Monday, June 2, 2014

Propagating lady's smock for orange tip butterflies



Lady's smock Cardamine pratensis, the native wild flower also known as cuckoo flower, is a food plant for the delightful ....


...... orange tip butterfly, so if you plant it in a wildlife garden there's a good chance that orange tip butterflies will breed there. The fastest and easiest way to grow the plant is to propagate it from leaf cuttings and now is the ideal time to do that.


All you need to do is to remove a few leaves from as close to the base of a plant as possible, then lay them on wet potting compost in a flower pot and keep this in a polythene bag. Open the bag every couple of days and spray the leaves and surface of the compost with a water mist spray, so that they are permanently wet.



After two to three weeks you'll see little white roots sprouting from the leaflet bases and sometimes from their mid ribs. 



















Within another week shoots will begin to appear.



















One leaf will often produce about twenty plants, with sometimes two appearing from each leaflet. When they are well rooted you can separate them into individual pots, then plant them out in the garden when they're well established. They like moist soil and will grow well in grass around a garden pond.























Occasionally double-flowered lady's smock plants appear in the wild and, since they set no seeds, these can only be propagated from leaf cuttings.


15 comments:

  1. I know it's your job to know such things but this is amazing. Do other plants do this?

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    1. A few do. You can propagate cape primrose (Streptocarpus) and some begonias this way - did a lot of plant propagation when I worked in the horticultural industry when I left school. Still get a lot of satisfaction from growing plants from cuttings and grafting plants.

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  2. I know neither the plant nor the butterfly but the butterfly is beautiful and the plant fascinating.

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    1. Once you've seen a male orange tip you'll never forget it!

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  3. Wow, I am going to do that right away, thank you!

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    1. Lady's smock is noted for its high and variable chromosome number (tetraploids that seem to lose 'spare' chromosomes) and quite a lot of the plants can be seed sterile, so this may be the way they persist in nature. There are other closely related species (e.g. C.bulbifera) that produce bulbils in the leaf axils, so vegetative propagation may be something of a generic trait.

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  4. If only I knew where to find a plant for the leaves!

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  5. I've got some in Leicestershire if anyone wants to try. Great idea, and the orange tip butterflies are gorgeous.

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  6. About to start this - couple of silly questions. First, will ordinary compost be okay. Second, will a simple plastic carrier bag do the trick. Finally, should this all be done inside (by a window?) or better to leave outside? Thank you.

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    1. I just used ordinary potting compost. You could use anything transparent to cover it, to stop the leaves drying out until they root, but it does need to be transparent so the leaves stay healthy. Some yoghurt pots are transparent if you strip the labels off and make excellent pot covers when you are rooting cuttings. I grew mine in a cool greenhouse, out of direct sunlight, but a shady windowledge would do fine - probably best to keep them coolish. The large basal leaves work best, especially ones that have expanded fairly recently. Old leaves, or leaves from the flowering stem, might not work as well.

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  7. Thank you very much - will give this a go later this week.

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  8. brilliant : I started mine on 20th May in south west England , moderately warm greenhouse , under a chair in the shade . Roots appeared within a week and now ,June 1st , the little leaves are appearing ! not sure when to separate and pot up but very grateful to you for this site.

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    1. So glad it worked for you. I'm experimenting with just laying leaves close to the soil in damp, shaded grass to see if I can introduce the plants directly into the edge of our lawn

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  9. This is marvellous information. I have shoots and roots appearing after 15 days in Ross-shire Scotland. the leaves closest to the light from the window seem to be developing first. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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    1. Really pleased it worked for you Barbara ..... I've naturalised the plant around the edge of my lawn this year and I think the leaves are rooting down amongst the grass in the shady, damp spots.

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