Veratrum germination

Tom Mitchell
Wed, 07 Sep 2011 12:19:16 PDT

In my relatively mild, maritime climate (SW England) winter temperatures rarely get below -10 degrees Centigrade and almost never stay there for more than a couple of days at a time. In this climate, Veratrum germination is extremely simple. I sow the seed on the surface of a soil-less compost, cover it with a cm of grit and leave the pot outdoors in a cold frame over winter. The seeds germinate after a single winter of stratification. The only proviso is that seed must be sown very fresh. Storage, even under optimum conditions, for even a few months apparently reduces viability to near zero. I have some anecdotal evidence that seed harvested slightly green, before the capsules naturally dehisce, germinates more readily than fully mature seed. Seed that has been stored for a few weeks will sometimes germinate after a second winter but it is much better to sow the seed straight from the parent plant. In a climate that does not experience frost, I would probably stratify the se
 eds in a bag of moist vermiculite in a fridge for three months, then plant and put on gentle bottom heat for germination. This might also be the best method for seeds that have crossed the equator. The two Californian endemics, V. insolitum and V. fimbriatum are obviously exceptions. I wouldn't let them near a fridge.

Raising Veratrum seedlings beyond the germination stage is slightly trickier but only because they grow ve..rrrr...yyy slowly. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it takes 10 years to get V. album from seed to first flowering (V. maackii and its relatives are much quicker - two or three years). The mistake that I made when I was starting to grow them was to 'overpot', in other words to move them up into larger containers too quickly. These days I leave the seedlings in their original pot for a full growing season, liquid feeding to keep them growing as long as possible. I then pot them individually into 7cm pots and rarely lose a plant. Some species, particularly the former Melanthium species, suffer from an as yet unidentified fungal infection, which can kill the plant, especially if it is young, but I have never had this problem on the Section Veratrum (i.e. V. album and its allies) species.

I agree with Jane that clumps of Veratrum can be divided almost with impunity in late summer or in spring just as they begin growth but they will tolerate division at any time of year. In my climate the plants go dormant a bit later than appears from the previous posts to be the case in the western USA and dormancy can also be postponed by liberal feeding. Veratrum are at their best, however, from late spring through to the end of their flowering period. I'll admit to being a little obsessive about this genus but I have a Veratrum in flower every day between late May and the end of August.

I hope this helps and encourages yet more enthusiasts to come out of the woodwork. The typical reaction I get to a Veratrum in full flower is 'Wow! That's stunning...What is it?'


> Message: 3
> Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2011 00:46:46 +0000
> From: Alberto Castillo <>
> Subject: Re: [pbs] Veratrum on the Wiki
> To: Pacific Bulb Society <>
> Message-ID: <BAY156-W131F06DAD007A791A955DBAE1F0@phx.gbl>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
> Tom and Jane:
>                       Under which conditions do Veratrums germinate? Does the seed must be prechilled in mild climates? Is there a delay or it germinates readily after being shed?
>                       The pleated foliage is so spectacular that it is worth the effort to start from seed. From your comments it must be slow to grow.

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