Voacanaga Africana is a tropical shrub native to West Africa where it is used medicinally and ceremonially. Voacanga is one of the more well-known African entheogens, but its prevalence as a live plant outside of Africa is rather limited because voacanga seeds can be quite tough to germinate once they go dormant. Germination of dormant voacanga seeds can take as long as nine months. Such a long germination period can require patience and persistence on the part of the grower, and as with any seed that has along germination time, mold becomes an adversary.
Almost all voacanga Africana seeds on the market have entered dormancy before they are sold. Very fresh voacanga seeds will actually germinate quite readily, but being able to get them might very well just be a matter of luck. Since voacanga seeds are also sold for entheogenic use, many vendors are not specifically concerned with viability. In order to get a better price, botanical vendors may purchase large amounts at once, and selling these amounts can take some time. But there are other logistical reasons involved in what amounts to a race against time.
Even if voacanga seeds are freshly harvested, dried and shipped from a grower, shipping from Africa can often take several weeks. If your vendor purchased their voacanga seeds from a domestic wholesaler, which is quite likely, then that’s one other factor against time. You then have to consider the time it takes for the seeds to be sold to you, shipped to you and the time it takes for you to begin growing them. Needless to say, it is best to plant to sow voacanga seeds upon arrival rather than storing them. If you do need to store them, do so in an air-tight container, and place that in the fridge.
As time passes, voacanga’s germination time increases, and the rate decreases. This is essentially true for all seeds, but the phenomenon is a bit more underscored with voacanga africana seeds. Properly stored voacanga seed will still germinate after being several months old. As long as there is still some white waxiness to the embryo inside, the seeds are ok. And dormant or not, the germination process is still essentially the same. So without further delay, here are our growing instructions for voacanga africana seeds:
Voacanga seeds come from the inside of a fruit before they are dried, and so they tend to have a lot of debris on the outside. The first thing you want to do is break up any clumps of voacanga seeds you may have. Try to remove any material that might still be stuck to the seed coats. This dead material is a prime target for molds and other unwanted enemies. Once you have cleaned your voacanga seeds by hand, you should rinse them. Then place the seeds in a strainer and run a good stream of water over them. If your sink has a sprayer, use it to spray the seeds for a minute or two. The water will remove all fine voacanga dust from your seeds too.
In nature, some seeds require exposure to a mild acid to help break down the seed coat and facilitate germination. This occurs either during the decomposition of fruit or within the digestive system of birds and other animals. To simulate this, you want to soak your voacanga seeds in distilled vinegar for 10-15 minutes. The standard dilution for distilled vinegar is 5%, which is fine for this task. Once your voacanga seeds have been exposed to the vinegar for the appropriate time, pour off the vinegar and rinse the seeds again under your faucet.
As an added measure against unwanted mold, soak your voacanga seeds in 3% hydrogen peroxide for an additional 20 minutes. 3% is the standard dilution right out of the bottle, so there’s no need to worry about trying to dilute to 3%. If your bottle is diluted slightly differently, it probably won’t make a difference. It may be best to do this in the container you will want to keep your seeds in so that the peroxide sanitizes the container as well. A container you can see through is also ideal so you can monitor the progress of your voacanga seeds. If you are familiar with any of our other grow guides, then you may know that we often favor the small Chinese soup container for tasks such as these.
After 20 minutes, pour off any excess peroxide. There’s no need to rinse your voacanga seeds after the peroxide soak. When you’re done with this, you can cover the seeds. We accomplish this by placing a bowl over the top of the container that will fit well enough to seal the top without actually having a lid that clips on. The idea is that no dust or debris can get inside, but the container is not completely sealed so that it cannot “breath”. This is not to say that an actual lid or a dish over the top would not work just as well. But for the sake of our own method, this has worked quite well.
If you used a clear container for your voacanga seeds, then you should be able to see inside without removing the bowl for several weeks. You should not expect to see any seedling growth for at least a month. Mold growth may be another story. If at any time you see mold forming, simply use the peroxide to clean your voacanga seeds. Pour it in, shake them up to break up the mold and pour off the excess liquid. Then place the lid back on and resume the process. You can continue to do this even after the sprouts have formed.
You can count on voacanga germination to be erratic. Even after the initial sprouts, you may continue to get new voacanga sprouts forming for a month or two afterward. During germination, you should maintain a temperature no less than 70 degrees. But closer to 85 degrees is ideal. You can remove voacanga sprouts as they mature. When the root is about 1/3”, the sprouts are ready to be removed. Leave any unsprouted seeds in the covered container and continue treating with peroxide at any sight of mold.
Sprouts that are removed from the container are ready to begin their next phase of growth in actual dirt. The reason we hold off until this point before introducing dirt is to maintain a more sanitary environment where you can battle mold while keeping moisture and temperature more constant. You can still ruin your voacanga sprouts by planting them too deeply. By waiting until the root is at the right length (1/3”) you can follow the simple rule of burying just the white root and leaving the seed at the soil level. This gives the seedling enough of a foothold in the soil without having to risk it getting lost under any soil.
When it comes to soil type, voacanga likes a moist, rich soil. We’ve had success with regular Scott’s brand potting soil straight from the bag. You can go as close as 2” for the initial spacing on your sprouts. Clearly, more space is better though. Once you’ve buried the seedlings as discussed above, cover the top of your container with clear plastic wrap and place under lights.
We recommend artificial light because it is more consistent and easy to control. However, there’s no reason good natural light would not work. Voacanga prefers bright light. In side-by-side comparisons, the plants given the most light put on the most visible growth with the largest leaves. Fluorescent lighting works fine, specifically t5 fluoresents. These are the really skinny tubes, and they are known for the best and most even output of growth for plants. The only drawback is that they are a little harder to find. In the event that you cannot use t5’s, other fluorescent lights can be substituted.
Once your voacanga seedlings have had a chance to mature, you can begin to separate them out into their own containers. At this point, they should be relatively stable and easy to manage. It is important to maintain high humidity and bright light for your voacanga africana plants. Keep the soil consistently moist without it getting completely soggy.
Voacanaga Africana is a very rewarding plant to grow, specifically because of its rarity in ethnoboatnical plant collections. Rarity is certainly not because of a lack of interest in the plant but rather because of the added difficulties involved with growing it. But we hope that this guide will help you overcome those obstacles so you can enjoy the satisfaction of having done so and become part of a rather limited group of collectors with this plant.