed grown passion flowers that flower the first year are much easier to produce than plants from cuttings and much easier to sell than species that may take years to flower.  These species allow me to sell inexpensive “annual” passion flowers for the garden that produce well in one season, similar to morning glories, and highly satisfying to the customer.  Hybrids, or species that do not flower the first year from seed, are better propagated from cuttings.  Cuttings are the same “age” as the mother plant and thus can flower in the first year if I start them early enough, in mid-winter.  The challenge with cuttings though is that they take more effort, are less reliably productive, and require me to keep mature mother plants year-round.  To reduce the number of giant mother plants, I must over-winter, I grow from seed as much as possible.  

Producing fruit on passion flowers and other tropical plants in my collection can be rare and often completely mysterious.   Some of my passion flowers are readily pollinated by our native insects and others never get pollinated even though they are regularly visited by a variety of insects.  Most passion flowers are self-incompatible and must be cross-pollinated, so a greenhouse full of them has a much better chance of producing any fruit.  Our native passion flowers, Passiflora incarnata and Passiflora lutea, are readily pollinated by native insects and produce fruit well in our climate.  The tropical varieties are much more difficult even when I move pollen around manually, but often yield some interesting results.  I harvest ripe passion fruits throughout the season for seed saving.  Sometimes, I carefully guard a precious fruit on a rare plant until ripeness, only to find it void of seeds upon opening.

Passion flowers often produce blank fruit, and I can usually tell by weight, but sometimes I’m fooled into pampering an empty vessel.  Ripe fruits with seeds are processed while fresh. Big, juicy, edible fruits are processed the traditional way by making a cocktail.  I press the fleshy seeds in a sieve, harvest the precious juice, and toast to another successful season.  It’s important to rub all the flesh from the seeds before drying; a paper towel is usually coarse enough without damaging the seed.  I store dry seed in the refrigerator to keep them fresh and potentially vernalize varieties that need it.  Some varieties only germinate when fresh, while others last a few years.  I sow long-season plants in early February and hope to have them blooming by July.  Sowing even earlier would be advantageous, but I don’t start my propagation greenhouse before then.  

Starting seeds like passion flowers and other rare plants is often complicated, making starting vegetable seeds seem like child’s play.  Some need special treatment, while others just like to wait, hiding in the soil for weeks or months.  All of this is part of the fun, and I’m always thankful when the seedlings finally present themselves.  Snow will be piled against the greenhouse glass, and robust passion flower seedlings will unfurl in their channel trays.  Growing these marvelous plants in the cold hills of upstate New York is truly amazing!

Karma Glos has run Kingbird Farm in Richford, NY with her family, Michael and Rosemary, for over twenty years.  They produce a diverse array of certified organically raised meats, produce, and plants.

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