Sunday, October 2, 2011

Collecting Lavatera Seed

As I wandered about the garden this past week I rather absent mindedly began collecting seed from the Lavatera.  I didn't actually have a purpose in collecting the seed.  It was just there and I took it.  A habit that began in my mother's garden and took shape when I volunteered at a weekly seed collectors group for Van Dusen Botanical Gardens.

Viable seed isn't produced by all plants.  Many of the plants we purchase at garden nurseries are actually hybrids and their seed is often sterile or the seed doesn't come true, meaning the seedlings that grow from that seed will not look like the parent plant.  However, many old fashioned garden favourites like Lavatera will produce viable seeds which can be planted or shared.

I purchased Lavatera seed last year at a garage sale from a fellow gardener.  I've never grown it before but some reading told me the plant was in the malvaceae family, related to hibiscus and hollyhocks.  Lavatera trimestris is an annual that prefers full sun and average soil, growing 2 to 3 feet high.  I threw these seeds into the ground in spring and sure enough seedlings sprouted and the leaves had the rounded crinkled look distinctive of the mallow family.  At the start of August blooms began to appear.

The blossoms just beginning to open

The large glossy blossoms of Lavatera
The plants have continued to throw out blooms ever since and there are still buds opening at this time.  But as the old blossoms have begun to fade seed heads have formed.

Faded blossoms

As the blossoms dry they fall off leaving a seed pod behind
The seedhead left behind when the flower falls off is actually called a calyx.  If the flower has been pollinated this will swell with seeds and then begin to dry.

Pod beginning to dry and turn black
Regular walks in your garden will help you to keep an eye on maturing seed pods.  As the seedheads dry they become susceptible to wet and the seeds can become saturated and moldy if not picked in a timely manner.  Warm dry weather will ensure nicely dried healthy seeds but these seeds will fall from the plant quickly so again, you must monitor them closely to know when to pick. 
The seedpod has now completed dried. 
In this case it turns black so it's very clear when the seed is ready.
Looking behind the calyx you can see the seed that has formed underneath
I have watched the seedheads on these plants turn black as they dry and luckily we had a spell of warm dry weather so there were plenty of seedheads ready to pick.  I popped the seedheads right off the plant and into my hand for collection.

The seeds are attached to the bottom
A quick rub on the seedhead released the seeds.  A couple times the seeds did not rub off easily, a sign the seedhead was not completely dry yet and I had picked them too soon.

A couple of minutes spent over several evenings gave me a whole new batch of seed for next spring with the promise of more spectacular pink blooms.


  1. They look a hibiscus and also like the flowers of my rose of sharon. I think they're in the same family. They are really beautiful! I always let my coneflowers and rudbeckia go to seed. Whatever the birds don't eat, often grows as seedlings the next summer.

  2. They're quite pretty. We've had pink poppies showing up in our veggie garden so we just let them grow. This year, hubs emptied one of the seed pods into a small container and I was shocked at how many tiny black seeds were in just ONE pod.

    If we can manage it, we'll find a place to grow more of these beauties.

  3. thanks Marguerite, seeds and seed collecting are new to me but something I want to try, I looked at the seeds that have been flowering in my new raised bed and I can see some seed pods, there are/were some green seeds on the marigold and I could see pods on the cornflower snowman and corncockles, your lavatera must be beautiful, Frances

  4. Marguerite girl .. you have me convinced that I should try this plant next year .. the flowers are gorgeous ! .. They do look like a member of the malva family but hey .. I am not familar with it so I amy be wrong .. but such pretty flowers !!
    You need some Halloween spirit girl !!

  5. Marguerite, I've always been a bit intimidated by seed collecting, but this step by step tutorial might give me enough confidence to try it. Thanks. -Jean

  6. Great tip! I have never tried growing these from seed. It is nice to know they come up easily. Thanks!

  7. What a pretty little flower. I don't think I have seen it here in Texas but if related to the hibiscus I bet it would grow here. I will add it to my wish list for Spring!

  8. Collecting seed is fun and it is great to get free plants. Some hybrids produce seed that will grow but the resulting plant may not look anything like the parent. Plants that grow from seed produced by 'named cultivars' may only be referred to by their species name. The cultivar name is a trademark and protected by copyright.
    Is your Lavatera the annual or perennial plant?

  9. What a fab seedhead and good lesson in watching plants for seed rediness. I do think your lavatera is lovely. gail

  10. Hi Marguerite, Lavatera is such a pretty annual and I would love to try to grow some next year.
    I have been working on some DIY seed packet designs for an upcoming post. After seeing your post, I will have to add a Lavatera packet design to the ones I have already done. Lavatera is flower certainly worthy of the effort involved in collecting seeds.

  11. Tammy - they are definitely hibiscus family and quite tropical looking to me. Lots of seeds dropped to the ground from these plants so I'm hoping for seedlings in the spring.

    Michelle - it is amazing how many seeds are produced but when you think about how many will rot, be eaten by insects and birds or won't fully develop it makes sense that a lot of seed is required.

    Frances - I'm hoping to continue with a few seed posts as I increase the flowers in my garden. There are so many kinds of seeds to collect. Its intriguing to follow each plant through its lifespan.

    Joy - these flowers definitely offer some very bright colour in the landscape. Large blooms and a pink you can't take your eyes off.

  12. Jean, seed collecting is really more about knowing your plants and their life cycle than anything. I'm sure many gardeners, including yourself, would have no trouble collecting seed since we tend to watch our plants closely and take notice of how they develop.

    Sage Butterfly - I've been looking for easy to grow plants from seed lately. A much cheaper alternative to purchasing from nurseries and they tend to self seed and come back to the garden.

    Tufa - you might have a perennial version in your area. We can only grow the annual here as it's so cold.

  13. Melanie - this is an annual. There is a perennial variety but they would not survive here. Thanks for noting the differences between hybrids and cultivars.

    Thanks Gail. As I noted to Jean, I think lots of gardeners probably watch their flowers closely enough to notice seed production as we all like to take walks and see how our gardens are progressing. You need to know what to look for.

    Jennifer - good for you! I'm always looking for extra baggies and brown paper bags for seed collecting. I never seem to have enough.

  14. What a great shade of pink, pretty bloom. I like collecting seeds...when I remember it is time!! Good for you.