is it worth it to grow from seed?

greentoe357August 13, 2014

My thinking on the merits of growing from seeds evolved over some months. I started with zero interest because of:

(1) the much longer time you had to wait for seeds to develop into blooming size plants, compared to cuttings,

(2) the variations of plant features, vs. predictability of what you get with cuttings,

(2a) sort of related to the previous one, is a difficulty of trading cuttings from seedlings, vs. clearer-identified cuttings-grown plants, because most people will probably prefer something they can google pics of to something they can't,

(3) unpredictable germination rates and generally much lower success rates with seeds vs. cuttings. This one is especially tough when space is limited. One germinated seed is too few, and three or more are too many because growing them to flowering requires space that other (more diverse!) plants can occupy instead. I am exaggerating here, but barely.

Then a couple of "just pay postage" opportunities came, and I tried it. The satisfaction and excitement at seeing those tiny seedlings pop up, grow and change are actually a significant advantage for me, it turns out.

The latest mental pro and con calculation was prompted by Aleya's advertising seeds on facebook. It went, as it often does, like this:

Hoya seeds collected by ALEYAGARDEN on 12 August : 10 $ per pack, more than 12 seeds per pack ( sometimes much more ) ; the minimum of sale is 20 $ including air letter. Please add 3$ for an optional registration. Contact [email address], first mail in at this address is first served:
12 August Hoya rosita
12 August Hoya padangensis
12 August Hoya acuta
12 August Hoya sulawesi
12 August Hoya parasitica x pachyclada
12 August Hoya bilobata
12 August Hoya callistophyllla long leaves
12 August Hoya Waterfall Bangpla, Phang Nga
(I removed the email address, so that it's not a blatant advertising).

Padangensis and callystophylla are on my wish list, so I was considering getting them. But then I see one is readily available as cutting for the same $10 (well, plus shipping), and either can probably be found even cheaper if I massage my list of hoya friends. $20 might not make or break anybody, but I wonder how you guys think about this. I guess just like with cuttings, Thai vendors are good for species/cultivars that cannot be obtained closer to home? What else is on your mind when you think of growing from seed?

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I have now raised three different species of Hoyas from seed to blooming maturity. In my opinion it is not really worth the effort other than the challenge of being able to say you did it.

The easy part is the germination, and then tiny mistakes will kill lots of seedlings in a hurry. Cuttings are a known quantity; you know exactly what you will get. I just spent 2 1/2 years raising a seedling from a publicalyx 'Purple Hybrid' and the results were extremely disappointing. It reverted to a carnosa, and not even a good one at that - the flowers open extremely poorly.

If you have lots of space and time on your hands, growing Hoyas from seed can be fun to experiment with, but personally it is no longer worth the effort for myself.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 8:24AM
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I think Doug brings up some excellent points. With this hobby, you need to be cognizant of which aspects you most enjoy, then prioritize prioritize prioritize. Otherwise you end up wasting time and resources on projects you will later scrap.

Growing Hoyas from seed uses up a lot of space, requires a lot of checking-in, and results in plants that are (usually) of limited trade value. To me it makes perfect sense that Doug, who specializes in blooming Hoyas, and painstakingly sharing his strategies and photography, would have little time to monkey around with seeds.

On the other side of things, growing from seed is quite interesting to me, and I'll explain why. For me, growing Hoyas is less about raising champion plants, and more about learning about the genus as a whole. I have a big collection because I want to see as many representatives as possible and explore their characteristics and adaptations. That's also why I like to obtain multiple collections of the same plant. It's interesting to me how it has developed differently in different locations. I probably won't ever approach proper scholarship, but I have an academic mindset and would like to understand more about what these differences imply. Therefore, raising seedlings is another fun data set to play around with and learn from.

So, if I were going to make a beer analogy, Doug would be the brewer, and I would be the geek hitting microbreweries and posting on

That said, now that I'm moving and will have more space, I am going to take a big page out of Doug's book, set up a more intensive grow space and push my plants a little harder.

So far no luck on my Aleya seeds germinating, so it's been a bit of a wasted investment this time around. That's not to say I wouldn't try again, but I would definitely save my trials for species that were maximally interesting to me, so the gamble is worth it.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 10:53AM
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You both are confirming my developing understanding of this. Basically, seedlings can turn out to be better than either of the parents, but because a lot of growers with much more space, better environment, more patience and knowledge have been doing it for a long time - in addition to natural selection that has also been doing it for millions of years, of course - what are MY chances really? And if my seedlings are unlikely to be superior to the parent species or cultivars, then what is the point of the whole exercise exactly, when instead I can simply buy their cuttings, thankyouverymuch?

Well, the fun of it would be the point, but I am glad I still have this realistic understanding - then seed growing scope will be very limited, to basically absolutely top-of-the-wish-list species, or those hard to otherwise obtain or whatever. GG, you mentioned understanding the species. For me, reading what the plants are telling me is a big part of the interest (we may be talking about the same thing, or maybe not - I am not sure). And because seedlings can tell me interesting things that cuttings and other plants cannot, then that's a legit reason to grow from seeds as well.

> So far no luck on my Aleya seeds germinating, so it's been a bit of a wasted investment this time around.

Yeah, my germination rates a couple of times I've tried are nothing to write home about. I have a feeling I'll try some of those Aleya seeds though when they have an interesting seed pod bursting - 2 interesting seed pods, actually, because of the minimum order sizes.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 3:08PM
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Yeah, we are talking about the same thing, GT. I think you and I have pretty similar orientations. And we're both pretty new to it, so we're both still experimenting and learning what we like.

One thing I've discovered through this hobby is that there are some things we learn so much better when seeing them with our own eyes. I've always been someone who preferred to learn by reading. But it is astounding what information your brain automatically/effortlessly records when you are actually looking at the life form in the flesh. Some things don't translate into words very well. Won't it be wonderful when plant publication databases can include 3-dimensional images of a mature living plant that can be zoomed into on a micro level? And still, even at that point, I believe we will be able to see some things better in the flesh.

It's like what do you learn from researching Costa Rica and what do you learn from being in Costa Rica? You learn different things from each method, right? That's why I think if you are seriously interested in Hoyas, it's worth growing one from seed at at least one point in your life. Whether you end up getting serious about fertilizing plants, cultivating seeds, and growing up to be Miyashiro 2.0 is to be discovered.

Yeah, I'd really like to believe my Aleya failure is bad luck and there is the potential to make it work in future. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm negotiating with my sister for one of her Huntaway's long whiskers for Christmas.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 3:38PM
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GG, This "Bud" is for you:) Good luck with your upcoming move. I know that it will go smoothly, and you will have better digs for your indoor jungle.

I hope I wasn't too negative on seed, and indeed everyone needs to try their hand at them at least once. I would do it again myself if I happened to find a pod on some really rare, or hard to get species.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 8:42AM
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Thanks so much, Doug. :) Thankfully I'll be able to take it slowly and do it over several months, because I am the worst person to move ever. Everyone agrees. Too many books. I might never move again, literally.

You weren't too negative on the seeds at all!! As usual, you added a lot to the discussion. A lot of time the knee-jerk response is, "Seeds! OMG weeeeeeeee!" But the actual process is often as much work, risk, and emotional challenge as ordering cuttings from Thailand, so it's good to keep things in perspective.

From what I've seen most people aren't repeat Hoya seed growers, even those lucky enough to regularly get pods on their plants. Because it's a whole big drama compared to just⦠you know⦠buying and growing a nice plant.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 1:11PM
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I'm another "non-repeat" Hoya seed grower. I tried H. a rupicola because I found seeds in the wild. Germination was easy but there was also a lot of damping off , more than 50%. Probably because of doing it under normal garden conditions. The provenance was unquestionable as there was no possibility of cross pollination. That's one of the things with seed produced by collectors, the possibility of cross pollination. I remember this discussion coming up with Carol Noel. She was dead against doing it because of that issue and the proliferation of plants of uncertain parentage. There was novelty in trying it, but no incentive in repeating it.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 6:18PM
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One thing I do want to point out, it is physically impossible for the species publicalyx to revert to the species carnosa. What I suspect is the seedling was a publicalyx x ?, with the ? potentially being carnosa. Please correct me if I have this part wrong :)

Having a seedling look more like (or even almost exactly like) one parent is entirely possible of course, but it doesn't make it the species.

I only point this out as the way it was written was confusing.

I have 4 limoniaca x ? pods and 2 obscura x ? pods going right now and as long as I catch them opening, will probably try a few seeds of each. Simply because I enjoy it.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 4:31PM
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> One thing I do want to point out, it is physically impossible for the species publicalyx to revert to the species carnosa. What I suspect is the seedling was a publicalyx x ?, with the ? potentially being carnosa. Please correct me if I have this part wrong :)

Doug mentioned pub. "Purple Hybrid", so not the species. I guess carnosa was in the parentage.

> I have 4 limoniaca x ? pods and 2 obscura x ? pods going right now and as long as I catch them opening...

Put a mesh pocket or a nylon socklet or a rubber band on the seed pods to catch the seeds. You're highly unlikely to catch them otherwise - the wind may blow them away very soon after the pod cracks open.

> I hope I wasn't too negative on seed...

I agree with GG that you weren't, Doug. Keepin' it real is very helpful.

> The provenance was unquestionable as there was no possibility of cross pollination.

Tropic, how can one ever be sure? Pollinators fly around, right?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 3:10PM
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