graham5's picture

Beech seeds - are they difficult to germinate ?

In my field there is a row of three mature trees which were originally in a hedgerow (removed several years ago). The oak still seems fine but one beech came down a few years ago but the stump struggles on, the other beech isn't too healthy: lots of bracket fungi on the trunk and obviously some heartwood missing - hornets nested inside it two or three years ago.
And so I thought that I'd have a go a propagating it when I saw quite a large number of fallen seeds at the end of the year. I collected some fifty or so, they all appeared clean and full (some were definitely empty and so discarded). They were sown a few days after I had collected them; kept in an unheated polytunnel so that they were frosted and keep moist.
But only one germinated. It's still growing nicely and will get transplanted when it drops its leaves; I would have done it sooner but it has plenty of room in its deep seed tray all by itself.
Is that typical, or should I have expected better results ? And perhaps I should try again this autumn.

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martinjohnbishop's picture

Require cold treatment

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/INFD-7FABEM
Common name Beech
Scientific name Fagus sylvatica
Storage characteristics Intermediate (?)a
Storage moisture content and temperature 15% @ < -5°Ca
Dormancy characteristics Deep
Pretreatment method 16 (12-20) weeks cold (c. 4°C)
See pretreatment of deeply dormant species
Efficacy of pretreatment / remarks Generally effective although pretreatment durations, and numbers of repeat cycles may vary significantly between seedlots
Approximate date to initiate artificial pre-treatment (for 1 March sowing) 8 November

Rachy Ramone's picture

In other words...

... put them in the fridge over winter.

I would put half of them in a dry plastic bag, and half in damp (not sodden) compost in a plastic bag, then keep notes as to which half germinates more successfully.

It's worth checking them every couple of weeks to see if germination has started - and as soon as it does, remove them from the fridge and plant them out.

Fridge, not freezer!

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
http://tree-and-shrub-id.blogspot.co.uk/p/how-to-close-ups.html
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01A8YB0WY

graham5's picture

16 weeks is quite a long

16 weeks is quite a long time...suggesting that they evolved to adapt to much longer winters than we have here poking out into the Atlantic. More like a continental climate, are they originally from central and eastern Europe ?

As I mentioned the seeds had certainly done a vernalising cycle but over the 12/13 winter, while there were a good few frosts, there wasn't a prolonged cold spell here in west Wales. So I might try the fridge this year: what I normally do is put the seeds with some moist vermiculite in a sealed bag.

graham

lavateraguy's picture

There's some dispute ...

... as to whether beech is native to Britain, or is an ancient introduction, but if it is native it is only native to the south of England. It is more or less restricted to Europe, and in Europe is absent from most of Scandinavia, from most of Iberia, and most of the former Soviet Union. (Fagus orientalis replaces it in the mountains of temperate south west Asia.)

Beech saplings are not as ubiquitous as ash or sycamore saplings, but they're common enough, so the species seems to be able to reproduce in the British climate.

Rachy Ramone's picture

Vermiculite is fine...

... more people have compost to hand than vermiculite, that's all!

16 weeks does sound like a long time, but it often crops up in cold stratification advice. I suspect it's a "best case" or "best guess" duration.

As suggested, check the bag(s) every couple of weeks within that 16-week period, and if you see signs of germination earlier, then great!

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
http://tree-and-shrub-id.blogspot.co.uk/p/how-to-close-ups.html
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01A8YB0WY

Ambroise's picture

Evolution does not always get

Evolution does not always get is precisely right. It has evolved for seasonal climate but there is no one winter length for all climates and all years, so this length may be a 'compromise' for seed to be not too be disavantaged in various locations / climate. Also at evolutionarily time scale in the past there has been many other climate types and the last 2 mio years have been dominated by cold phases, unlike the present warm phase. It may also be the case that requirement for long winters, allows beeches to germinate the first and the second year in nature which can be an avantage over time - in case during the first year the conditions are not favourable for seedlings. Finally, dormancy may be alleviated quicker in the outdoors where temperature is less constant than in a frige!

Rachy Ramone's picture

Very good point...

... about outdoor temperature being more variable than a fridge (assuming your fridge is newer than mine, hollow laugh), and therefore external cold stratification may take less time than using a fridge.

Honestly, I see 16 weeks mentioned so often for cold stratification of seeds that I am beginning to think it's one of those "common knowledge" myths that just get repeated and repeated until we all believe it.

If you have plenty of beech seeds, how about doing a proper experiment for us, dividing the seeds into two sets - dry-in-bag and moist-in-bag - then splitting them into say four groups of each, and leaving them for 1,2,3 and then 4 months in the fridge. You can tell us which one(s) germinated best.

Go on, please, it would be fun!

Errr, probably best to add them to the fridge each month, so that they all finish at the same time, and can be sown simultaneously.

But you'd already figured that out, hadn't you?

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
http://tree-and-shrub-id.blogspot.co.uk/p/how-to-close-ups.html
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01A8YB0WY

graham5's picture

I'll need a larger fridge!

I appreciate your suggestion "dividing the seeds into two sets - dry-in-bag and moist-in-bag - then splitting them into say four groups of each, and leaving them for 1,2,3 and then 4 months in the fridge. You can tell us which one(s) germinated best." That means eight bags and I only have a small fridge! Mind you in the winter it's somewhat difficult to prevent the whole thing freezing anyway so the food doesn't really need additional refrigeration.

Curiously a bird (well the tree is a little far away for it to be a wind-blown item) dropped a Beech seed capsule here a few days ago and I find that there are quite a few dropped already. I did a quick collection and found quite a few but I will need some more...

graham

Rachy Ramone's picture

Not that much larger...

...as you don't need a bucketful of compost in each bag, just a small handful: just enough to keep the seeds moist, really. And of course the "dry" seeds don't take up much room at all.

Unless I have misunderstood, and you are germinating hundreds of them! *laughs*

I have a whole avenue of beech nearby, some years they carpet the path with mast, so thickly that it's unpleasant to walk on - yet there are no beech seedlings in the area. So there must be more to it than natural stratification.

Are they one of those seeds that require something extra, such as to be passed through a bird, before germinating, I wonder?

Or, bearing in mind the sheer quantity of mast, perhaps they are just very erratic in their germination?

As your one success so far was in a seed tray in your polytunnel, I'd certainly repeat that process, with as many as you can manage, as well as trying the cold strat method.

Good luck!

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
http://tree-and-shrub-id.blogspot.co.uk/p/how-to-close-ups.html
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01A8YB0WY

graham5's picture

update - latest sowing

well...I collected a good number, certainly over 50, in the autumn and they went into the fridge certainly for three months. At the end there was one germinating in the bag. They were sown about a month ago and there is now, umm, one seedling.
That does surprise me a little, but there may be more germinating later,so I won't give up for a while.
However that particular tree came down in January - victim of fungal damage and the weather, the former the prime cause of weakness, the latter the coup de grace, although a few metres of stump remain and appear otherwise healthy and in full leaf.

graham

Peachysteve's picture

Beech Seedlings

There are many mature Beech in local woodlands but I rarely see the seeds germinating. This year I have seen hundreds of seedlings. Possibly due to the very warm winter we have had.