Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Growing Podophyllum hexandrum ‘Himalayan May Apple’ From seed.

The other day while doing my regular garden walk, I noticed the fruit on my Himalayan Podophyllum had finally turned red. While the entire plant is quite poisonous the fruits WHEN RIPE are supposed to be edible.  Quite frankly I don’t know why anyone would eat a May Apple as the flavor didn’t do much for me at all. As soon as it touched my tounge I spat it out, it’s doubtful to be showing up on the cooking channel anytime soon.

While this plant is a little lack luster in late August, podophyllum hexandrum is a worthy garden ornamental, and looks spectacular emerging in spring. For more photos of this plant in it’s full beauty, search Google Images.

Being the complete plant nerd that I am I decided I’d try my hand at germinating some seeds. Furthermore research online tells me that this won’t be an easy process, but perhaps possible with a little preparation. Let’s give it a try.

First I picked the podophyllum fruit.

Ripped it apart (or bit it open, YUCK!)

Then continued to clean off the pulp in warm water with some paper towel. Beautiful scarlet red seeds!

From here we need to do a little research. It turns out Podophyllum hexandrum has been attracting some serious attention in the medical world for it’s potential cancer fighting podophyllotoxins. These chemicals are found in the  roots of the plant. Mix over-harvesting with dwindling natural habitats and the outcome is as predicted. Podophyllum hexandrum’s are becoming quite rare in their natural habitat, in fact, the plant is now considered endangered. Studies have shown that the Podophyllum hexandrum is a difficult plant to grow indeed, and mass scale grow ops of the plant have so far proven a failure. There is low germination from stored seed and the dormancy of these seeds seems inconsistent and hard to crack. They hypothesize that due to the plants having a highly specialized natural habitat, they’ve evolved to require that for proper reproduction. The plants grow at high altitudes and some speculate that this plays are role in successful germination.  P. hexandrum contains almost three times as much “active ingredient” as it’s relatives in North America, making this plant more then just a garden ornamental.

There are loads of scientific journals on the subject and I’ve done my best to take the best from them. Many studies suggested that giving the seeds a hot water treatment prior to sowing could help germination rates. So after cleaning up the seeds I put them in a glass of close to boiling water for 60-120 seconds, drained them, rolled them in some garden sulfur and sowed in 4″ pots filled with 2/3 soil 1/3 garden manure substrate. The seeds will take 3-6 months to germinate (if everything goes smoothly) and should poke out next spring.

Plant Science! Hopefully I’ll have a success story next spring, stay tuned!

Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.