How to Grow Calea Zacatechichi from Seeds and Cuttings

By / 19th August, 2014 / Grow Guides /

Calea zacatechichi is the most well-known of several dreaming herbs that make up the class known as oneirogens. Other dreaming herbs include Silene Capensis (African Dream Root), Entada Rheedii and Artemisia Vulgaris (Mugwort). Dream herbs are used to induce lucid dreaming, which, most accurately is described as an awareness that you are dreaming to the point that you can control dreams. But, on a more basic level, dream herbs also seem to be linked to increased dream recall or simply an awareness that you are dreaming even if you cannot control the dream. There are also a number of other herbs, particularly sedative herbs, which seem to cause increased dream activity in various users without them being specifically labeled as dream herbs. Mad Dog Skullcap, California Poppy, Lavender, German Chamomile and Agrimony are among these. The following guide is intended to explain the various growing techniques for calea zacatechichi.

Classic Mexican calea zacatchichi leaf is quite bitter. There is also a calea that is not. To distinguish the difference between the two, we label calea as either the bitter variety or the non-bitter variety. Dreaming herbs have variable effects from user to user, and they seem to become more effective with regular use. But collective information from various users includes enough reports to suggest that both the bitter and non-bitter caleas are active as oneirogens. The non-bitter variety happens to be that variety that most collectors have in cultivation even though most commercially available calea herb is the bitter variety. The non-bitter variety has more triangular-shaped leaves that are not as thick as those of the bitter strain. But distinguishing the two plants can be complicated by the fact that calea leaves can vary in appearance, even on the same plant. Both types of calea also have yellow flowers. But normally, it is pretty easy to tell the difference even without tasting the leaves.

As mentioned before, almost all collectors have the non-bitter variety of calea, so that is what the techniques covered in this guide will be based on. But it is probable that they will work just as well for either type. Calea is reproduced primarily through cuttings, and it seems that most of the genetic pool in the U.S. and Canada is made up of clones of one another and seeds produced from those clones. That is likely why that bitter variety is so difficult to find.

Cloning Calea Zacatechichi

Calea is one of the easiest plants to grow once established. But many times it does not produce seeds. Seeds are not readily available for sale, and many of them are non-viable or have poor viability. On the other hand, cuttings are very easy to root. So that explains why cuttings are the most popular choice for reproduction. But again, this habitual cloning limits the genetic pool.

Calea clones can be rooted in any medium that is used for rooting. We typically root calea cuttings in water since it is easy and inexpensive. Rooting hormone is not required for rooting calea cuttings, but we have done tests that have shown cuttings rooted with rooting hormone will root slightly quicker and have a much better-developed root system. So you can avoid the rooting hormone if cost or availability is an issue. But if time is a concern, you’ll want to use it.

Rooting hormone is available in either gel or powder form and can be found in most garden centers or online. The gel is preferable to the powder because it will stick to the stem better, but the powder seems to be more readily available. The active ingredient in most rooting hormone products is usually indole-3-butyric acid. But you can also make your own natural rooting solution by boiling a couple grams of white willow bark (salix alba) and using the tea to root your cuttings. White willow bark is the same bark that is used as an herbal pain reliever and contains the precursor to acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin).

When rooting many plants, it is important to select your cutting right below a node on the mother plant. A node is the part of the stem where the leaves come out of. The mother plant is the larger plant from which you are taking your cutting. The nodes already tend to have higher levels of growth hormones that make rooting easier. But since calea roots so easily, selection at the node is less important than with other plants. You can be more liberal in your selection without fear of failure.

Once you’ve selected a part of the mother plant to make your cutting, you can prepare to make the cut. It is usually a good idea to water your plant well about an hour prior to making the cut so that the cutting is well-hydrated. For cuttings that take a long time to root, it is usually a good idea to sterilize or sanitize your cutting tool. But we’ve never had any problems using an unsanitized scissor to make calea cuttings.

Once the calea cutting is made, you need to apply the rooting hormone (if you’re using it). The gel will go on easily. But the powder requires that you to wet the stem of your calea plant first. We also usually mix some powdered rooting hormone in the water we’re using to root the calea cutting in. We do this so that the water becomes saturated with hormone. Otherwise, the powder has a tendency to wash off into the water anyway. To minimize washing off, we also try to gently put the dream herb cutting into water without too much movement so that the powder stays clumped on the calea stem. If you’re using the gel, washing off becomes less of an issue. Also, if you’re using a different rooting medium such as perlite, the powder will usually stay on easier as long as you don’t rub it off when sticking the cutting into it.

We usually place our calea cuttings in about 1-2 inches of water. When using other rooting mediums we’ll usually put a little bit more than 2 inches of medium since other mediums hold more air and less moisture than pure water. Once the dream herb cutting has been situated in the rooting medium, you want to cover the top of the cutting and the container with a clear plastic bag, such as a food storage bag. This is called a humidity tent. You can even use the produce bags that come free with your fruits and vegetables from the grocery store. The humidity tent keeps the air inside humid so that the dream herb plant does not dry out before it grows roots. Once the bag is laid overtop, secure the bottom with a rubber band and place the calea cutting in a well-lit area at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The advantage of using water is that you can see the calea roots forming. For other rooting mediums, you can test the root formation by tugging gently on the cutting. When it becomes restricted from moving, that means your calea roots are forming. But be sure not to pull too hard and damage the roots. You can begin seeing roots on calea cuttings in as little as six days, but it may take a few weeks, especially at cooler temperatures.

Transplanting and Growing Calea Zacatechichi Cuttings

Once your calea plant’s root system is formed, you can transplant your dream herb cutting to soil. It is best to wait until the root system is well-developed just to minimize any chance of failure. But you can technically transplant calea at any point once the roots have begun forming. Calea will grow in most commercially available soils from seed starter soil to potting soil to compost to cactus soil. Calea zacatechichi has a very low nutrient requirement. As a demonstration of this fact, we’ve even left calea cuttings rooting in perlite, which offers no nutritional value, for approximately a year. But like many plants that can handle low-nutrient environments, fertile soil will benefit the growth and leaf quality.

To transplant your calea cutting, simply place a few inches of soil into your container. Hold the calea cutting in the pot at the level you want it to be situated once it is planted. Be sure to let the roots hang down or spread out. Letting the roots spread will help them occupy more areas of the pot than letting them clump up in one spot. This will give them access to more nutrients than if you have them share one spot where they’ll be forced to compete for nutrients. While calea does not require more nutrients, providing more nutrients will mean faster root growth. Faster root growth decreases the time your plant needs to adapt to soil and increases the chance of success.

It is important to add the soil to the pot without damaging your new calea roots. After every little bit of soil you add, spray it down to maintain even soil moisture. You want to make sure there is moisture everywhere in the pot that it needs to be. Your other option would be to saturate the soil afterwards. But spraying as you add the soil allows for a more even mix of air, soil and moisture throughout your pot. Once the pot is filled, you should pack the soil down lightly to help keep the calea cutting supported. But you do not want to pack the soil too hard because you can damage the roots or remove all the air form the soil. Air in the soil will help the root formation and reduce the chance for mold and bacteria growth in the soil. You can even add a little bit of hydrogen peroxide in the water to help the roots along and ward off these unwanted organisms.
Once you’ve transplanted the calea to soil, it is usually a good idea to put it back in the humidity tent. Especially if the cutting was rooted in water where moisture was plentiful or if it does not have a well-developed root system, your calea may benefit from a little assistance. Keeping your calea in the humidity tent will take the burden off the plant that evaporation from the leaves causes. Usually after the first few days, the plant is ready to be removed from the humidity tent. When you first remove the calea plant from the humidity tent, just keep an eye on it over the first few hours to make sure it is adjusting well. If your calea plant wilts, you can just drape the humidity tent back over the top. The plant can stay in the tent as long as you want. But you must realize that an extended period in a humidity tent can make a plant dependent on the humidity tent, and it can require extra work to eventually acclimate it out of the tent. This goes for any plant, not just calea zacatechichi.

Calea zacatechichi can be grown in relatively low-light conditions, which makes it very easy to care for. It will do fine in most window lighting. It also does well outdoors or under fluorescents. Usually more light will give you darker and thicker leaves. But too much light will cause calea to turn purple or red. Just like human skin, calea leaves can sunburn. Sunburn will usually not kill the plant, but it is a sign that the plant is under stress.

Growing Calea Zacatechichi from Seed

Although growing calea from cuttings is easier and quicker, growing calea from seed is rewarding. Calea seeds are not widely offered, and many seeds are not viable or have very poor viability. Even “good” calea seed will usually have a low viability rate compared to most seeds of other species. Ideally, you want to procure your calea seeds while they are still in the in the pod. There are about 20 seeds per pod on average. In the pod, your calea seeds will be better protected from the air. They should also be stored in the fridge until use to help maximize preservation.

You should always start your calea seeds indoors where you can keep the conditions mild. Outdoors, you can have to deal with all sorts of conditions such as wind, animals, rain or too much heat that can wipe out your entire project in one moment. Calea seeds contain a skinny stick-like seed with a feathery tip connected to the top. Calea seeds should be germinated on the surface of the soil either on their sides or with the points of the seeds facing down into the soil, which is how they would end up if they were carried away by the wind after being released from the seed pods. It is important that the soil you are using to germinate dream herb seeds is lightly moist but not too wet because the seeds can develop mold very easily. A well-draining sandy soil will best help you achieve the proper soil moisture.

Once you’ve sown your seeds, you want to cover the top of the container with a humidity tent and keep them at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A desk lamp with a compact fluorescent light is enough to start your calea seeds. Since your calea seeds will be on the surface, the first part of the soil to dry out, the humidity tent will help keep the seeds from drying out at any point until they germinate. But in order to minimize the chance of mold growing on your dream herb seeds, it is important to regularly air out the humidity tent over the course of the germination process. Calea seeds are small, so just a little mold can do harm.

Calea zacatechichi seeds can take several weeks before they begin sprouting, and they will germinate irregularly. You can end up with new sprouts several weeks after your first sprouts have popped up. The young calea seedlings are extremely small because of the thin seed they come from. This makes them extremely vulnerable until they mature. To help them grow up quickly, good fresh air exchange will give you an advantage. Be sure to air out your humidity tent as much as possible. Once your calea seedlings are about ¼”, you can take the tent off and begin blowing them lightly with a fan. This will also help strengthen the stems of an otherwise fragile plant.

Water your calea seedlings only by spraying the soil because pouring water into your pot can uproot and wash away your tiny calea seedlings. The roots of young dream herb seedlings are generally pretty shallow because the root system begins at the soil surface instead of down in the soil. But adding a small amount of rooting hormone to the water you’re using to water your seedlings can help the roots mature a little quicker.
Your container may still have calea seeds that are willing to germinate. Some of them can still germinate with the humidity tent off. But you want to make sure to keep the soil and the surrounding air moist. Another option is to separate the dream herb seedlings out into a different container so they can get some more air while keeping the unsprouted calea seeds inside the tent. But it is imperative that you avoid damaging the roots of the young calea seedlings. The advantage of the situation is that young calea roots are shallow, which means it is easy to get underneath them and pull up all the dirt around them without ever touching the roots themselves. It’s a little bit of a gamble in transplanting, but if you are careful, it should be fairly beneficial. Transplanting will also give you a chance to support the seedlings properly. With the shallow root system, calea seedlings are prone to falling over. But resupporting your calea seedlings and adding the fan is the perfect combo to develop good stem support in the early stages of growth.

By the time your calea plants are about three to four inches, they should be in the clear. You can go on to treat them according to the same instructions as you would a rooted calea cutting. More importantly, you will have one of the more genetically diverse calea plants.

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