Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random plant event: Spathiphyllum

Hey, remember last Friday, and the post about houseplants that may or may not produce seeds? And how I said I'd tried with a Spathiphyllum but wasn't sure if I was actually going to get anywhere? Well, we still haven't gotten anywhere, but we're one step closer.

While working on that post, I went downstairs to look at the plant in question. Spathiphyllum spadices are full of a bunch of individual little bumpy bits, which there's probably a botanical term for but I don't feel like trying to figure it out now. One of the bumpy bits had changed color from green to a dull orange, which you saw in the list on Friday if you read the footnotes.1

In this picture, it looks like there's more than one successful pollination, or at least potentially more than one, but only the one in the center of the shot seems to have been fertile.

Naturally, I wondered how this was going, and whether anything was going to be ready anytime soon. I'd been expecting that Spathiphyllum fruits would work more or less the same way that Anthurium ones do: Anthurium spadices begin to swell up in a bunch of little bumps, and then the bumps get bigger, and change color, and eventually you wind up with a bunch of little rubbery, slightly translucent berries, each containing one large green seed (occasionally two) suspended in a sort of thick goopy pulp.2

So, I poked at the one bumpy thing that had changed color, figuring that I'd just try to rock it back and forth slightly to see whether it was properly rubbery or still hard; I was hoping to get some idea of how close it was to being ripe.

But this happened instead. It could hardly have been more different from an Anthurium fruit. The bumps didn't really swell that much. They did change color, but it was a lot more subtle than the bright orange most Anthurium fruits turn. Instead of a rubbery skin over raisiny pulp, the skin on this remained hard, and just kind of broke when touched; it's not flexible at all. The pulp was nearly nonexistent -- there was just enough there to keep the seeds slightly stuck to one another, but not enough pulp for me to be able to discern a color. I didn't even try to wash the seeds off, as there didn't seem to be anything to wash. Also, instead of one or two seeds, this produced eight.

(Photographed on a paper plate, if the background texture gives you any sense of the scale. If it doesn't, my best guess would be that they were about 3 mm / 0.1 in long.)

As this is a new experience for me, I had no idea how one is supposed to germinate them. I decided to drop them in damp vermiculite and see what happens.3 They were planted on 26 October; nothing visible was happening as of 29 October, but obviously that's still way early. Rumor has it that germination takes about ten days, so nothing ought to happen until 5 November at the earliest.

Even if nothing comes of this and they don't germinate, it was totally worth it just to see what the seeds and fruits look like. I'd always assumed that they must exist,4 but it's not really the sort of thing one dreams of seeing. If they do germinate, well, I'm a little worried, considering how excitable I can be when it comes to aroid seedlings.


1 Which you should always do.
2 The best description I can give for the texture is that it's somewhere between the flesh of a plum (a little stringy and wet) and the flesh of a raisin (thick, sticky, semi-solid). Closer to the raisin.
3 Which turns out to be approximately correct: some too-late-to-be-useful googling suggests that mixing in some chopped sphagnum moss would probably have been better than straight vermiculite, but this will probably be fine. It might even be preferable, since I don't actually have chopped sphagnum on hand, and wouldn't have an easy way to sterilize it if I did.
4 It turns out that there is one photo available through Google image search. Apparently I'd been so satisfied with assuming their existence that I'd never bothered to look. (By the way: the seedlings in the bottom right of that page look adorable. Maybe I do hope I get lots of germination after all.)


Lea said...

Well that is interesting!
Never thought of trying to get seeds, since I have plenty of these plants, and they live a long time. Very pretty, of course, but I have to tote them out in the spring and back indoors for the winter. But now, just for fun, I might try to grow one from a seed. You have inspired me!
Have a wonderful day!
Lea's Menagerie

Ed Kramer said...

My easy way of sterilizing soil, etc. is to nuke the moistened material in the microwave.