Thursday, 18 August 2011

Gotcha!

I've just harvested my first few oca seeds. That's why I'm all smiles.


The pods from which these seeds were collected lay hidden in the lush foliage the plants have been producing recently. I noticed them while I was bagging up some other pods.  As I've mentioned before, oca pods are small, unremarkable in appearance and restrained in colour. It's easy to overlook them. That said, they do pack a Lilliputian punch - on several occasions I've been pelted with miniscule buck shot as a pod explodes close to my face.  It doesn't hurt, but can cause a momentary loss of concentration - not what you need when you're trying to retain your balance and insert some awkwardly aligned pods into a tiny little envelope.

Unripe pods tend to hang pendulously; as they approach maturity they raise their heads and finally disgorge their cargo courtesy of slingshot arils that catapult the seeds up and out.  Even if your oca plants aren't setting any pods, you can witness a similar effect with the common weed Oxalis corniculata. It uses the self same explosive dispersal mechanism.  What this means of course, is that seed harvest is a fiddly, not to say tedious, process, punctuated by moments of high drama and relies on due diligence on the part of the gardener; with oca pods, timing is everything. I think of it as a cross between plant breeding and bomb disposal.  Anyway, I grabbed the pods from which these seeds were about to escape and stuffed them into an envelope; within a few minutes they were out.

And here's something you don't see very often: a volunteer oca seedling flowering amongst those rocoto chillies I mentioned in my last post. With a bit of luck (and some obliging bumble bees) it should be possible to get some of these to complete the oca lifecycle, seed to seed, with zero effort on my part. Now that's the kind of plant breeding that really appeals to me.

3 comments:

Mark said...

The more i know about oca the more appealing it becomes, and teh fact that is does the breeding business by itself is major plus point. Then produces nice tubers to eat makes it brilliant.
Still no sight of flowers on talet.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

Congratulations on the capture and on the volunteers. I've seen such seed-spreading in action, and find the mechanism simply amazing. I believe Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) has a similar action. After encouraging the seeds to jump, I've been stunned by the beauty of the plant bits (no scientific knowledge this morning of what those are called)left in my hand.

Rhizowen said...

Mark - it really is a promising crop, as long as the daylength problem can be sorted.

Joan - thanks. In the case of jewelweed (which is naturalised here BTW) it's know as septifragal dehiscence. It's a very clever mechanism for distributing seedsno doubt about it.

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