If there ever has been life on Mars – or even if there still is life (which to me sounds more likely) – it cannot be weirder than our own aliens.
Anacampseros namaquensis buds bend down after each flowering, that is, they look like buds, but are not, they have just flowered their short two-and-a-half-hours-flowering, close tight as a bud and bend until being perfectly horizontal.
19 days later they make a second move. And again 90º until pointing into the zenith. This is when you know that you must be all attention. The next day, if weather is warm and dry, there takes place a bizarre show for those who watch closely.
Both sepals tear off from the base of the flower. They shrivel considerably, taking with them the gauzy petals that look as if pressed for a 3D-herbarium.
See both scars, the inferior, where the sepals inserted and the superior, with some fibres left, marks the abscission for the petals. You can see the green capsule – well, as green as there can be green on Mars – and take a good look, for it won’t remain long like this. In fact, the ‘veins’ you see will be the remaining latticework. Focus on the small notches at the base of the capsule…
…where the first tear slit appears. The outer tissue of the capsule will gradually open like an inverted flower.
Eventually, a martian gust of wind, and the whole hat flies away.
After a few hours all that remains is a filigran skeleton container, an inner layer of epidermis and, of course, the reason for all this effort: the seeds. The baskets look like being ‘half-filled’ and contain approximately 75 sculptured seeds.
Instead of drilling holes in martian debris, rover Curiosity should use one of its cameras to focus on tiny remnants of life like Anacapseros hats. Look at that landscape – sure they grow out there somewhere!
Though it could be that Mars has never seen something as extra-martian as an Anacampseros seed capsule.
I’d love to beam a basketful of fresh Anacampseros seeds up to Aeolis Mons; but I’m afraid that would be considered adulteration of local flora.
The substrate is prepared. 80% volcanic lapilli, bigger chunks in the bottom and finer graduation towards the top, mixed with coconut fibres and a bit of fine silicate sand. Most of the organic part in the upper 5 cm.
The planter is 39x17x14cm, big enough for a few Lithops and hopefully two to three years of happy growing. There are some evident advantages using a planter versus a single pot. They are easier to care after, they keep the moisture a bit longer – which is good for seedlings – and they save space.
As most of you will have recognised the seeds are from Cono’s Paradise. There are plenty of seeds in every seed package, I’ll just use a part of them for this summer enterprise. Germinating Lithops is generally very rewarding, Lithops seeds hatch in nearly every substrate, organic, mineral, cotton, paper, petri dish… older seed is said to have a higher rate than recently harvested seeds. There is some difference in size between different species of Lithops, but as a rule most of good quality seed will hatch in a few days. Be careful when sowing, if you want to avoid crowding and don’t cover the seed.
Sow the seed with the help of a toothpick upon the wet surface of the substrate. Just trickle a few seeds out of the seed package into a china cup, and with the wettened tip of a wooden toothpick you just pick one seed after the other and place them gently and evenly spaced – well, more or less – on the surface of the substrate. It is easy, believe me: I’ve done so with 19 seeds of each of the 16 Lithops species I’ve sown. It took a little bit more than half an hour. This little effort in the beginning will be rewarding in the future. Spray gently after sowing and cover with a plastic wrapper.
Identify each row with the Cole Number or the full name of your Lithops seeds, date of sowing (the more information you may want to add, the better) and add some long but narrow plastic stripes (say from a bottle) as separators, preferably bevor sowing. The plastic stripes will also prevent the plastic wrapper, which will soon get wet from inside, to lay down on the substrate and suffocate the freshly hatched plantlets.
Place the wrapped box out of sun in a bright place.
If you are lucky, in two to three days you may see something.
The temperatures I have to deal with now – and I want to sow now – are 28º/22ºC. There has been written a lot about the pros and cons of higher or lower tº when sowing Lithops; I’m not going to add.
The only viable alternative would be waiting until next winter. And this doesn’t help fighting the Lithops addiction, does it?
Yesterday, three days after sowing, the first movement was there to see, today there are seventeen little new Lithops at home! They deserve to be named, for being the speediest:
Eight Lithops karasmontana;
Two Lithops bromfieldii mennellii; the first one to be photographed!
Three Lithops otzeniana;
Two Lithops aucampiae koelemanii; and
one Lithops schwantesii and L. olivacea nebrownii .
August, 5th. 50 Lithops hatched meanwhile. Nearly all species sown have germinated and, strange enough, the Lithops with the biggest seeds – C204 Lithops lesliei rubrobrunnea – still don’t. The little one in the image – Lithops aucampiae koelemanii – shows what I like seedlings to look like: a short body, a long root and already a bit of colour. With real bright light Lithops grow like this. Etiolated seedlings are prone to diseases.
Still August 5th, by the afternoon 66 seeds have germinated already – C204 still not there! – and I water again. With a gentle spray you can water as much and as often as you like, this type of substrate will never be waterlogged and soggy. Excess of water just pours out. Spraying once or twice a day keeps the seed wet. The seed clings firmly to the surface of the susbstrate and once sprouted, the empty ‘shell’ will keep securely attached to most of the young cotyledons for many weeks: I’ve never found the seed being washed away, even the tiniest stay in place.
Never forget to protect the planter again with plastic wrapper.
August, 8th. Seven days after sowing 100 seedings gather in the planter, which is roughly one third of all seeds sown. Only one species, Lithops lesliei rubrobrunnea shows no growing at all. Big seeds are just big seeds. There is no need to hurry. The image shows Lithops aucampiae C256, already ‘big’ and flat, which becomes evident in comparison to the next photograph.
There have been losses as well. Just a few minutes, a cloud moving and sun heating the little space between plastic wrapper and substrate surface is all it needs for a quick damping off: the seedlings are simply cooked. This way I have already lost 15 little Lithops. Sorry guys. I promise to take care, hoovering a bit more on cloudy days. Never trust the summer sun. Nor the summer clouds.
Extremely diminute, Lithops villettii deboerii C231, this species seems vigorous and strong and is, together with the two karasmontana, one of the best in terms of germination rate.
Definitedly, the first week after sowing Lithops in summer proofs that sowing Lithops in summer, is perfectly possible. And a good way to fight addiction: two days unattended and I lost them all.
Yes, I knew. It’s better at my place to sow in autumn and winter. Been there, done so. Never going to bump into it again.