It seems like another piece of received wisdom about Andean root crops must now be decapitated and left for dead in a ditch: that viable yacon seeds are hard to produce and hard to germinate. I used to subscribe to this view - until last Monday in fact. No longer. Like these newly emerging yacon seedlings, I've seen the light.
Speaking botanically, these seedlings issued forth from achenes - hard, dry fruits, looking like mini versions of black sunflower "seeds", to which they are structurally very similar. You may also see the term cypselae used to describe these non-juicy fruits. We'll let the botanists tussle over the validity of one versus the other - they're pretty much identical.
The yacon-sunflower similarity doesn't stop at the seeds - sorry - achenes. The flowers, as shown here, betray their common ancestry: both belong in the daisy family, the Asteraceae. Yacon's blooms are a shy, retiring version of the sunflower's in-your-face boldness, which seems strange, given its prodigious vegetative performance.
Anyway, I was a bit dubious about these seeds when they arrived in one of Frank van Keirsbilck's regular (and irresistible) parcels of horticultural temptation last autumn; he's the devil in disguise.... They had a certain dusty, funereal aura about them and I duly forgot all about their existence until around two weeks ago. Then, during a febrile bout of rationalisation, I rediscovered them. Grow or go, I thought as I tossed them onto some moist paper towel to imbibe.
The latter seemed more likely when they became totally covered in thick mould growth less than a week after sowing. But hold on - peering through the fungal fog, I noticed, with something akin to disbelief, that several of them were actually germinating. Result!
I claim no credit whatsoever in this success, other than the fact that I finally found the necessary motivation to actually sow them. They came from Frank's plants in Belgium and are the result of crosses between some of his varieties. Just like with oca, it appears that if you've got the right combination of varieties, seed production isn't that difficult to achieve. It will be interesting to see how they turn out, if I can get them through those awkward first few weeks of life. To the uninitiated, all seedlings look the same. We know different. Prepare to stifle those yawns when I accost you with the regulation boring baby snaps in due course.