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Author Topic: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds  (Read 51151 times)

Maggi Young

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The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« on: July 23, 2014, 06:52:30 PM »
This post was made by Lesley Cox in another thread ( http://www.srgc.net/forum/index.php?topic=12009.msg309486#msg309486 ) and it was requested that it be repeated here. There are some other related posts in the other thread

From Lesley Cox:

The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds is one devised by I don't know who but has been used extensively over a number of years by Laurol, the Convenor of Otago Iris Group of NZIS. She had it from one Jack Scott, a well known nurseryman in Dunedin for many years, specializing in alpines and small bulbs and who introduced many lovely alpine plants to NZ, from older, famous UK nurseries such as Will Ingwersen's, Broadwell Alpines, Reginald Kaye and others. Almost all or maybe all the Porophyllum saxifragas in NZ were originally from Jack's importations. A trip to Dunedin, for me, always included a very expensive visit to Jack's nursery.

A couple of weeks ago Laurol and I were having a cup of coffee in town and talking about our respective seed sowings. She asked me had I known Jack. "Oh yes," I said. "A grumpy old b.....d." He was my uncle" she replied. Just as well we're good friends and anyway she couldn't argue about Jack's general disposition. He was a good grower and propagator though.

I was outraged that in all his time on earth, so far as I knew, Jack never let out the secret of his tea method to anyone except to Laurol, when she was about 10 years old. Here it is. It works. It really does.

For iris seeds which take a long time to germinate, including old or ultra dried-out seed, or many known to be precocious or difficult to germinate, place the seed in a small fabric pouch, sown along 3 sides. Add a label with whatever information is required. When you have a handful or however many you wish to sow in a single session, Place the little pouches upright in a small basin or margarine pot and pour onto them, a full strength cup of regular tea, well cooled. Let the seed soak for 24 hours then drain and add a fresh, cooled cup of tea. Do this twice more so that the seeds have a soaking from 4 cups of fresh tea, each soaking for 24 hours. Then drain the pouches (I place them on a wrung out dish cloth which absorbs the majority of the remaining tea and makes it easy to extract the seeds from the pouches), and then sow the seeds in regular seed pots or however you normally would, covering lightly with whatever medium you would normally use for this, such as a thin layer of seed mix, grit or whatever. Place the pots in a cool, secure place and water thoroughly, then as required.

OK, so what's different except for this extra amount of work? Laurol finds, and so am I now too, that seed which may take 2-6 months to germinate or even a year or more, is starting to germinate in a fortnight. The process if often completed - say 50 seedlings from 50 seeds - within 3 weeks. At the very least, it can knock a whole season off the time a species may take from germination to blooming. This has been particularly important for our local group this year as we've had a lot of seed given us to grow on as fund-raising plants for next year's national Convention. Seed has been sent of brand new cultivars raised in USA for us to raise and flower here, for our Convention goers. It's great for local breeders too who are no longer able to import new plants but we can still import seed as Iris germanica. And I must give a word of great appreciation here to the many USA breeders such as Schreiner, Aitken, Keppel, Ghio, Black and others who for years have supported NZ growers and the Iris Soc in general, by supplying their material; plants at very low costs and now seeds, freely gifted in most cases, knowing as they do, the difficulties we have with obtaining new material.

So, the method works a treat for bearded species and cultivars in general cultivation and I am particularly interested in trying those other recalcitrant beardeds, the oncos and regelias. But we know it also works for any species so far tried. We haven't tried junos or reticulatas yet due to a lack of seed material. I'd really like to get some of Alan McMurtrie's seed as a trial. It works with sibiricas, spurias, ensatas, unguiculares, PCs and so on. As a trial, some of our members sowed some of all of these from the NZIS list sent out in May, the seed in June. From the same packets Laurol and I did the tea thing and already have strong seedlings up to 10cms (bearded cultivars) or 4 cms (species) while the other members have no germination at all yet. Seed Laurol sowed in April has already produced seedlings of 30cms so far.

The problems start though when 500 assorted seeds are suddenly 500 assorted plants all needing potting on or planting out in a hurry. It's really hard to keep up with the demands of the process but given the people to do it and the material to work with as well as the space to store them, it can be hugely successful.

I'll also be sowing tomorrow, batches of some other hard seed species such as crocuses, erythroniums, Tecophilaea and other odds and ends, to see if it works for those too. I'm not bothering with dwarf Narcissus as they germinate quite quickly if sown fresh anyway. But I wonder about unfresh seed of, e.g. Ranunculaceae such as Helleborus, Adonis, R. calandrinioides and so on but especially including Trillium. If THAT works, what a bonus that would be! There is much experimenting yet to be done, and most of all, notes to be kept, never my strong point.
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Maggi Young

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2014, 06:54:04 PM »
Post from Tim Ingram repeated from the original thread :

That is really interesting Lesley! I wonder if the active principle might be the plant hormones gibberellins which can be so instrumental in stimulating germination of tricky seed like gentians, cacti and other plants? My scientific studies were on gibberellins and involved extracting them from young growing leaves (and following their metabolism) and so tea leaves are potentially an ideal source of the hormone, and much easier to use than the complexity of pure GA itself (which also leads to etiolation of seedlings and is extremely potent). This is definitely a technique to play with! What a great place this Forum is! :)

Tim Ingram

OTHER POSTS COPIED FROM ORIGINAL THREAD:
Quote from: Hillview croconut
Hi Lesley,

Very interesting. So this process has never been put out there until now? Probably worth a properly set up experiment with some conrols. Bit hard to get my head around the stratification problem and the warm, cold, warm/day length requirements that many plant groups have evolved to respond to. But hey its always great to hear good news on the seed raising front.

Cheers,  Marcus


Quote from: Stephen Vella
Lesley interesting to hear of the cup of tea method...something I will try. I want to give it a go on dactyl orchids, I can get few to germinate but not high numbers.. Trilliums I have been sowing for years..any tips like this I will give it a go. Like Marcus said the stratification issue.. maybe speeded up?
Thanks for passing that info
Cheers


Quote from: Lesley Cox
That's very interesting Tim, your comments about tea foliage and the giberellins. The whole subject of giberellic acid has left me totally in the dark and is a place I'm never likely to go, though if I were 30 or more years younger, who knows. I hope you or someone can take this tea thing a bit further because it does seem to me to have some potential for exciting possibilities.

So far as I know Marcus, Jack Scott never mentioned such a thing to anyone except that apparently from the age of 5 he always encouraged Laurol in her gardening interests (Laurol at 5 I mean, not Jack. He always seemed to be about 70!) We in the Iris Group have for several years watched with envy the great success Laurol had with her Iris seeds but the method wasn't talked about much until we received so much American seed last year for the upcoming Convention and Laurol, anxious to encourage as many members as possible to try the seed, did a workshop on the subject at a meeting. She has been very happy to share the method so it's certainly no great secret now. Jack himself always did tend to keep things to himself, such as this method and word of any plant source he may have had.

Stephen, I don't know what would happen with seed the size of orchid seed which is just dust to all intents and purposes. It would require some different way to manage the soaking process I think. All the seeds I'm trying are relatively large; iris, trillium, crocus etc and hard. I'm not bothering with frits or lilium because they germinate so well anyway within a reasonable time frame, and it hasn't occurred to me to try it with say epigaea, ramonda or primulas all of which I've sown in the last few days, but just sowing direct onto clean grit as I normally would. If you could mange it, the results will be interesting. Maybe the soaking time would need to be adjusted down? I've never sown Dactylorhiza seed but do have them come up in quantity among pots, in paths or grass or anywhere really, naturalizing in effect which is very nice. Admittedly this has only been with the spotted D. maculata or its ssp fuchsii, not elata or foliosa though I get the occasional self sown seedling of the latter. I had a nice stand of spotties outside our gate, on the roadside for 3 or 4 years until the council men came along and sprayed them! Never another showed its face.

Lesley - gibberellins are involved in many different aspects of growth, much in the way animal hormones are. Their best known role is in stimulating elongation of the internodes of plants (viz: tall and dwarf peas), but they are also classically involved in seed germination, seen in barley by the stimulation of enzymes which break down starch into sugars as the embryo starts to grow and the seedling develops (i.e: malting). They work at incredibly low concentrations which is why using pure isolated or chemically manufactured GAs can be tricky, so the technique you describe is probably just as effective (if this is indeed what is happening in detail). Science is an unusual activity in that it shares information and works by collaboration, even if there is plenty of rivalry too and it builds on little nuggets of information like this.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2016, 04:09:28 PM by Maggi Young »
Margaret Young in Aberdeen, North East Scotland Zone 7 -ish!


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lily-anne

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2014, 07:22:12 PM »
Fascinating to read, thanks Lesley.  Certainly good to try out !
 How much tea do you use,  and how long must it draw ?

ChrisB

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2014, 07:26:22 PM »
How very interesting.  I've just started gathering a bumper crop of seed from I. setosa f. arctica so I'll save some to give it a try!  Thanks for sharing Lesley.
Chris Boulby
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WimB

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2014, 07:28:44 PM »
Very interesting to read, indeed. Which kind of tea works for you? Black, Green or White?
Wim Boens - Secretary VRV (Flemish Rock Garden Society) - Seed exchange manager Crocus Group
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Hans J

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2014, 08:58:44 PM »
I have before many year received the following receipt ( for watering seedlings ) - I believe it comes orginally from Amarillids growers

1 bag of tea ( black tea )
2 bags of chamomile tea
brew and make up to 2 liters quantity with Aquadest

I use this for watering seedlings ( Amarillids ) ...I dont know why but it works well - the seedlings growing fast and I had never problems with fungus .
I have no expierience with this methode for germination

Hans
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Brian Ellis

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2014, 09:18:55 AM »
Thanks for sharing this Lesley and Hans.  I have not had as much success with my PCIs this year so will have to try it out on them.
Brian Ellis, Brooke, Norfolk UK. altitude 30m Mintemp -8C

Graeme

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2014, 06:00:02 PM »
GA3 all the way - just get someone who works in a lab to get the suspension rate right for you
"Never believe anything you read on the Internet" Oscar Wilde

Matt T

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2014, 07:21:32 AM »
Years ago I used to do a lot of tissue culture for work and these hormones were part and parcel of media preparation. In some protocols we used to use a culture or nurse cells, which were undifferentiated (callus) of Nicotiana tabacum in suspension. These cells were spead on the surface of the agar media to hormonally support the formation of shoots.

I was wondering, if GA is present in tea in sufficient quantities to initiate germination then surely green tea, which is un-fermented should have more...? It would be really interesting to set up a controlled experiment to look into the effectiveness of tea. Perhaps seed of three recalcitrant species, each sample split into three treatment groups, black tea, green tea and water control, something like 20 seed in each group and then a replication of the whole experiment at a later date. Records kept of germination time post treatment should show up any useful effect, but of course would tell you nothing about the actual mechanism. Does anyone have time to do this? Not me...!

Jupiter, are you volunteering for this experiment and the paper work? I think it should happen but my own record keeping is just too casual for me to do it usefully. Besides, I'm too old!

What species would make the best candidates for such an experiment? Any seed left sitting in the SeedEx 13/14 could be ideal source material, as it will be at least a year from collection now. I'd be happy to keep a few pots and am fairly meticulous when it comes to records. What would be even better is for a few folk across the SRGC family worldwide to replicate the experiment using the same species, experimental method etc.
Matt Topsfield
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Maggi Young

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2014, 10:43:18 AM »
I have copied other remarks on this subject into the second post of this thread "reply1" above
( in  The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds  « Reply #1 »)


Please continue this discussion  on THIS thread! Thank you.




« Last Edit: July 27, 2014, 10:55:43 AM by Maggi Young »
Margaret Young in Aberdeen, North East Scotland Zone 7 -ish!


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annew

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2014, 02:02:06 PM »
Very interesting, and another new use for tea bags! What is Aquadest? (See Hans J's post)
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Maggi Young

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2014, 02:43:19 PM »
Quote
What is Aquadest? (See Hans J's post)

I believe this is distilled water sold in Germany
Margaret Young in Aberdeen, North East Scotland Zone 7 -ish!


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Hans J

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2014, 03:06:11 PM »
Yes Maggi - Aqua destillata : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distilled_water
“Summer is the time when it’s too hot to do the job that it was too cold to do last winter” Mark Twain

Maggi Young

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #13 on: July 27, 2014, 03:25:24 PM »
Thank you Hans - I thought you might be too busy watching the end of Le Tour to answer  ;)
( we have good  track cycling on TV from the Commonwealth Games too  :D )
Margaret Young in Aberdeen, North East Scotland Zone 7 -ish!


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Hans J

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Re: The "cup of tea" method for germinating seeds
« Reply #14 on: July 27, 2014, 03:34:12 PM »
Maggi ,

I'm always glad in the time when comes advertising to do other things  :D

 ;D
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