2 Contenders for Hips and Rabbi Samuel Redux

As I walked along the beach, I took a look and my first thought was “Nice hips.” But what about the flowers? I’d have to return to the plant next summer to find out, a problem since I was 4 hours from home visiting a relative in Rhode Island.

Most of the roses you see growing seaside are Rosa rugosa. Common names for this plant are Japanese rose, indicating its origin, saltspray rose, indicating its tolerance to beach sand, and rugose rose. “Rugose” means “wrinkled,” which is what leaves of R. rugosa are.

The particular planting of nice-hipped roses staring back at me did not have rugose leaves. What’s more, the hips were about 3/4 of an inch across and bright red. Hips of rugose rose are usually an inch or more across and orangish-red. With this slightly different morphology and the fact that rugose rose is listed as an invasive plant, I assumed that the nice-hipped roses, recently installed as landscape plants, were another species.

Those are Rosa rugosa hips on the left, Rosa canine(?) hips on the right

Those are Rosa rugosa hips on the left, Rosa canine(?) hips on the right

With such nice hips, the plants could possibly be dog rose, R. canina, the other rose species valued for its hips. The lack of sepals on the hips also pointed the finger at dog rose. (Rugose rose hips have persistent sepals.) A even closer look would have nailed it; rugose rose’s stems have numerous prickles throughout their length while bold, large, wide, downward-facing thorns line dog rose stems. But I didn’t look closer.

Dog rose, although much less frequently seen, is also considered invasive in some places.

Sowing Seeds for More Hips (and Flowers)

As potentially invasive plants, rugose rose or dog rose should be easy to grow from seed. But no. I’ve propagated roses from seed, and it’s a slow process.

Last summer's Rosa rugosa blossoms

Last summer’s Rosa rugosa blossoms

Rose seeds, like those of most other fall-ripening seeds of temperate zone plants, have a physiological dormancy that prevents their immediate sprouting, the consequence of which would be death from cold. So they just sit in moist earth until they have experienced a number of hours of chilly temperatures — 30 to 45° F is ideal — before sprouting, at which time winter has presumably given way to spring weather. Instead of moist earth, that chilly habitat could be within the refrigerator in a plastic bag filled with peat moss and perlite.

But rose seeds have another impediment to germination: a tough seed coat. Plant the seed outdoors and shoots might not poke through the surface of the ground for 2 years. The first winter and summer are spent softening the seed coat, making it permeable to moisture. Beginning the second fall, chilling hours begin to accumulate so that by the second spring, the seed can awaken and grow.

I did pluck a few fruits from that Rhode Island, nice-hipped rose bush, and plan to make new bushes. But I’m too impatient to wait 2 years. “Scarifying” the seeds is a quick way to make the seed coats more permeable. Nicking them with a wire cutter does the trick but would be difficult with such small seeds. An hour or so in warm, concentrated sulfuric acid — followed by a thorough rinsing in water — is likewise effective but a bit dangerous. I’ll follow Mother Nature’s lead and soften the seed coats by keeping the seeds warm and moist. No matter how the seed coat is softened, subsequent cool, moist conditions are still needed before the seeds will sprout.

There’s barely time to get those seeds growing this spring. Two months in moist warmth followed by 2 to 3 months in moist peat and perlite in the refrigerator should awaken them. It’s exciting to check the bag in the refrigerator because, once mechanical and chemical barriers to germination have been overcome, a bag of seeds is usually transformed to a bag of white root sprouts, all at once, as if a switch had been turned on.

The Rabbi Multiplies

I’ll have to make up some extra peat-perlite mix. Cutting all the vertical shoots of Rabbi Samuel fig espalier back to the horizontal arms of the permanent “T” framework have yielded a pile of long stems. I can’t bear to throw them away because every foot-long section has the potential to make a whole new plant.

Rabbi Samuel fig, pruned

Rabbi Samuel fig, pruned

The rooting media for these hardwood cuttings? Peat and perlite again. A bunch of the stems in a deep pot with just their top buds up out of the peat mix should sprout and root by spring.

Not sure what I’ll do with all the resulting fig plants.

So Many Roses, I Hope

I’m also not sure what I’ll do with all the anticipated rose seedlings, especially since I’m not even sure of their species. I did telephone the public works department of the Rhode Island town where the roses were planted and was told that they were Rosa rugosa. I think they are wrong.

Fig cuttings

Fig cuttings

No matter: Rosa rugosa is one of the most fragrant roses with deep pink, sometimes white, flowers that are borne all summer long. Also, like dog rose, with nice, fleshy hips, good enough fresh and excellent for jam and tea.

Excitement in some Seeds

There’s still some space left in the March 10th lecture/workshop in Philadelphia. In the morning, I’ll do a photo presentation about pruning fruit trees, shrubs, and vines and then, after lunch, we’ll go out into the real world, at the Awbury Arboretum’s Agricultural Village. For more information and for registration for FRUIT PRUNING SIMPLIFIED, please visit:

And now, on to what’s happening up here on my farmden in New York’s Hudson Valley . . .
Some inch-long, tapering white sprouts — roots — caused quite a stir today. For me, at least. The first was spotted inside a baggie of moist potting soil that I put in the refrigerator a couple of months ago. That sprout was attached to a marble-sized, brown yellowhorn (Xanthocerus sorbifolia) seed. Giving the bag a shake brought more seeds to the surface, all with emerging sprouts.
The other sprouts were in a Clementine tangerine box that, last summer, I had filled with potting soil in which I had sown seeds of Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa). The box sat outside along the north wall of my house until a couple of weeks ago, when I brought it indoors to warmth.
Without doing time in the cold, whether outdoors or in the refrigerator, neither batch of seeds would have sprouted. They needed, as do many tree and shrub seeds, a period of stratification, that is, time kept cool and moist. After a certain number of hours under these conditions, typically about 800 hours for hardy trees and shrubs, the seeds can sprout unless temperatures are too cold.
I chose my words carefully when I wrote “cool and moist” above; temperatures below freezing contribute nothing to this so-called cooling “bank.” So, outdoors, those Nanking cherry seeds put time into their chilling bank this past autumn and during any of winter’s warmer days. If that time hadn’t been sufficiently long, hours in the “bank” could have been topped up in late winter and early spring.
A refrigerator is just the right temperature for stratification, too right in some ways. The consistently cool temperatures there fill up the chilling bank hours quickly, so quickly that seeds collected in late summer and stratified there often sprout in December, which means indoor planting at a time when growing conditions are at their worst. That’s why my yellowhorn seeds didn’t get a good soaking and then tucked into the bag with potting soil in the refrigerator until late November.
Forget about the nuts; yellowhorn is worth
growing even just for its flowers
The yellowhorn seeds came from a tree I planted many years ago. I planted it because yellowhorn was billed as a small, hardy tree with a nut very similar to a macadamia nut. Yes, the nut does look like a macadamia, inside and out, and it’s about the same size. But yellowhorn nuts taste nothing like macadamia nuts. The yellowhorn nuts from my tree are barely edible, roasted or raw.
So why am I so excited about the nuts (seeds) sprouting to give me additional plants. Yellowhorn is a beautiful tree with ferny leaves and drooping, large clusters of purple-throated, white flowers that rival and resemble orchids.
Run-of-the-mill, seedling macadamia nuts are not as tasty as named varieties that have been selected over the years. No named varieties of yellowhorn exist. Perhaps a tasty clone may one day be discovered. Perhaps one of the sprouting seeds in my baggie will grow into a tree that will be the one that bears those tasty nuts. 
Nanking cherry is another story, as far as taste. Like yellowhorn, no named varieties of Nanking cherry exist. But I’ve tasted the fruits, which are small, sweet-tart cherries, from many different plants in many different places over many years, and they all taste good.
Like yellowhorn, Nanking cherry also sports beautiful flowers. Each year in early spring, my Nanking cherry shrubs are drenched in such a profusion of pinkish-white blossoms that you can hardly see the stems.
Nanking cherry stems are hidden behind
the oodles of fruit this plant bears 
Another plus for Nanking cherry is that it is pest-resistant and bears reliably every year. The usual pests of cherries — curculios, fruit flies, brown rot, leaf spots, borers — are insignificant on Nanking cherries. And the plant laughs off extremes of temperature: It’s native where winter lows plummet to minus 50°F and summer highs soar to 110°F, and even though the plants’ blossoms open early in spring, spring frosts are never a problem. Did I mention that the plants also grow quickly and bear young, typically a couple of years after planting?
All this is not to say that Nanking cherry could not be improved. Some selection or breeding could slide flavor more towards the sweeter end of the sweet-tart scale. Larger fruit would be welcome. Mostly, the cherries are a mere one-half to five-eighths inch in diameter.
So last summer I collected seeds from fruits that were a little bigger and a little sweeter than the rest. Those were the seeds I planted in that Clementine tangerine box. I’m going to let these plants grow until warm weather settles in spring, then move them outdoors. In 2 or 3 years, I’ll be sampling fruits from these seedlings. I’ll save and plant some seeds from shrubs bearing the largest and tastiest fruits, and plant them. Perhaps I’ll eventually have some better Nanking cherries. At the very least, I’ll have lots of them.