Seeds: Species, F1, F2, F3

P1 Species seeds are from two parents of the same species or self pollination
— breed true

F1 seeds are hybrids created from two unrelated parents ( children )
— hardy crosses, usually vigorous, healthy plants, children usually look like the children

F2 are self pollinated F1s or pollinated by other F1s ( grandchildren )
— might look like parent, might look like mailman, most diverse, greatest diversity in this cross

F3 are self pollinated F2s or by other F2s ( great grandchildren )
— who knows? usually selected to strengthen an F1 trait

F4, F5, F6 can also be found

The ‘F’ is short for filia

Species seeds are the most expensive, each F? gets cheaper the farther you travel down the family tree

S seeds are self fertilized seeds that have been treated chemically, or otherwise, to create a mutation. It’s not an accepted botanical grading, but often used by hobbyists

Test tube plants

I first ran across test tube plants on eBay, which is a great source for them. Many nurseries who only sell in bulk to businesses and small shops and universities interested in conservation are using them to clone plants from tissue culture. Another common use is to start difficult seeds.

The plants are grown in agar ( a clear gelatin like substance ) with a bit of sugar and sometimes plant hormones. The supplies are easily found online.

I tried a couple of difficult seeds with out much success. Getting the seeds sterile without killing them is a bit of an art form. I’ll try some easier seeds next time.

This is a great way to buy expensive plants.

It’s a bit tricky deflasking them. All of the agar must be removed from the very tiny, fragile plants or it will mold and rot the seedling. I use toothpicks and a dish of water with about 15% bleach added. Soaking the seedlings helps.

Plants started this way do not have the coating necessary to retain water. They must first be placed in terrariums, under lights and steady room temperature. Slowly acclimate them to sunlight, temperature differences, and life outside the terrarium.

I’d start with a cheap flask of plants, it may take a few tries to get the hang of transferring them to a regular garden environment.

I plan to try starting more seeds in flasks, I’ll post the process and results.

More information:
Tissue Culture or Micropropagation
Atlanta Botanical Tissue Culture Lab
Virginia Tech, An Amateur in Vitro: Tissue Culture at Home

Propagation by division

Some plants won’t grow from cuttings; ferns, bromeliads… Those ones are easiest to propagate by division. I find dividing plants to be much easier than propagating from cuttings.

Wait until you have a good size clump of the plant. You’ll need to get leaves and roots on each division. Some plants can be gently separated by running them under water to remove all the soil then gently pulling apart. Others you’ll need to cut apart with a sharp razor.

I start most of new plants in sphagnum moss. It seems to keep the moisture more consistent and I have less problems with fungus and molds.

I like clear containers so I can keep an eye on the roots and moisture.

Divided plants don’t need any special care, I bump them up into larger pots or plant outside as soon as I see new roots or leaves.

Propagation by cuttings


Most plants are easy to clone from a cutting. Anything woody, shrubby, branched, or a vine will work.

Some plants, like Angel’s Trumpet, will only grow from hard branches, others only from the soft new green ones. Most plants will grow from both.

The new roots will grow from leaf nodes that are in water or soil. Remove at least 3 leaves, and put 3 nodes below the water or soil level. If you plant in soil be sure to keep the bottom stem at least a half inch off the bottom of the pot or it will rot. I find sphagnum is the best medium for getting cuttings started.

I like to use clear plastic cups, that way I can see when the roots appear and if they are getting enough, too much or too little water.

Some plants need a bit of rooting hormone to get started, almost all won’t need it. I find the powered rooting hormone easiest to use. Wet the stem and roll it in some of the powder before planting.

Remove most all of the remaining leaves. The plant has no roots so it can’t get water to the leaves. The less it starts with the better your chances. How many depends on the size of the leaves. I try to leave about 1-2 square inches of leaf surface. If need be cut a leaf in half.

Because there is not water going up to the plant you’ll need to keep the humidity very high. Use a terrarium, plastic cup, or a clear plastic bag to keep the moisture in.

When new leaves appear, slowly let the plant adjust to life outside the humidity closure. Once it’s been adapted ( 2-6 weeks ) Replant it in soil, outside if it’s to be an outdoor plant, in a pot if it’ll be indoors.

Nepenthes Alata or Ventricosa

I purchased this as a Nepenthes Alata, yet everyone tells me it’s a ventricosa. Which is it? Most likely it’s a cross between them, ventricosa x alata x alata is very commonly found in shops

Nepenthes Vetricosa

– distinct line between colors on pitchers
– lip at top of pitchers has distinct ridges
– no ridges running up pitcher

Nepenthes Alata

– ridges run up pitcher with hairs (aka fringed wings)

…. And does it matter?
Both plants grow in mountain forests and grow well as windowsill intermediate plants.

I have found my Nepenthes are happiest in open orchid baskets filled with sphagnum moss, which is still in dish containing about 1″ of water. Use distilled water, no fertilizer. A bright window that doesn’t receive direct afternoon sun is best.

This has been the easiest of my Nepenthes to grow from cuttings.
– cut a 6″-8″ stem
– remove bottom leaves leaving only one at the top
– plant in sphagnum and keep in a closed terrarium
– slightly shade it
When new leaves appear
– slowly increase light
– slowly adapt it to grow outside terrarium

Ghost Orchid Flasks (Dendrophylax lindenii)

I decided it was time to try something more challenging. So I ordered a couple of flasks of Ghost Orchids ( Dendrophylax lindeii ) on eBay.

The flasks arrived in a few days, everything looks wonderful.

I did have to break the flasks to remove the plants, not a big deal, wrap the flask in a towel and use a hammer.

After removing the orchids, I dropped them into a container of water with fertilizer and rooting hormone while I gently untangled them and removed the agar.

So far so good.

They are currently dispersed across 4 terrariums, worm castings on the bottom, sphagnum moss, then mulch, orchids are resting on the mulch.

For now I’ll keep the light levels low. The largest trick is to keep the humidity close to 100% and keep mold and fungus from killing the seedlings.

I use a light dose of fertilizer with rooting hormone to water my orchids, these included.

I’ve lost two of the ghost orchids to fungus, I’ve dispersed a few that didn’t look good into the carnivorous terrariums.

About a half dozen have grown their baby leaves, these two leaves are temporary and will fall off once the plants get settled.

Sept 12, 14
I admit to slaughtering most of the ghost orchids, of the half dozen to a dozen remaining most are showing new growth. They are in a large southwest facing window, in a not tightly sealed terrarium and I’m spraying them with water in the morning and evening.

Oct 6, 2014
These are tough, every time they start doing well, they start doing poorly a week later. I moved them from the southwest window to a spot under a bright LED which doesn’t get as hot in the afternoon. We’ll see how that goes?

Feb 2015
I killed all but one of the Ghost Orchids. The surviving one is floating on a piece of bark in a fish tank under an extremely bright light. So far it seems to be surviving.

Tips for starting seeds indoors

There are many advantages to starting plants from seeds. It is much cheaper and you have a much larger variety of seeds available than you do plants. The downside is a fair bit of work is required and it takes quite a bit longer to get a mature plant.

Use fresh potting medium and pots. The biggest problem most of us have with starting seeds is ‘damping off’ which is caused by a fungus. When this fungus is present, seedlings wilt or do not even germinate. You can also use bleach to clean out your pots if you going to reuse some.

The less you have to move a seedling the better. If you must separate and replant seedlings loosen the soil with a pencil or skewer. Grasp the seedling by a leaf, not stem or root. Drop seedling root into an already prepared hole in its new pot. Seedlings can recover from leaf damage but not root or stem damage.

As a general rule of thumb plant seeds about twice their depth down in the soil. Some need light to germinate, some dark. Be sure you know which your seeds need, most need some light.

Soda bottles with the bottoms removed, clear plastic cups and take out containers all can be used to make green houses for your seedlings. Do not use saran wrap, it does not let air through. Be sure to only use clear containers for covers. Your seedlings need their light.

Some seeds need a period of cold before they will germinate. Use some sphagnum peat that you have soaked, then wrung out so it is damp but no longer dripping when you squeeze it. Mix your seeds into this mix and place in a clear plastic food container. Lunch containers work great. Leave outside for 2 or 3 warm, sunny days. ( Seeds will take up water and swell. ) Now place the bag of seeds and peat in your vegetable bin in your fridge for 3-8 weeks depending on how much cold time your particular seeds require.

Seeds may be marked F1 or Hybrid. This means that they are the result of hand pollination between two parents. Seeds saved from hybrids may not be true.

F2 seeds are the seeds of F1 or Hybrid plants and have been self or inter-pollinated.

If collect or are interested in heirloom seeds check out Seed Savers Exchange

Seeds should be stored in a dark, air tight container, just above freezing. Your refrigerator will work well.

If you are planting seeds from plants that prefer dry conditions, like cactus or herbs use a vermiculite/perlite mix rather than soil.

The new clear plastic egg cartons make great seed starters