Open The Door!
The Secret to Starting Victoria Seeds

Growing Victoria begins with starting babies from seed and those seeds are historically difficult to get going. It makes sense that Mother Nature would find ways to protect a seed that makes its way in water from predators, pathogens and rot to perpetuate itself in an ever-changing and sometimes harsh environment. But that has also protected it from those of us who want to cultivate it in pampered luxury in our gardens! We who strive to grow Victoria have all experienced the anxious waiting for a single seed in 10 or 20 to make its beautiful white nub in water or see a tiny filiform leaf emerge from the soil, exclaiming with great joy at that single event.

We germinate our seeds in water instead of soil, which allows us to look at the seeds and sprouts, monitor their development and save space. We place seeds in tagged or labeled small plastic bags in a five gallon aquarium. The aquarium is in a sunny window and has a submersible heater to maintain the water at 85F (29C) at night and an airstone for circulation.

If you look carefully at the pea-sized seed, it is egg-shaped and smooth. At the small end of the egg is the point where the seed was attached to the pod. As the seed coating matures and hardens, this spot makes itself into a little trapdoor. The embryo is directly beneath it with the rest of the seed containing food for the future sprout.

If you carefully remove the "door", really called the operculum, with the tip a scalpel or X-acto knife, chances of germination are greatly improved, usually in 3-7 days. For brevity, we call this "nicking". Carefully sanding away the door also improves sprouting.

The operculum contains within it a circular bump that is the hardened micropyle, the opening through which the pollen tube entered the ovule at the time of fertilization. Inserting the knife tip right behind the micropyle will often pop the operculum right off. Great care must be taken not to penetrate the embryo itself.

The subject of scarifying Victoria seeds has been bounced around for many years with most growers finding it unsuccessful. Scarifying, or various methods of penetrating the seed coating, is random as to placement. The method we are discussing here is very specific, penetrating the seed coating at the operculum and at the operculum only.

In our experiments here, we see germination of seeds with operculum removed in 1-20 days with the most at 4-5 days. We think that those nicked at or near the time they go into 85F (29C) water germinate at a higher rate than those nicked after they have "cooked" for a period of time. For those that don't sprout within a few weeks, we repeat the operation or simply run the tip of the scalpel around the opening again and have a flurry of new sprouts within days.

In our first year of nicking, 1999, our rate of germination improved considerably over previous methods. Some older seeds included in our study affected the overall percentages but we were still very pleased with the results. Prior to nicking our germination rate in water was an abysmal 6%, even after many weeks "cooking". In soil it was even lower.

Of 338 seeds started, 20 (6%) germinated without nicking, a somewhat misleading number as we nicked later batches at the outset; 230 (68%) made initial nubs. Of the 250 seeds sprouted (overall 74%), 182 went on to make at least filiforms leaves (54%). The remainder either did not develop beyond nubs or made what appeared to be a pair of tiny leaves and nothing more. Amazonica yielded the fewest filiforms at 33% and cruziana the most at 85%.

Similar studies in 2000 and 2001 yielded similar results. Not only does the high rate of germination allow us to start fewer seeds but the speed of sprouting allows us to plan our timetable of growth and installation with far greater accuracy than with previous methods.

Comparing results of the various species and cultivars nicked and unnicked, amazonica, 'Adventure', 'Challenger' and 'Colombia' improve their rate in higher numbers than cruziana, 'Longwood Hybrid', 'Atlantis' and 'Discovery'.

Victoria Cultivation

1999 It Begins Again | Adventure The Hybrid | Scope Stuff | The Ring Thing
Enchanted Forest | Can It Happen? |
Open The Door!

Our Adventure Overview | 1998 The Adventure Begins
1999 The Adventure Continues | 2000 A Very Bad Year | 2001 A Banner Year
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2009 Year of the (White) Tortoise

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