New Seeds: Mulberry, Medlar & Sweet Cherry

Time to start some new germinating projects: It’s cherry season and one of my co-workers brought sweet cherries to the office. Obviously, I couldn’t resist neither cherries nor their stones. So I kept 10 of them and put them into vermiculite for germination. I have no idea what conditions they need, but I can always get more cherry stones. I chose vermiculite, because it makes untangling the roots much easier when the time comes.
If you know think (like me until a week ago) – hold on – since when are cherries a Mediterranean fruit? Well, since the famous politician Lucius Licinius Lucullus introduced them from modern day Turkey (from Pontus at the south coast of the Black Sea). No, he didn’t introduce them from modern day, because back then in Ancient Roman times, they had no time travel yet. No, I mean, he introduced it from the area that is now Turkey.

Then I decided to finally order those medlar seeds I had laid my eyes upon ages ago on Ebay. Especially now, that I realized that the seeds I had previously taken for medlar where loquats insteard. So I ordered 10 seeds. They arrived today and had a little instruction sheet glued to the plastic bag. It said that they need stratification (surprise, surprise), so I put them right into the fridge for 2 weeks, according to the instruction.
Another fruit from Turkey, or at least, that’s were I encountered them first.

The same guy who sells medlar seeds also sells others. And to make the shipping costs worth the trouble, I also ordered mulberry seeds. They are about the size of sesame seeds. They also came with an instruction telling me to only cover them slightly with soil. Which I hope I did.

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First Medlar Seeds Germinated

I went away for the weekend and when I returned, four medlar seeds had visibly germinated! Yeah! I had bought fresh medlar loquat fruit a month ago, had eaten the pulp and put 17 seeds into ordinary soil and 3 into vermiculite.

Today, I checked again, and found that two seeds in the vermiculite had germinated as well. At least I think they’re two, because the roots are quite a bit apart. Also, another of the ones in soil had germinated. You can see the progress on the site for Germination periods.

PS: I just realized that those aren’t Medlars at all. They’re Loquats. The German name “Mispel” is sometimes used for both species, sorry.

Some Thoughts about Seeds

Where to get seeds to grow trees from

Risking to state the obvious, I’m just going to say: Don’t buy seeds for trees that either grow in your neighborhood or you can buy fruits of. If you want to try and grow trees from local species, just go on a walk and collect them. If you are into bonsai, you might spot a nice example of an interestingly shaped tree which can inspire you on how to shape your bonsai tree. If you’re more interested in exotic trees, don’t go and buy seeds online. Go to your supermarket and buy the fruit. First of all, you can enjoy the fruit AND you get the seeds which makes it more of a holistic experience (without wanting to sound overly esoteric here). I imagine that when you try to grow trees with children, that it is an interesting experience for them as well to see where the seeds come from and what you can use them for. Obviously, this method only works for fruits, because with nuts the fruit IS the seed. Then just buy/ collect some more (hazelnuts, chestnuts), eat some and use the rest for breeding.

Here’s a table which might help you to find out when which fruit/nut is in season. Green means main season, yellow means low season:

Season Table for Fruits and Nuts

Season Table for Fruits and Nuts

Another argument for using seeds fresh from the fruit is that you might be more successful, i.e. you will have a higher germination rate. I could only compare dwarf pomegranate and pomegranate, because I had dwarf pomegranate seeds in my bonsai starter set and got a fresh pomegranate later, but I think the data speaks for itself (see table below). For some species, using fresh seeds might also have an influence on the germination period. But that would almost literally be comparing apples and pears, because I didn’t have seeds of the same species to compare.

Here are the results of my seeds – germination period of lemons*, pomegranates* and myrtle as well as germination rate.

Species
Latin name
seed or fruit used
no. of seeds germination period germination rate
Dwarf Pomegranate
Punica granatum nana
seed
31 10 to 33 days 23%
Pomegranate
Punica granatum
fruit
28 9 to 36 days 79%
Lemon
Citrus x Lemon
fruit (non-organic)
6 5 to 49 days 100%
Lemon
Citrus x Lemon
fruit (organic)
22 13 to 46 days 88%
Myrtle
Myrtus communis
seeds
32 12 to 34 days 31 %

* They might not be done germinating yet, I will adapt the table accordingly, when more seeds germinate. Temperatures above 21°C are highly recommended.

An overview of all seeds I got to germinate successfully can be found here (WIP).

Stratification

english oak seedling

English Oak (Quercus robur)

With some species, you will find that most texts suggest to use stratification to get them to germinate. As I have just put my medlar seeds into stratification and into soil, I cannot say whether it is really necessary in my experience yet. However, I have tried to get oak (Quercus robur) to germinate without stratification and it worked. I also don’t really believe that it is necessary for medlars, because they are much more common in the Mediterranean than North of the Alps nowadays and I doubt that they get three months of low enough temperatures. Anyway, we will see when my medlar seeds germinate (or not).

Growing Medlar from Seeds II

Still doing research on how to grow medlar from seeds, I came across an old German book on GoogleBooks called Abhandlung von Bäumen, Stauden und Sträuchern, welche in Frankreich in freyer Luft erzogen werden (= Treatise About Trees, Shrubs and Bushes which have been grown outdoors in France) from 1763. This was translated from a book by a Monsieur Duhamel du Monceau. If anyone prefers the French version…

Screenshot from GoogleBooks

Screenshot from GoogleBooks

As all the message boards and Wikipedia articles seem to quote each other, I thought it a good idea to bring a new source into the discussion, especially one from a time when medlars where much better known than today. I will try and translate it from the German.

First, he names 22 types of Medlars (Mespilus spinosa, Mespilus silvestris etc.). He writes “Mespilus germanicus […] sive Mespilus silvestris”, so this is the same for him.

Cultivation

All types of Mespilus can be grown from seeds. Those which grow in the woods can be grown into plants which are then transferred nursery. If one wants to sow medlar trees, one has to know that the seeds often germinate only in the second year. Therefore, some people put the ripe fruits into pots or boxes filled with soil in autumn, put those in a cool place or outdoors. Or they dig the pots two or three shoes deep into the soil, let them rest there for a year and only take them out in spring the next year, to sow them on patches, where the seeds germinate quickly.

We have found that when one takes the ripe fruits in September and puts them in layers with soil and sows them in sherds [???, maybe clay pots] and puts those into the dung patch, the seeds will germinate in the first spring already, which is quite useful in a species that rare.

One can also breed the mespilus by cuttings and the rarer types by grafting onto more common types.

All types of Mespilus are tolerate just about any type of soil except very dry soil in which they wither.

He then goes on to recommend planting them under oak and chestnut trees, because the taller trees profit from the medlar covering the ground. That might be interesting for fans of permaculture.

Growing Medlars from Seeds

As I have written in my Bonsai Wishlist, medlar (Mespilus germanicus) is one of the species I want to grow as a bonsai tree. I had brought two seeds back from Turkey, but now that I have done some research I realized that I might have done it all wrong. Their seeds seem to need cold stratification. However, I had already sown those Turkish seeds and put into the mini greenhouse. I found the information that they might only germinate after two winters, so I will leave those in the soil and just wait. Having brought them from Turkey, they’re too precious for me to dump them.

Where to get Medlar Seeds

As you will be able to read on many websites, medlar trees have been more common until and including the Victorian Age. They can be found in the Mediterranean, though. But what if you want to grow them from seed and you neither live there nor do you go there regularly? Well, two possibilities: Either you are very lucky and there despite medlar trees not being well known anympre, there is one or even more near you. That’s how lucky I am, as I found out on this great (German) website Mundraub. I went there on my bike and got some.  There was only one fresh looking medlar in one of the trees, two dried ones still in the tree and I found one which had fallen to the ground and started to rot. Gross, but helpful.

Medlar Tree

One Lonely Medlar

medlar tree

the other medlar tree

The other possibility is to buy them, obviously. I found some medlar seeds on Ebay, but there are also other possibilities to buy them online. If you want to buy medlar fruits instead, you might find them at larger supermarkets in autumn. I read that Turkish greengrocers have them sometimes. You might also try your local farmers’ market.

medlar

medlars

How to Grow Medlars from Seeds

First of all, at this point I can only repeat what I have read so far, as I have only started with medlar seeds. Several sources I read said that medlar seeds have a very strong coat and therefore need cold stratification (1-5°C). However, some sources say 12 month, some say only 3-4 month. Some say not at all. First you need to soak them in lukewarm water for 24-48 hours . Other websites add a warm stratification period of 8-9 month after the cold stratification, followed by another cold stratification of 3 month. These tips are all for dried seeds, I think. If you can get fresh seeds from a fruit directly from a tree, when the coat has not had the time to harden properly yet, it might work quicker.

I read in several German message boards that no stratification is necessary when you use seeds directly from fruits. I’m gonna go for that option, just soak the seeds for two days and sow them directly. The germination period of medlar seeds is 4-7 weeks, it said in one of the message boards. We will see…

Plant identification 2.0

Now I can say that the two seeds I couldn’t identify so far are from the Medlar (Mespilus germanica) species.
And here’s how I found out:
First, I tried online plant identification via forms. Problem being that I didn’t know AT ALL what the leaves or flowers look like. So that didn’t get me anywhere.

Then I just googled “Turkish Fruit” and got a list of about 20. I knew most of them, so I only checked out the two I didn’t know how they looked like (the list had no pictures). This left me with either Medlar or Russian Olive, but I tended towards Medlar. Then I wrote to my friend who had been with me when I collected them. She said it was Medlar all right. (Actually, she said it was muşmula, because that is the Turkish name for it. And one cannot be expected to know all fruits’ names in English when one isn’t a native speaker.)

Medlar has quite the interesting cultural history. I don’t think it is common at all in Germany despite its Latin name. However, in Medieval and Victorian England, it was very popular. Both Chaucer and Shakespeare mentioned it in their work, according to Wikipedia.

Starting the Blog

Seeds from Turkey

This October, I spent 12 days in Turkey with two friends exploring the Aegean coast and especially the ancient sites. I wanted to bring souvenirs, but as taking potsherds and fossils isn’t allowed, I collected some seeds instead.

From the beach in Gümüşlük, I got three olive seeds, another three from the Asklepeion in Pergamon, an acorn from Troy (more about that one later), a chestnut and some seeds of a fruit, but I don’t know which, from Kaplan Köyu (or Kaplan Villages). I also took an olive twig from near the Temple of Athena in Priene.
The olive seeds I put in my purse, but the other seeds into a plastic bottle with water I could easily carry around with me.
When I arrived back home in Germany, I put all the seeds into water, carefully trying to remember, which olive seeds I got from where.

Bonsai Starter Set

Two or three days ago, I ordered a Bonsai starter set on the internet.

It contains a mini green house, a book about Bonsai, several planters, soil, fertilizer substrate, three bonsai glazed bowls, 23 olive seeds, 33 dwarf pomegranate seeds and 32 myrtle seeds as well as some mimosa seeds (for marketing reasons). The seeds came with instructions of their own and I followed those. It said to water the seeds (with the olive seeds previously having been treated with sand paper) in room-warm water for 12 hours/ overnight/ 24 hours.

It was 28 €, which I for now consider a very good price. We’ll see how many seeds actually germinate…

The Turkish Seeds

Because I considered the acorn and chestnut to be watered sufficiently after at least a week, I already put them into water. It says in the book that acorns should hibernate in sand, but it had already broken its shell when I picked it up in Troy, so I didn’t follow that instruction. Fingers crossed!

The Experimental Setup

I put all seeds into the mini greenhouse and put them under surveillance:

I attached a webcam to the wall, so it can take pictures every 12 hours (for now). Problem is that it needs to be connected to the laptop at all times, which rather limits my range of my using the laptop. I have thought about getting a Raspberry Pi solution, but that would be another project altogether, because my “programming skills” are limited to HTML and CSS.