Friday, August 15, 2014

When Pacifica Iris Pods Are Ripe


Kathleen Sayce

Mid to late summer is exciting:  it's harvest time for Pacifica Iris pods. Some species irises shed seed by early July in my garden, including Iris tenax and I. innominata. These species often grow at high elevations in the wild, flower in May or June, and have ripe seed by mid July to early August. They waste no time cranking out the next generation. Other species take more time to ripen seeds, nine weeks instead of five to six weeks, including I. douglasiana. Pods often go through a color change as they ripen, from green to gold or yellow. Even when not opened, a yellow pod has mature seeds inside, ready to collect. 


Just a few weeks ago, seed pods were green. 




Iris pods are opening all over the garden by late July, when the mesh bags come into use. Here, all pods in this cluster have opened, the tips are spread on the upper two, and the bottom one has valves spread to show the seeds inside.

Mesh bags or nylon stockings are good devices to use to contain seeds and ensure that a gardener's work in crossing specific parents isn’t lost at the seed collection step. Saving even a few seeds from a choice cross can be important in a hybridizing program. 

I cut the stems and collect the pods, still in their mesh bags, to dry before taking out the seeds. The stems can be tied together with a wire tie or string, hung in a dry shady place, out of the sun and away from direct heat––just as you would dry herbs or flowers, or put into paper bags in a warm dry spot. After a few days, any pods that can open, have done so, and the seeds are ready to clean and package. 


A basket of treasure:  Ripe pods in paper bags, ready to dry indoors. 

Normally the valves separate from the pods, and the seeds break off and scatter. Occasionally pods stay closed or only partially open. Either the tip will not separate, or the sutures along the edges do not open.  When this happens, I use a knife or razor blade in a holder to cut the tip off, or cut along a suture line, being very careful to keep my fingers intact, and to not cut into seeds. Then I gently peel out the seeds.

Seeds go into a bowl. Use a large bowl that you can swirl seeds around in. This lets you blow or toss seeds outside to separate seeds from chaff and pod fragments. I also use a sieve to shake out fine bits if the pods are dirty. I clean the seeds and remove all non-seed bits and pieces, insects, et cetera. Separating seeds from chaff is a very old process. Humans have been doing this for thousands of years. And it’s fun! 

After the seeds are clean, I put them in a clean bag (mesh or paper), to continue air drying. The label moves with them. I save seeds for seed exchanges, such as Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris, and Species Iris Group of North America.  

I learned the hard way to not put fresh seeds into glassine or plastic bags––they mold. The mold doesn’t kill the seeds, it’s just in the seed coats, but it looks terrible, and when it’s really bad, all the seeds are encased in a dense whitish mold into one solid lump. Ugh!  If there's too much mold I scrub the seeds with a plastic scrubby to clean them, then rinse and re-dry the seeds. 

Drying seeds, in a row of paper bags. This takes patience, and at least ten days!

Let the seeds dry thoroughly before packaging each seed lot. I’m not naturally a patient person, so this is hard. Wait ten days, at a minimum. More is better. Only when the seeds have dried indoors, in a clean mesh bag, and I have let the days slip past, do I then put the seeds into an envelope, label it, and set it aside to send to a seed exchange. I also share seeds out to gardening friends, and this is when those seeds are mailed. 

Labels need to include what, when, where, and any details of the plant or flower that are important. List:  Pod parent, pollen parent if known, the flower color on the pod parent if it’s a species or unregistered new flower, likewise any characteristics of the pollen parent that were important to note, or bee-pollinated, if open pollination was used. If you use crossing codes to track garden crosses, write down those codes too. This helps you and others track the parentage of your seeds. 

Another task is to take all the used mesh bags, wash them in warm soapy water, rinse, dry, and then freeze them for at least two weeks. Why freeze the bags? If any invertebrate eggs are in the bags, this will kill them. Washing, drying and freezing helps ensure that the bags are clean, and ready to use again next year.  

Do you grow PCIs, and do you save seeds to give to other gardeners?



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