From the Digest

Legal Addiction: Growing Adeniums From Seed

By Pat Cosgrove (August 2016)

PhotoHSCSS member Tracy Vymola gave up smoking several years ago. Little did she know that she would be trading one addiction for another: She is now a self-described seedaholic.

Although she had been collecting cacti and succulents for years, she found that growing succulents from seed was relaxing and a good stress reliever – a perfect pastime with which to forget about cigarettes. She tried many different types of seed, including those of the Echeveria, Crassula and Mesembryanthemum genera. Some were tricky to get started, and others, such as mesembs, were troublesome as they grew. Looking for worry-free plant material, Vymola came across an online focus group that specialized in Adenium and became intrigued with the plants.

She tried them out and soon fell in love with them. They were easy to grow from seed, and the “kill ratio” was low. She felt she could sense what they needed as they grew. The flowers and caudex shapes were fascinating, and her passion for adeniums continues as she explores and searches for those she never knew existed. She has now eliminated almost all other plants from her collection.

Seeking more effective growing methods, Vymola and 30 focus group friends from New Mexico, the United Kingdom and Denmark each purchased a Mars Hydro tent and lighting system (commonly used for growing marijuana) to see how adeniums would fare. They each bought seeds from the same person, grew them and compared notes in an event they called the Grow Out. Vymola grew the plant that bloomed first, and she posted a picture of the flower in May.

Vymola’s tent is 4 feet, 9 inches wide; 4 feet, 9 inches long and 7 feet tall – the “jumbo” size, as she calls it. It sits in her bedroom, the only room in her house large enough to accommodate it. She assembled the tent by herself with a little help getting the fabric over the top due to its height.

PhotoThe floor of the tent is layered with styrofoam, over which are placed heating mats. Upside-down pots sit on the heating mats and hold the trays of plants, whose roots are kept warm. The tent holds six large trays and two smaller trays – enough space for 300 first-year seedlings. Of her 300 adeniums, there are 100 different hybrids.

Never intending to become a vendor, Vymola now gives adeniums to her family members and friends, and also trades and sells online in an effort to create enough space to grow different seeds. She starts a new batch of seeds every four weeks. What she doesn’t sow, she gives away or trades in a ritual she finds calming.

This intense rate of production requires utmost attention and care. The seedlings are kept on a strict schedule of watering and feeding, even if it means bringing in someone to do it when Vymola has to travel.

Vymola has learned her cultivation techniques from online groups and through trial and error. She uses a potting medium that is a non-soil mixture of coir chips, pumice and Growstone GS-2, a product made from recycled glass. Root development is promoted by growing the seedlings in sturdy fabric pots, self-supporting Geopots with handles; and Smart Pots and Root Pouches.

The seedlings grow faster and bloom under intense light and when it is warm. Some have bloomed while dormant; an A. Thai socotranum bloomed when 5.5 months old.

PhotoVymola puts her plants outside as soon as possible and keeps them there all summer. Even though they react to the switch from indoors to outdoors by dropping their leaves, they are better off outside. In warm weather when the plants have leaves, she applies Cactus Juice, which contains calcium and has a low nitrogen content. Once a month, the plants are fed Dyna-gro Foliage Pro for an extra nitrogen kick.

Vymola keeps the plants’ caudices buried until the plants are 3 years old to foster maximum plumpness. Insects are controlled by watering with a solution containing Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil-dwelling bacterium commonly used as a biological pesticide. In winter, neem oil mixed with dish detergent and water is sprayed on leaves of very young plants with two to six leaves. This has to be washed off if the plants are in the sun.

Tracy first started growing A. obesum, but then discovered A. arabicum, with its squat, stout caudex. A special variation of A. arabicum is A. Thai socotranum, the subject of Vymola’s presentation for the HSCSS August 2016 meeting program.

The flowers of A. arabicum and A. Thai socotranum are only pink, red or white. White is the rarest color and increases plant value. The plants are indigenous to South Africa and Arabia, although Thailand produces a lot of hybrids and is the top exporter of adeniums. Six times a year, Thailand hosts an Adenium Pageant, bringing together adenium growers, vendors and aficionados from throughout the country.

Vymola has contacts and friends in Thailand and would love to meet them in person, visit their farms, learn more about their growing methods and see what else they grow besides adeniums. She plans to travel to Thailand one day.

“I have a big interest in their sense of community and how it has evolved in conjunction with the adenium trade,” Vymola said. “There is a real brotherhood – inclusive of females – that surrounds the cultivation and marketing of this beautiful plant. I would be so lucky to witness it once.”

But first she’ll have to find someone to water her seedlings while she is away.