The Garden 1: 161 (Jan 13, 1872)
Mode of Transmitting Seeds and Cuttings
J. McNab
in "Proceedings of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh."

THE introduction of certain seeds in a fit state for germination has long been wished by cultivators. I have repeatedly tried to get collectors to send home seeds in strong earthen jars, or bottles firmly packed in soil and closely corked, the soil to be taken six or eight inches under the surface, so as to contain the natural moisture only; however, few, I am sorry to say, seem inclined to give this method a fair trial, being rather disposed to send by the old system, viz., in dry paper.

As far back as 1834 I introduced in this way acorns of many varieties of American oaks in excellent condition for growing, while portions of the same seeds, brought home in paper and also in canvas bags, did not succeed. Some acorns were also brought home in a box between layers of sphagnum moss, having the superfluous moisture previously wrung out of it. By this method of packing the acorns all succeeded well.

Dr. Little, of Singapore, a gentleman distinguished for his horticultural skill, has been very successful in introducing into this country many rare plants, such as gutta percha (Isonandra Gutta), and many rare and valuable orchids. He seldom misses an opportunity of sending home seeds peculiar to his district, but it too frequently happens that they are completely dried up before reaching this country. During his visit to Edinburgh, in the year 1870, I told him of the disappointments so often experienced with many of his seeds, and recommended him to try the stone bottle system. About the middle of November last I had the pleasure of receiving a stone jar from him, filled with palm seeds, firmly packed in soil, all quite fresh and capable of germination.

In districts where sphagnum moss abounds, I would recommend it in preference to soil, as it retains the moisture for a much longer time, and is not liable to mould or decay. In sphagnum the radicles of the seed are often slightly protruding when they reach their destination, while the soil, with its natural moisture, keeps the seeds much in the same condition as when sent away.

With pulpy or berried seeds, the above methods are by no means satisfactory. I have found from experience that all pulpy seeds succeed best when rubbed out in dry white sand. After being spread out in the sun or wind for a day or two to dry, collect the mass and pack firmly in stone jars, and when they reach their destination, take out the contents of the jars, and cover with soil according to the size of the seeds. By this method, I have frequently sent to Australia, Canada, and other distant parts of the world, the seeds of strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, brambles, currants, blackberries, laurels, elder. berries, thorns, hollies, yews, &c. Any portion of the pulp remaining seems less liable to decay when mixed with dry white sand than with soil or sphagnum.

For a long series of years it has been customary to send home seeds packed in charcoal, and I regret to see it still recommended. Such a practice, however, ought to be entirely abolished, as it tends to destroy the vitality of the seed. Unless in the case of seeds with very fleshy cotyledons, few others packed in this way ever grow.

It is not necessary that seeds should always be sent home in comparatively dry soil in earthenware bottles. About eighteen years ago, I had some seeds of the Akee fruit (Blighia sapida) sent from the West Indies. They had been put into a large old blacking bottle (after being thoroughly cleaned inside), in a mixture of soil and water, firmly closed with a clean-bung-cork, and thickly sealed over. When they reached me, I broke the bottle, and found every seed in a growing state. Each was put in a pot and set in a dark place for a time, light being admitted gradually; they soon lost their pale hue, and are now fine thriving trees. This simple method is also worthy of imitation with many hard tropical seeds.

Wide-mouthed glass bottles are also extremely useful to botanical collectors and amateur horticultural travellers. During my annual autumn peregrinations both in this country and abroad, I have kept cuttings of rare stove and greenhouse plants in clean old pickle bottles, in excellent preservation for a fortnight, with a little moss and water, and have always found them to succeed well after reaching home. Alpine plants are easily conveyed from their native habitats by the glass bottle system.

Also see: Beal: Vitality of Seeds (1905)