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Rebutia albiflora x heliosa
However, it should be remembered that hybrid seed may be produced by cross-pollination of different species within a genus if they are in flower at the same time. Indeed many plants are self-sterile, and if only a single plant (or clone) is available, seed production may only be possible by cross pollination by another species.
Unless special precautions are taken, seed form a particular plant can only be guaranteed to be 'pure' if no other plants from the same (or a related) genus were in flower at the same time. Special precautions to prevent hybridisation could include covering flowering plants with fine netting to exclude pollinating insects and hand pollinating flowers with a fine camel-hair paintbrush.
Some growers actively encourage inter-specific hybridisation by artificial pollination and some attractive hybrids have been produced from a range of plant families including Rebutia (right), Crassula, Echinopsis, Euphorbia and Conophytum. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as hybrids are labelled as such.
Seed is best sown in small individual containers, although large quantities can be sown in seed trays. Seed trays can be divided into sections as required, with thin wood or plastic strips such as seed labels. If several species are to be sown in strips in one container, it is best to choose species that can be readily distinguished from each other, as occasional seeds tend to bounce from one area into another during sowing.
Many growers prefer a soil-less compost, with the addition of about one part in three of sharp sand to improve drainage and texture. Partial sterilisation of the soil is useful and may be achieved by either baking in a conventional oven for a few hours, or by treatment for a few minutes in a microwave oven. Following such treatment, the compost will not be clinically sterile but will be free of insect pests and their larvae and will have a reduced burden of fungi and other micro-organisms. Complete sterilisation is undesirable, as the first infecting fungal spore landing on the compost produces a white bloom of fungal hyphae over the surface a few days later, and subsequent damping off of the young seedlings.
Prior to sowing, the compost should be moistened by standing the container in water, or by spraying a mist of water onto the surface. Adding a fungicide (e.g. Benlate, Nimrod T) to the water can be helpful in combating 'damping off' of seedlings of some species.
Seeds should be cleaned of unnecessary debris and the silk 'parachutes' of some seeds (e.g. Asclepiads) removed. Unnecessary plant material is always a potential focus of fungal infection and may promote 'damping off'.
Most small seeds can be distributed over the surface of the compost, and may be covered with a very light dusting of sand. Although this is not strictly necessary, it can help to suppress growth of algae and moss. The emerging seedling roots will generally anchor themselves into the compost. Any roots that emerge at an awkward angle, pushing the seedling away from the compost can be covered with a sprinkle of sand.
Very large seeds can be sown individually into holes made in the surface of the compost with a small stick or plant label, and it may be helpful to scarify the seeds or pre-soak in water if there is a waxy protective seed-coat.
Euphorbias such as E. obesa have explosively dehiscent seed capsules which propel the seeds for a considerable distance from the plant. As the fruit ripens, it loses its milky sap and the capsule changes colour from green to brown. Brown capsules should be picked immediately or the seed will be lost. Various strategies can be used to retain seed from a capsule ripened on the plant. The capsule can be encased in a small paper bag or stocking net. Some growers carefully put a little water-based glue on top of the capsule to prevent its opening.
Note that Euphorbia obesa and other species hybridise freely if flowers are open at the same time, so any seeds may not be genetically 'pure'.
Following sowing, the seed should be kept in a moist environment in a propagator, or the whole container wrapped in a clean plastic bag. Following germination, alternative strategies used by different growers are to remove the covers after e.g. 1 month to allow the circulation of air or to leave the seeds sealed up in their containers for up to a year. Whichever method is followed, it generally advisable to avoid the compost drying out for about the first year, and watering with fungicide may help survival of delicate species. Seeds may continue to germinate over a long period of time and it should not be assumed that the first seedlings are all that will be obtained.
Lithops bella seedlings
Escobaria strobiliformis seedlings
Seeds from succulent plants that naturally experience cold winters may require exposure to cold or even freezing conditions to break dormancy (simulating natural passage through a winter). Several strategies may be tried:
Seedlings from different species of succulent plants grow at very different rates, and the grower should judge when they are ready to be transplanted. Some species (e.g. some Rebutias) can be transplanted into individual pots after a year and will flower in two to three years, while very slow species (e.g. Ariocarpus) can be left in their original containers for some years.