Propagating from seed
It is very important that Meconopsis species are maintained in cultivation. As many species are monocarpic or otherwise short-lived, gathering, storing and sharing seed and then growing new plants is very important. So here is some information that may help you to grow them. If you have useful experience to share, please contact us.
Sources of seed
Seed of a very few varieties of Meconopsis are fairly widely available commercially – usually M. ‘Lingholm’ and M. ×complexa, often marketed as M. ×sheldonii and M. napaulensis respectively. By far the widest range of seed is provided by The Meconopsis Group seed exchange. Two specialist societies, the Scottish Rock Garden Club and the Alpine Garden Society, usually have quite good ranges in their annual lists.
Saving your own seed
- Seed should be harvested when it is ripe, when valves at the top of a capsule open. If the capsule is dry, seeds can be shaken out of it.
- Such seeds should not need cleaning, but if they are mixed with other bits of plant they should be cleaned. Sieves can be helpful. Otherwise some detritus can be removed by gentle blowing, and denser seeds can be separated from less-dense material by shaking a tilted sheet of paper.
- Cleaned, dry seed should be kept in labelled paper packets within a waterproof bag or container, and stored in a fridge (about 4 C), as soon as possible after harvest.
- Seed can be stored for several years if it is first completely dried using silica gel, and then kept in a domestic freezer (down to -20 C).
How to grow Meconopsis from seed is one of the most talked about subjects within the whole genus. Everyone has their own formula, but there are some key points that are (often but not always!) agreed upon to produce successful germination.
- The sowing medium needs to have a high level of air porosity within it. This can be created by adding fine grit or pumice. A squeezed handful of damp compost should fall apart when released.
- With a very few exceptions, seed is normally sown in winter, from December to February, so that the seeds are stratified. Exceptions are Meconopsis punicea, and possibly also quintuplinervia and M. delavayi, which should be sown as soon as possible after harvesting. There are also some people who advocate sowing all Meconopsis seed as soon as it is ripe. This can give good germination, but care needs to be taken with the small seedlings through the winter.
- Seed should be sown on the surface of the soil in pots or trays. Use a low sowing density. One seed per square centimetre is dense enough. That is 80 seeds in a 9 cm pot.
- Don’t cover them with soil. There are differences of opinion as to whether to cover the seed with grit or not. If you do, use a fine grit – flint growers grit is ideal – in a very thin layer. If space and time allows, experiments could also be carried out and some pots covered and some not to see whether the seed germinates better. Or cover half of a pot; it is easy to see the outcome of your experiments.
- It is important that the seed never dries out, and even more so after germination. This can lead to problems with damping off, so it is important to ensure good air flow around the pots. Avoid full sun. The shady side of a wall is a good place.
- It is just as important to ensure that the seeds don’t get too wet from above. Often they are covered if kept outside, or they can be placed in an unheated greenhouse.
- With damp pots in a shady place, liverwort and moss are likely to grow. Watering with a magnesium salt (Epsom salts will do) can control liverwort, and ferrous iron salts are used for moss. It is difficult to overdose magnesium, but experiment with iron before treating a whole tray of rare Meconopsis!
Seedlings of Meconopsis henrici, showing the cotyledons and the first true leaves developing. They are ready to be pricked out.
Growing on seedlings
- Once they have germinated, keep the pots in a shady place, never drying out but not sodden.
- Plants can be pricked out when they have 2 or 3 proper leaves (not just cotyledons). Use a porous compost, with fertiliser. They are very hungry, so it is important that they are fed regularly and not left to become pot bound.
- When the plants are large enough, plant them in the garden, or for some of the smaller, trickier species, pot them on into a larger pot. See the section on Growing Meconopsis in the garden for the conditions that they need when planted out.
Smaller monocarpic species
The species in subgenus Cumminsia are plants from high altitudes in the Sino Himalaya. Many of them are quite difficult to grow, and as they are monocarpic, it is all that more important that we make the effort to grow them, and keep them in cultivation.
Their needs vary a lot, but in general they require very gritty, well-drained soil, and for many that grit should be limestone. In the wild they are covered by snow for a long winter, so in cultivation they benefit by being kept fairly dry, with a glass cover if outside, or in pots in a cold frame or alpine house. Troughs in shade are often good places to grow them.
Meconopsis lancifolia subsp. xiangchengensis
More about growing Meconopsis from seed
Members of The Meconopsis Group can access reports of talks on raising Meconopsis from seed in the Group archive. Search for relevant documents by selecting ‘Talk’ as Document Type and entering ‘seed’ in the Document Name column and clicking on Filter.