The Coonties Set Seed!

Lately I’ve been bitten by the gardening bug, and in fact, I’ll have a lot more to say about my random adventures in gardening in the near future.  (Particularly my forays into vegetable gardening and organic gardening and I promise it all leads back to marine conservation.)

Luckily when the house was under construction we had the lovely people over at the Florida Native Plant Society assist us in designing a native landscape of plants and flowers.  Coonties, a native cycad, were a natural choice.  These medium sized beauties are often mistaken for palms and ferns, but are in fact in their own little (long surviving) branch off the enormously ancient plant family tree.

Not only are the coonties a welcome addition of ever-green to the foliage here in the Florida “winter”, they’re also highly drought resistant.  While we’ve been having some bang-up thunderstorms lately, winter season is still dry season here so every bit of rain certainly helps.

Now that the coonties have been in the ground at the house at least four years, they’ve set out both male and female cones and it was only last week that I discovered the female cones had broken open to reveal dozens of bright orange “seeds”.

The male cones are a lot smaller than the females and also seem to sit up higher off the ground.  It’s not easy to sex coonties until they start producing these cones, and I’m ecstatic that we were able to get a good mix of males and females with our initial crop.  Here’s the male cones:

With a little bit of internet searching I was able to come up with a game plan for germinating more of the unfortunately slow growing plants.  (And at an easy $30-40 per plant at the nursery for baby coonties, I admit I had some dollar signs in my eyes at first.)

First, collect the seeds.  Easy peesy.

Second, remove the seedcoat.  Uh, yeah?  Why?  Reportedly the seedcoats contain compounds that naturally inhibit germination of the underlying seed so the “fruit” has to be removed.  I did it with a knife and bare hands, only to discover later that the coats may be somewhat toxic to mammals in large doses and I really should’ve used rubber gloves.  Yikes.  (I also put the discarded seedcoats into the compost pile and then had to pull them out after discovering this lovely fact about coontie biology.)

(As a further side note, these seedcoats smell.. interesting.  A slightly sickly sweet and pungent smell.  My advice is to only pull off these ‘coats in a well ventilated area.)

Third, allow the seeds to dry and scrape any remaining orangey seedcoat off with a knife.  Four hours later, I have forty-two perfect seeds ready to plant.   (And probably at least a hundred more waiting for me to work up the patience to remove their seedcoats.)

After some preparation of pots with Florida loam/sand mix and regular old potting mix, I’m all set and ready to go.  The trouble is, it’s still winter here and the night time temperatures aren’t regularly above the 70F mark recommended for ideal coontie germination.

However… I’m reading that the seedlings can take a week to a few months (!!!) before they rear their little heads from the soil.  So, I’m hedging my bets.  I placed four seeds to each of several 8-inch pots and I’m crossing my fingers that before Memorial Day I’ll have some baby plant photos to share.

And even if this first round of seedlings don’t do well, I’ve got a ton of further seeds to experiment with all through the good parts of our growing season.  Spring is, thankfully, just around the corner.