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by John Beaulieu (pronounced Bowl-you)

Hello folks, it has been years since I posted a blog here on Grows On You. I had switched to other ways to share my photos and information (Facebook) but my old browser and computer system is no longer supported by FB and I will return to blogging here. This one will be more of a test run, as I try to remember how this works.

My main interest has been with Hardy Geraniums and Erodiums. Most of my blogs have dealt with those in one way or another from 2013 to 2017, covering subjects such as ‘Winter Sowing’ (I’m in Ontario, Canada) and collecting seed. While I do not sow and grow as much by seed as I used to, I still find myself processing some harvested seed and need an outlet to post my photos… I document most plant work that I do.

These days I have taken over a corner of the dining room table to process the few seeds that I did harvest this year. I had a request to supply some seed for a University in the US that is doing some research… I could not resist that. I wasn’t really planning on collecting seed from the garden at all this year, and had only ordered a minimum amount from one of the specialty geranium clubs that I belong to. I would normally order my maximum amount from several clubs! You will notice that having my camera right there is very important as I like to document everything… You never know what interesting aspect I can illustrate.

I’ll digress a little from seed processing… This years seedlings that I grew from club seed, only filled two small trays. About 5 years back I would have sowed hundreds of pots! Much of my garden area is a rock garden, and years of heavy lifting took it’s toll on my knees… They said enough is enough… They gave out on me! Reduced mobility has forced me to cut back drastically over the last few years.

These are Erodium cicutarium (a bit of a world-wide weed), but I like these annual erodiums just for interest.

One more from those trays of seedlings. Sometimes when ordering seeds, even from the specialty clubs, you get surprises. This was supposed to be Erodium tordylioides (a rare one) but it soon became obvious that it was not that… After a lot of puzzling I’m becoming sure that it may be Erodium trifolium. A fairly common one, and one that is not hardy here in Ontario, so it is already inside for the winter. OK, enough plants for now, and getting back to the main topic.

The seeds that were requested were Geranium thunbergii, a small flowered, weedy (self seeding and sprawling) type. Geraniums eject their seed and many loose seeds can be found in the envelopes that the seed beaks were stored in, but the rest must be removed from the mericarps. I use tweezers and a small precision screwdriver as tools for this job.

Sometimes you get lucky and the seed is just at that pre-explosive stage and it is easy to just push the seed out of the mericarps. Here you can see the seeds still inside the mericarps that have slit open. The seed is still held in place by a handful of bristles, which are also visible here. This is the first time I have been able to capture an image of the bristles. Not all geraniums have them and not all species eject the seed in the same manor.

If the awns have sprung away from the beak column, and a seed is still inside the mericarp, this is when I use the tiny screwdriver to push out the seed. If the beaks do their springing inside a bag or envelope there is not as much force as if they were ejecting in the open, and often seed remains contained.

The tweezers can be used if the seed is not popping out easily. Ease of getting the seed out can vary from plant tp plant and species to species.

Not all harvested seed will be the same age. Seed beaks that are not as ripe may have mericarps that are not as dark. In this case the seed may be smaller, but usually still viable.

Here we se a couple exploded beaks. Geranium thunbergii is in the group of species where the awns curl up into a candelabra shape. Some species will eject the awn and seed right off of the beak column. In some species the awn stays attached to the mericarp and with others they separate. When trying to identify a species, having the seed beaks is very helpful in identification. A good book such as Hardy Geraniums by Peter Yeo or A Monograph Of The Genus Geranium by Carlos Aedo is required too. The latter, published this year (2023) was available as a FREE PDF from the Royal Botanical Garden in Spain.

This is an empty mericarp and again you can clearly see the hand-like bristles.

Geranium sibericum is a close relative of G. thunbergii and they are in the same grouping of species that has those bristles. Here only three awns have remained attached to the column. Most will produce five seeds, but sometimes pollination is not always complete.

When working on seed cleaning, you will soon learn how easy it is to send seed flinging across the room. It also helps to work on a textured paper towel to stop the seed from rolling away on your working surface.

The seed of Geranium thunbergii and G. sibericum is among the smallest of the geraniums at about 2 mm in length.

I was also cleaning some erodium seed… These are from Erodium cicutarium, also one of the smaller species. With erodiums, you do not need to remove the seed from the mericarp. When sowing, just stick them pointy side down into your potting mix or direct into the ground if that is how you sow.

Here is an erodium beak with one awn springing away. The awn will stay attached to the mericarp/seed, and I just break it off before I store my seed. That curly awn allows the seed to self plant itsely… In varying moisture the awn will curl up when dry and straighten out when moist. This action forces the seed into the ground. I experimented one year, leaving the awns on a whole tray of sown erodiums. This was out in my garage plant room, and a mouse discovered that a tasty seed was at the end of each awn, and plucked out all my erodium seed!

I’m just throwing in a few other random seed shots. The seed of Erodium manescavii (a very popular erodium) is more of an average size. This seed is removed from the mericarp, but remember, you do not need to do that. This begs the question… Why do we remove the geranium seed from the mericarps? When I started with geraniums many years ago I experimented with some by sowing half of them out of the mericarp and half of them in the mericarp… I got germination from both, but it was better when the seed was removed. I have never read anything on this… What have you found? Maybe I will experiment again this coming year? I do know that it will be more important to some species than others, because some common species of geraniums such as the phaeums, eject their seed much like the erodiums, with the awn and mericarp still attached… Nobody in nature is out there processing that seed!

Just a few more images. This is Erodium cicutarium, showing the size.

Regarding collecting seed… If you have trouble being there at the right time, and are losing important seed, you can put a tie of some form around the beak to hold the seed in place so you can harvest it. This works for both erodiums and geraniums.

And lastly for this blog… I have found the little cases that camera SD cards come in to be handy for seed storage. These are erodium seeds (still in mericarp). Of course most folks will use small envelopes. If you use those tiny zip-lock bags, be sure your seed is dry! Anyway that is it, and I hope you found this somewhat interesting and I also hope I was successful in getting it posted. Wishing you all good gardening from Midhurst, Ontario, CANADA.

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i'd wondered what had happened to you, you've been missed.

I like articles like this.
Do you belong to the Hardy Plant Society? [it is a UK plant charity and has oversea's members. They also have seed exchanges]

They have a geranium subsection.

22 Nov, 2023


Yes, Seaburngirl.
I do belong to the Hardy Geranium Group of HPS. I was very active on the HGG facebook page... I will miss it until I can get back on FB. They are the one group that I still order geranium and erodium seeds from. It may be a while, as updating my computer is not in the cards right now, unless I win the lottery... But I guess that can't happen unless I buy a ticket! The HGG just had a great Zoom speaker... I'm glad I can access those.

22 Nov, 2023


I think Martin Walker is taking over the role as chair. He is one of the members of the HPS East Yorkshire group. I am currently the chair of that group and have a great time. Martin was head gardener at York Gate Garden and is still very active.

Who was the speaker John? I book the speakers for E.Yorks and always look out for good speakers.

22 Nov, 2023


Seaburngirl, it was Nik Turner-________. I'm drawing a blank right now on the second part of the Name. I can't look it up without my access to FB, but I'm sure you will see it on the HGG page. He has a FB page called The South Facing and North Facing Garden. The topic was creating interest all season long in your garden. You may already know of him?

I just realized that I might still have the e-mail notice for the Zoom... I was close, it's Nik Martin-Turner. Nik gave an extensive and detailed presentation about designing gardens and planting schemes with a focus on hardy geraniums. He covered principles of garden design, using colour, texture, and seasonality to create cohesive and flowing beds. Nik drew on his decades of experience gardening with geraniums, especially in challenging north-facing gardens. He gave numerous examples of plant combinations and beds showcasing different geranium species and cultivars. A key theme was 'right plant, right place' - selecting plants suited to the conditions. Nik also related visual merchandising principles from his retail career to designing captivating plant displays. He emphasised celebrating differences between plants and using contrasting colours connected throughout the design. You could get contact info from Martin Ward.

23 Nov, 2023


we have had Martin Ward talk to us a few times over the years. There are some excellent lecturers out there. We have Sue Clarke from the HGG coming to talk to us next year too.

23 Nov, 2023


I feel that I know Sue from all our chatting on-line. You are very lucky with so many clubs/groups over there... There are so many places that one can get out to and do presentations. I loved doing that and sharing what I have learned along the way in my hobbies. I did slide presentations at horticultural societies and nature groups across Ontario for over 30 years... When a slide show really was slides! My focus during that time was on Gesneriads, including African-violets and on the rarer orchids and ferns of our Niagara Escarpment area. At peak, I would do about 20 talks a year! One of my Facebook friends over there, seemed just as busy with presentations... Rob Potterton, who I'm sure you must have heard a few times. I got to know him as my interests changed to alpine plants and rock gardening. Over here there seems to be a shortage of speakers... Not as many folks enjoy getting out and about to do that any more. It can be costly with fuel and equipment, and I can't believe what a speakers fee can be!

23 Nov, 2023


Yes we have had Rob Potterton a few times in our groups 22 yrs. I enjoy giving talks too and do at least 2 a month and the money I have raised from selling plants I have grown goes to our local hospice, The Cancer research charity and Heart disease charity.

Speakers range from £20 up to £3,000 and then their is the fuel and accommodation costs. So yes it can be an expensive do.

23 Nov, 2023


Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Very interesting blog.

24 Nov, 2023

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