Collecting seeds from Leonotis nepetifolia

Over the last few years I’ve been growing Leonotis nepetifolia (thanks to Jonathan Gregson for correcting the species in the comments below) from seed after first reading about it years ago in one of Monty Don’s books. This year it’s one of a number of plants I’m growing from seed collected myself.

Above are some plants on my allotment in 2017. I’ve bought seeds from Chiltern Seeds and Sarah Raven, growing them over two seasons. To date, I’ve found germination to be erratic although last year’s from Sarah Raven had good germination resulting in seven strong plants.

How to collect seeds from Leonotis nepetifolia

Toward the end of summer the plants will still be flowering but the lower whorls will have started setting seed. They turn brown when this happens. I waited as long as possible into the autumn and then collected as many seed heads as possible, storing in brown paper bags in a cool dark place. This is to reduce moisture during storage. Be careful, those seed heads are spikier than a very spiky thing. Ouch.

Taking them out of storage in February, it was time to separate the seed from the chaff. Some seed had naturally fallen from the seed heads into the bags, which you can see above – the tiny black seeds.

After removing the larger parts of the dead flower heads it was evident that about 3 to 7 seeds get stuck in each of the sepals. Sometimes they can be shaken out but often, it’s the painstaking method of ripping the sepal open so the seeds can fall out.

Eventually I managed to get about 300 – 400 seeds from only five or six seed heads. I haven’t worked out how to remove the finer bits of chaff yet, probably with a sieve.

I’ll be sowing some of these now – and will have a lot of excess seeds. The big question is will they grow? Well, I shall let you know!

4 thoughts on “Collecting seeds from Leonotis nepetifolia

  1. Hello Jack,just happened upon your article in The Telegraph.
    I love gardens,and admire other people who have such patience,and dedication.
    My son lives in Greenwich.[ no we are not posh were Yorkshire born and bred]
    Last summer in one of the walled gardens,my husband gave me a lift up and I plucked a small furry item.[a small underdeveloped kiwi]
    I opened it and it tasted fine.
    Could not believe they were growing beautifully hanging over the wall.
    Needless to say,we foraged or is it pinched,loads,took them home to Hull,and continuing eating them up to Christmas.Why am I telling you this,I just am .
    We to and fro from Hull,every 6-8 weeks ,we like Clapham too.[are you posh?]
    All the best. p.s. no twitter or instergram bit of a dinasaur.

    1. Hiya Annie! Yes Kiwis will grow here very well on a warm south facing wall. Although I’ve never seen them myself – perhaps I’m just not fast enough! 😀 I sound a bit posh due to my primary school but I’m not posh. Greenwich is really nice.

  2. Hi Jack, I’m totally with you on growing plants from seed, I still find it magical every year. Seed I’ve collected and saved myself always seems to have a much lower germination rate than bought seed, but that just makes the first signs of germination even more exciting.

    By the way, I think the plant you are growing is Leonotis nepetifolia – an annual or short-lived perennial – rather than Leonotis leonurus which eventually grows into quite a substantial shrub. The leaf shape is the give away. I recommend giving the real L. leonurus a try, the flowers are larger and an even more radiant shade of orange, and it should survive the winter in Clapham fine (I’m in Camberwell). Check out my blog for more info on what is one of my favourite plants…

    1. Hi Jonathan! You’re right! Thank you so much for pointing that out – I just google searched and it’s pretty obvious. I’ve never thought to check. The seed packets were all labelled leonurus. I better update this blog post – thanks again.

      It is pretty magical growing from own seed, I just suddenly feel much more connected to the world. I’ve found germination rates ok so far, and I definitely have much more seed now so I guess that will make up for any lower germinators. I’m definitely not storing the seed perfectly which probably won’t help, they’re simply stuffed in bags in a box.

      Lots of keen gardeners seem to live in Camberwell it seems. I’ll read your blog now.

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