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Germination of Anadenanthera Colubrina and Anadenanthera Peregrina Seeds

The following guide outlines a procedure for germinating anadenanthera colubrina and anadenanthera peregrina seeds. Known commonly as cebil, anadenanthera colubrina is the predominant species on the market. Although yopo seems to be a more prolific common name for seeds of this type, almost all peregrina seeds on the market are actually seeds of anadenanthera colubrina. The problem is most likely born out of ignorance rather than deceit. Looking at the seeds alone is not enough to distinguish the two species, and the trees themselves are quite similar. The problem is exacerbated because each species has multiple types, and the seeds of colubrina range in appearance from small, thick, nearly black seeds to big fat reddish seeds.  Many mistake the different forms of colubrina for being peregrina. But having had both species at one time or another, we can confirm that the seeds cannot be told apart by simple observation. Fortunately, for the purpose of this guide it does not matter. With the seeds being nearly the same, they can be grown the same way, which ultimately means they can be combined into one guide. 

Anadenanthera seeds typically do not have issues sprouting. They can be stored for at least several months to a year without going bad. Even seeds that you might expect to be immature can sprout. The more pressing issue with anadenathera seed germination seems to be mold and rot.  For a tropical plant, it is staggering how little moisture is needed for these seeds to rot. The outer seed coat is just a papery thin layer that is shed as the embryo develops.  This tends to be a good host for unwanted invaders.

It is important that you choose a well-draining soil rich in hummus.  Potting soils with a high peat moss content are not usually ideal. Avoid seed starting soil mixes.  Compost is good if it has not been outside. Commercial cactus potting soil is ok too. Sterilizing the soil may be beneficial, but it is not required.

For a number of years we planted anadenanthera seeds on their side so that the bottom rim of the seed was pressed down into the soil until the top rim was even with the soil line and just visible if you looked down at the soil. Usually the goal that way would be to guess the fine line between too much and too little soil moisture. Most often, too much moisture was the issue. The soil might look dry, but the swollen seed would be covered with cottony mold. Success did happen, but it was usually a numbers game.

More recently, we tried another method, which follows the natural way seeds would be dispersed. When the seed pods dry, the right and left sides snap apart from the bottom, spilling the seeds on the ground. As you’d imagine, the seeds land flat on the ground. So that is how they should be sown. It is common for small seeds to be surface sown, but the general rule in sowing is to bury seeds at a depth proportionate to their thickness. So you hardly see big seeds germinated in this manner. Anadenanthera seeds are the exception to this rule. This way minimizes contact with the moisture that causes rot. There was a question as to whether they would get enough moisture to sprout this way. But it seems these seeds are especially adept at drawing in moisture. That explains why they have such a tendency to rot in the soil, even when it is rather dry. Even this way, there are no guarantees, but it should offer significant improvement over the alternative methods.

Surface sowing offers three main advantages that seem to contribute to the better success we’ve experienced by using this method. As anadenanthera seeds germinate this way, they will send a tap root out the back of the seed downward into the soil. As the embryo matures a bit, the seed will quickly rise up off the soil floor where the pathogens concentrate. That is to say it rises out of the soil quicker than when it is buried. If we are to associate the soil with pathogens themselves,  these are three advantages. The seed will be out of the soil much quicker this way. So it also minimizes the time it remains in contact with pathogens.  It will only contact the soil, on one side. So it minimizes the amount of contact with pathogens. It also limits the ways in which the plant can overdraw water from the soil. So it limits the factors that can cause pathogens to flourish.

Although you may get to the seedling stage fine, young seedlings can still rot rather easily. The leaves are extremely delicate, and a plant that is not happy will almost certainly die or become stunted. Be sure to keep the soil from getting too moist before the seedling has matured.  You do not want the roots or lower stem to rot. It is better to use less water but to water more frequently at this stage of growth. As long as the lower soil (below the surface) has some moisture, that’s what you want.  Standing water breeds pathogens. Spraying the soil is good because it allows you to add a small bit of moisture that will be used up or evaporate without standing.  But make sure that you don’t focus so much on shallow spraying that your lower soil dried out. The soil below the roots needs to be moist to encourage root expansion.

Watering will also be proportionate to the amount of light and heat you give the plant. Once the seedlings sprout, we recommend putting them under direct artificial lighting. This will encourage them to grow thicker, quicker and stronger. The sooner that happens, the less likely you are to fail. Use a small fan just to get them to gently rock. Surely, you do not want to blow off the delicate leaflets. But the rocking motion will increase the strength of the stem.  Air will also help keep the soil fresh, and it will increase the gas exchange that is necessary for photosynthesis.