How fast does the Wollemi pine grow?


Believe to have been extinct for approximately 200 million years and previously only known from the fossil record, the Wollemi pine -Wollemia nobilis, was re-discovered 1994 when around 100 specimens were found by accident in a gorge in the Wollemi nation park, Australia. Despite the name, the Wollemi pine is not a true pine, nor a member of the pine family - Pinaceae, but is in fact related to Agathis and Araucaria in the family Araucariaceae - many of whose species are also known as 'pines'. So back to the question of how fast does the Wollemi pine grow?

Well of course this will depend on your Wollemi pine being provided favourable growing conditions, otherwise growth rate will become either insignificant or even attritional! Luckily, Wollemi pines are tough and adaptable, and will grow best in a well-drained, acidic to neutral soil. Do not plant in areas prone to waterlogging as the Wollemi pine is susceptible to the water mould Phytophthora cinnamomi  . Choose a well-lit location but preferably not exposed to the full sun in mid-summer. You may need to water during period of drought.

Assuming all things are equal, young specimen plants up to 18 months old can grow approximately 50 cm a year with the capability of reaching an overall height of 20m in its lifetime. Mature specimens can grow around a metre a year in nutritious soil so make sure that wherever you are planting it just make sure that the site can accommodate such a large plant. Depending on how you get on with thm, it may be worth thinking of the neighbours in case the tree ends up blocking all of their light! Of course if your Wollemi pine is not fertilized or kept in low light conditions, it will grow more slowly.

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Should you plant Arundo donax


Arundo donax, otherwise known as the Spanish cane or reed amongst others, is a tall growing cane species native to the middle east. That being said it has successfully naturalised in the mild temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of both hemispheres, especially in the Mediterranean, California, the western Pacific and the Caribbean. It will happily grow in most fresh and saline damp soils including the milder regions of northern european countries such as the UK. However as exotic as it looks should you plant Arundo donax?

Arundo donax var. versicolor
If you have ventured around the sunnier lands of the Mediterranean then you may well be familiar with large stretches of Arundo donax growing along roadsides and railway lines, so clearly once it has taken hold in a favourable environment Arundo donax has the capacity to run wild and untamed. With an average mature height of 6 meters, which can extend further to an incredible 10 meters under favourable conditions, Arundo donax has the capacity to become a massive problem if planted in areas where it cannot be properly managed. Furthermore, Arundo donax reproduces tough, fibrous underground rhizomes that form knotty, spreading mats which penetrate deep into the soil, up to 1 metre deep. Just one piece of stem and rhizome less than 5 cm long and containing a single node can readily sprout under a variety of conditions producing a viable specimen with a few weeks. In fact it is among the fastest-growing terrestrial plants in the world at nearly 10 centimetres day and soil temperatures only need to be above 7 degrees celsius for Arundo donax to enter active growth.

So at face value and if considered as a suitable ornamental plant for the garden, the evidence would suggest that you should avoid this plant - unless you hate both your neighbours and your own garden. However if you have a passion for its exotic looks and architectural effect then all is not lost as there are selected cultivars which you may wish to consider such as the epic Arundo donax var. versicolor.

Of course all plants are subjective and while I don't find Arundo donax particularly inspiring Arundo donax var. versicolor is an absolute diamond of a garden plant! It sports incredibly bold white and green striped foliage, and mature specimens are simply magnificent when in full growth. Arundo donax var. versicolor will not get anywhere near as tall as its natural species with a height of 2.5-3 metres and while it will readily clump form and propagate from devision it will not run wild. 

So to answer my own question, should you plant Arundo donax. Well no, but if you are considering Arundo donax var. versicolor then the answer is a resounding yes.

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How do you grow a date palm from seed?


Most of us will be familiar with edible dates - Phoenix dactylifera, usually available as a delicious treat during the festive holidays - or least it is in my family. Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years but because it has been in human cultivation further back than human history can record (there is archaeological evidence of date cultivation going back to around 7000 BCE) the place of origin of date palms is uncertain. That being said scholars believe that it probably originated from the Fertile Crescent region straddling Egypt and Mesopotamia. Of course other scholars believe that that they are native to the Persian Gulf area or even western India. So in common with many of our ancient ancestors, just how do you grow a date palm from seed?

Dates -  - Phoenix dactylifera
To begin with you will need to obtain some date seeds which luckily for us modern humans it is relatively simple. All you need to do is make your way to your nearest supermarket and purchase some dates. First you must remove the tasty flesh to expose the seed. Then clean the seeds under tepid water to remove any remaining flest, you may need to use a sponge to help you here.

Now place the seeds in tepid water and leave in a warm position for 48 hours, change the water for fresh half way through. After 48 hours the seeds can be removed from the water. For this next stage take two sheets of a good quality paper towel, place them one on top of the other and then fully dampen them. Next place your seeds equally spaced around the paper town the place another two wet sheets on top. Carefully and loosely fold up the paper towel back on itself a couple of times, making sure that the seeds remain in their original spacing,  then place it inside a zip-lock plastic baggie. 

Place the baggies in a dark position either in a heated propagator set at a temperature of around 21-24 degrees Celsius or somewhere that remains at a reasonably warm temperature. The seeds will need to remain like this for around 6-8 weeks and being checked ever two weeks or so for signs of fungal infection or preferably root emergence. 

Once the seeds have germinated, and the first leaf appears carefully remove them from their 'mummification' so as not to damage the roots and pot them on at a rate of on seedling per 9-11cm pot containing a good quality seed compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Don't worry if you have left some paper towel on the seed, it it better to do this than damage any parts of the seedlings by removing it. Water the compost thoroughly then position your seedling in a warm bright position such as a south facing windowsill or, if all risk of frosts have passed, a greenhouse or cold-frame. Water again once the top couple of inches of compost appears dry.

As soon as the plant becomes established in its pot it can be repotted although this time use a compost with a higher level of fertiliser in it such as John Innes 2 or 3. In time and assuming you have a favourable climate, you can harden off your date palm and plant it outside in its permanent position.

Main image credit - By Sergei Frolov - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In text image credit - By M. Dhifallah - M. Dhifallah, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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THE COCO de MER - Lodoicea maldivica


Does the buddha's hand citrus have seeds?


I get ths question a lot, although so far it is exclusively asked by American gardeners. And it's a great question too as the 'mechanics' required to answer it go back to 1865 when Gregor Mendel published his fundamental laws of inheritance. Lets start with some science.

These laws are as follows:

1) The Law of Segregation: Each inherited trait is defined by a gene pair. Parental genes are randomly separated to the sex cells so that sex cells contain only one gene of the pair. Offspring therefore inherit one genetic allele from each parent when sex cells unite in fertilization.

2) The Law of Independent Assortment: Genes for different traits are sorted separately from one another so that the inheritance of one trait is not dependent on the inheritance of another.

3) The Law of Dominance: An organism with alternate forms of a gene will express the form that is dominant.

That is the science part over and now I will attempt to explain this in simple English.

Botanical illustration - Citrus Buddha's hand
To begin with, the unusual fruit shapes of Buddha's Hand citrus are the result of a naturally occurring plant mutation. In horticulture this is known as sport, break, or chimera, and with plants species these naturally occurring genetic mutations can change the appearance of the foliage, flowers, fruit or stems. You night be surprised to know that there are many instances of this in nature and is in fact surprisingly common. So much so that these natural sports include the majority ornamental plants found in your local garden centre! So in the instance of the Buddha's Hand citrus this variation in the genetic code has resulted in the thickness and over extension of the fruits rind to give the Buddha's Hand effect. So Citrus medica and the cultivated varieties of Citrus medica 'Buddha's Hand' are the same species and not different species although they clearly have different characteristics. This is also exactly the same situation with cabbage, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kohlrabi. All of these vegetables are, in fact, the same species - Brassica oleracea. They clearly look different due to generations of selection by gardeners but they are all man-made cultivated varieties (or cultivars) of the same species. To be specific, a cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding. It is not a new or different species.

So back to whether the Buddha's Hand citrus has seeds. In countries such as the USA it is often and incorrectly considered as one variety, and that this variety does not produce seeds. However in China (for example) there are actually at least a dozen named Buddha's Hand varieties or sub-varieties currently under cultivation. All differing in fruit shape, colour and size, and the tree's growing habit, etc. yet all under the umbrella of  Buddha's Hand. As something of a botanical anomaly, they tend to not produce as much seeds as the species Citrus medical but this will vary dramatically from each specific variety (with a few cultivars producing a large number of seeds) but to say none of them would produce any seed at all would be quite incorrect. So while it is true to say that Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis generally rarely produce seeds (there will always be a seed produced periodically because, as Dr. Ian Malcolm said, life will find away - even triploid cultivars like Apple 'Brambly' will produce the odd seed when theoretically they shouldn't) it is equally true that the variety “Muli” or “Xiangyanggo” does produce seeds. A quick glance at the Wikipedia page for Buddha's Hand will corroborate this for you. 

Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis
The thing to remember is that the traditional Buddha's Hand is genetically and unavoidably Citrus medica and the wide range of varieties that you can find today would have, of course, originally been grown from seed. It is just that the genes for the production of fingered fruit are not dominant otherwise this unusual fruit shape would be constantly showing up in seedlings. Furthermore seeds produced from cross-pollinating different cultivars displaying Buddha's Hand characteristics will be governed by Mendelian theory fundamental laws of inheritance. This means that there will be an increased chance of germinating a seed from parent plants with the anomalous characteristics of the fingered fruits but as the genes for this are not dominant you will always have a larger chance of regular Citrus medica fruits.This makes it a numbers game. The more Citrus medica seeds you sow the more likely it is that you will produce a Buddha's hand fruit producing plant. However there is a greater chance of producing a Buddha's hand fruit producing plant using parent plants which produce Buddha's hand fruits although mendelian theory predicts that the majority of plants will show the characteristics of Citrus medica species. 

The only way to produce new Buddha's hand varieties is through seed propagation, cultivation and selection over numerous generations either starting with species Citrus medica or selected cultivars of Citrus medica. This is unavoidable as it is directly linked to the 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' proverb. In fact there is also a history of cross species fertilisation of Buddha's hand with other citrus species such as the various lemon and orange cultivars to create something new with more reliable seed production. However modern supermarket citrus varieties have such a long history of hybridizing with other citrus species that it will be impossible to produce any standard progeny.

There is of course only one way to ensure that the genetic code for your prefered Buddha's hand cultivar is transferred from plant to plant and it is to not to propagate using seed. To ensure this you can only propagate vegetatively using cutting, grafting and micro-propagation techniques.

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How to grow Arundo donax var. versicolor

Commonly known as the Spanish Reed or Spanish Cane, Arundo donax var. versicolor is an absolutely striking selected form than is a must for any cold hardy tropical effect garden design. And why not, as unlike the true species it don't ramage across the entire garden unchecked and  will attain a reasonable height in the harden without the risk of hiding your home. For those who wish to know, Arundo donax var. versicolor will usually reach an overall height of between 2-3 metres, which compared the possible 6-10 meters of  Arundo donax when growing in its native Middle East. So how do you grow Arundo donax var. versicolor?

Arundo donax
Well, it turns out quite easily as it will happily grow in most soil conditions. That being said it will perform much better in moist soils. Water frequently, particularly during dry periods in summer. Regarding light levels it will do best in full sun to semi-shade, but when grown in the cooler climates of northern Europe avoid planting in full shade. While the foliage is indeed magnificent, it is possible to encourage the ornamental feathery purple blooms by cutting back the stems after their second year.

Come the winter the leaves can look very sad and these can be removed, however you can always cut the canes down to ground level to produce a new crop of fresh stems.This will also help the increase the size of the clump should this be your intention. In colder climates when the top few inches of soil can regularly freeze a winter mulch will help protect plant roots. Alternatively,  the roots can be lifted and potted up in the autumn. Store them in a frost free greenhouse, keeping the root ball moist, until spring when all risk of frost has passed. then they can be replanted outside once under favourable conditions.

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FESTUCA GLAUCA - The Blue Fescue