Mystery Seedlings

Castilleja seedlings

Castilleja seedlings germinating while still inside the capsule

Several days ago, I was poking around under some of the cushion plants in my rock garden, searching for slugs. The little brats have been demolishing the new foliage on some of my little treasures. This is extremely frustrating. They tend to hide during the day under rocks or underneath plants with dense foliage. Then, while checking under an Eriogonum, I discovered a little capsule filled with tiny seedlings. Evidently, some seeds hadn’t fallen out of the capsule when it landed.

When I brought it in to look at it under the microscope, I recognized the visible seed as that of a Castilleja (paintbrush). Last fall, I looked at a number of seeds I’d collected on my hikes before sending them off to the North American Rock Garden Society seed exchange or sowing them myself. The most unusual ones turned out to be from species of Castilleja. I’ve never noticed anything interesting about them when spilled in my hands. Under the microscope, however, the unusual mesh-like coverings are fascinating.

Castilleja seeds

Seeds from a variable population at Hills Creek Reservoir that might be Castilleja hispida, C. pruinosa, or maybe even a hybrid swarm

Then I remembered that I had tossed some of the seeds and the remaining seed capsules under various suitable natives in the garden including penstemons and eriogonums. So this was one of those capsules. A couple of years ago, the first fall after I built a gorgeous new rock garden bed, I tossed some Castilleja hispida seeds under a Penstemon davidsonii. Last year, it not only grew, it flowered! It is emerging again now and looking quite healthy.

Castilleja plants are hemiparasitic—they need a host plant for at least some of their water or nutrition. They may germinate in a pot without a host, but they do far better with one. I had tried growing them in pots, but apparently I didn’t plant them out soon enough, and they always died. Tossing the seeds in the garden seems not only more successful, it is much easier!

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