RHA Newsletter 4(3): 4 (Fall 1973)
Odd Experience in Seed Germination
Percy H. Wright

How can anyone explain the results I got this past winter and spring, in attempts to germinate seeds of Rosa rubrifolia and other seeds? It is a real puzzle.

I have been accustomed to sowing my rose seeds in tin cans during October and November, storing these containers in my basement until the seeds begin to germinate about March 1. In our northern climate, the temperature in our basement is between 35 and 40 degrees for three, even four months, which is long enough to give the required cool period for the sprouting of most rose seeds.

Last fall, as usual, I picked rose seeds from my big plant of Rosa rubrifolia and sowed them as usual. The winter, however, was extra mild, so that the cool period was shorter than expected. Seeds of Hansa rose germinated fairly well, but not the seeds of the Redleaf rose. I attributed the failure to sprout to the short period of adequate cool temperature.

But, surprise of surprises, a few days ago I happened to look under my bush of the Redleaf rose, and there were perhaps a hundred splendid, healthy-looking seedlings, too close together, but thriving to that date. They were undoubtedly self-sown, and scarcely covered with soil during the winter. The three months during which the indoor seeds were not quite cool enough saw them frozen under the snow, and frozen about 4 1/2 months in all. And yet they somehow received enough cool treatment to germinate, in the short weeks before they were frozen and again in spring after they thawed out.

The same thing happened with peony seeds. I sowed several hundred at the same time and under the same conditions as I had sown the rose seeds, and got no germination this spring. But this spring I found little pockets of germinated seedlings plants several inches high, scattered in various places in the garden plot. They had undoubtedly been cached away by mice or other rodents who forgot where they were. They may have been helped to push up through the soil by being in clumps, each seedling helping its neighbor to emerge.

I had a somewhat similar experience with chokecherry seeds. In previous attempts to germinate chokecherry seeds, I had had to be content with a percentage germination of less than 10 per cent, and a good part of that meagre 10 per cent occurred only after a second winter in the soil.

But, as usual, the chipmunks had been active, "sowing" them in little pockets all over the place, and when spring came this year, up they shot as spry and healthy as could be. I dug up some of these pockets of seedlings and pricked them out in containers. I did not make a count to see what percentage of the seeds had germinated, but do not doubt that it was near 100 per cent.

Whatever the explanation for these strange phenomena, it is obvious that one would be wise, at least in our northern climate, to do more seed-sowing outdoors and less indoors under "controlled" conditions. If Mother Nature knows better how to do it than I do, why not let her have her chance? However, whether I'll be brave enough to trust to nature my extremely precious seeds, the ones that I have hand pollenated with a lot of trouble and prayer, is yet to be seen. Probably I'll compromise, and sow some in nature's way and some in my way. For those sown outdoors, however, I'll provide semi-shade. The rose bush itself gave some shade, in the case of the successful seedlings of Rosa rubrifolia.

See also: Holliger (1979)