In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2009
Regional Report

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Angelwing begonia seed sprout readily, but are finer than dust.

Flowers and Seeds

Often the first gardening experience a person has is to plant seeds, and the absolute wonder of watching a tiny speck become a full-sized plant never ebbs.

Starting Tiny Seeds
The first seeds most people handle are big, like beans, corn, and morning glories. But some seeds are tiny, and starting them is often frustrating. For impatiens, begonias, petunias, and other truly tiny seeds, try this: Recycle a plastic food container with a clear dome. Clean it very well, including a dip in a 1:10 bleach:water solution. Soak a piece of oasis floral foam in water and set it into the bottom part of the container. Use your hands to crush a clump of milled sphagnum moss into dust and sprinkle that on top of the foam. Sow seed there, and finish with another dusting of the sphagnum moss. Milled sphagnum is available where houseplant supplies are sold. Cover the foam block with the clear top of the recycled plastic and place it in bright light, but not direct sunlight. Keep the top on until the seeds sprout, allowing it to stand ajar at least daily to ventilate and prevent condensation from building up inside. Do not allow the foam to dry out; mist with a hand sprayer occasionally. Once the seedlings have sprouted their first set of true leaves (a small set of "seed leaves" emerges first), cut each one out in a small chunk of foam and move it up to a suitable pot for growing on.

How Seeds are Produced
Reproduction of plants by seeds requires both of the traditional components, male and female. The different plant parts may be obvious (think hibiscus blooms) or so subtle that no one can figure out which is which, like streptocarpus. Male flowers produce pollen, females receive it and when the union is successful, viable seeds are produced. Sometimes the flowers are complete, and both sexes are present in the same flower. Such plants are called self-pollinating, and their seed will "come true." That means the child will be the same as the parent in the majority of cases. Other species bear male and female flowers separately on the same plant and the two get together with the help of gravity, roaming insects, and, occasionally, people. Still others bear the sexes on separate plants, such as mayhaw. The male flower's anthers must release their pollen and travel to the female at the same time that the ovary is mature to accept it. Insects, birds, and mammals assist with transport, as well as wind and sometimes water.

Flower Forms
Botanically speaking, flowers are complex adapted stems. The beautiful flowers we prize are adaptations to attract pollinators and the flowers are constructed to conduct its processes, all to produce future generations. Considering the diversity of flower forms, their colors and arrangements of parts, plus the natural combinations that must converge for pollination to succeed, it's amazing any seeds are ever produced!


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