Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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2000-year-old seeds

A Long-Lost Legendary Roman Fruit Tree Has Been Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds

It’s not actually as neat as the headline makes it sound, because this is a type of date palm. Date palms are all very well, but there are about a thousand varieties of the fruit-bearing date palm known today. Three varieties are grown in California.

The name of the species is, admittedly, great: Phoenix dactylifera. I didn’t know that before I read this article, so that alone makes the article worthwhile. But from the headline, well, I would have liked a tree species that was extinct in the modern day, something unknown since Classical times.

Still, it’s pretty good to get 2000-year-old seeds to germinate. Six out of thirty-two germinated, which is 18% — not bad at all after that long.

Incidentally, not as scientifically interesting but more personally delightful, of the ten magnolia seeds I planted last fall, six are up.

Let me tell you all about my babies!

The 4 are Yulan seedlings, that is, seedlings of M. denudata, a hexaploid species, probably pollinated by M. x loebneri, a diploid, itself a hybrid of M. kobus x M. stellata. This is the only non-sterile magnolia I have that overlaps significantly in bloom time with the very early Yulan magnolia. The seedlings would probably be tetraploids, most likely perfectly fertile with many other species and hybrids of magnolias.

Anyway, here is the Yulan flower:

Here is the M x loebneri flower

I’m guessing M denudata x M x loebneri are likely to be smallish trees, probably with — this is a guess — fewer petals than the loebneri, but almost certainly in the white/pink range somewhere. I actually have two older seedlings of probably the same cross that are about four years old and getting close to my height. I hope they flower in 2021, as they don’t seem to have set flower buds for 2020.

Now, the other two seedlings are even more interesting!

These are hybrids with the seed parent being “Woodsman,” a fascinating, unusual tetraploid hybrid of M acuminata x M liliflora. It’s not unusual because it’s tetraploid; all sorts of ploidy conditions are normal for magnolias. The interesting part is the unique flower color. Here it is:

Isn’t that neat? The buds are purple-black and then open to this pink-green-tan blend that is, I will admit, not as eyecatching from a distance, but so different and interesting!

“Woodsman” blooms really late. I hand-pollinated it with Magnolia “Butterflies,” a yellow-flowering pentaploid hybrid of M acuminata and M denudata, which was the only nonsterile magnolia I had blooming at the same time. Here is “Butterflies:”

5n hybrids are not sterile, but their fertility is not great compared to trees with even ploidy numbers. I got six seeds and planted them all; these two germinated. These babies could be tetraploid or pentaploid or some weird ploidy in between.

All the seedlings are healthy so far btw. The damaged leaves you see in the picture resulted from the seedlings being unable to break open the seed coat, which in one case I cracked with pliers and ripped off. That is not great for the baby, but damage to the seed leaves doesn’t matter once they get real leaves.

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