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What hostas DO come true from seed?
Self-pollinated flowers of plants that are true hosta species (H. venusta, H. kikutii, et al.), or single-color selected cultivars of species (sieboldiana ‘Elegans’, venusta ‘Tiny Tears’) will produce seedlings that will be very close in color and size to the parent plant. Check the heritage of your hosta to see if this applies.
What will seedlings from other hostas look like?
Most will be plain green, although a variety of leaf shapes and sizes is possible. Most hostas carry the latent trait for gold leaves, so some seedlings may be yellow or gold, especially if a parent is gold. If the hosta has "blue" leaves in its heritage, then many of its seedlings may produce the waxy coating that makes "blue" leaves.
How do I get variegated seedlings?
There is always a small possibility that a seedling may mutate to a variegated form. But for true variegated seedlings, it is essential that the pod parent (female plant) be a streaked variegated plant. (See Lingo page if you are unsure what this means.) Usually the variegation on these plants is unstable, and this instability is passed to the offspring. Streaked offspring will usually then stabilize as a single colored or variegated form, although this may take several years (with different eyes producing different results).
What about fragrance?
Fortunately, fragrance is a trait that can be passed on from either parent. Unfortunately, because H. plantaginea (the ancestor of all fragrant hostas) blooms in the evening, its pollen and ovaries are ripe for use at the wrong time of day to make cross-pollination an easy task. Some of the newer fragrant cultivars, which bloom at more typical times, could be easier to use for breeding new fragrant hostas.
Do all hostas make seeds?
No, some hostas are effectively sterile, setting seeds extremely rarely. Of these, ‘Undulata’ types and ‘Lancifolia’ are well-known. White-centered hostas will generally not produce viable seeds even as they make "white" pods. Many ‘Fortunei’ types (including ‘Francee’, ‘Minuteman’, ‘Hyacinthina’, and ‘Gold Standard’) are weakly fertile, rarely producing viable seed. On the other hand, most Sieboldiana (think ‘Elegans’) and Tokudama types are extremely fertile, producing abundant seed. The species H. ventricosa has a special fertility: it is an apomictic tetraploid that can set seed without being pollinated. In between are most cultivars: many set seed easily, but some are essentially sterile or set seed only with great difficulty. Seed set is strongly dependent on weather; wet days, cold days (below 65 °F) and hot days (above 85 °F) will often result in failed seed set. Serious hybridizers will move their breeding stock into screened rooms or even indoors to prevent undesired pollination and improve the weather conditions for breeding.
How do I know if my seeds are self-pollinated or cross-pollinated?
Hosta flowers are only open for one day, so they are engineered to be self-pollinated (the pollen is ripe at the same time the pistil is ripe to accept it). So unless you protect the flower from self-pollination, many of the seedlings will be self-pollinated or pollinated from other flowers on the same plant. Natural hybridization by busy bees is possible, of course, depending on what and how many other hostas are blooming at the same time. To ensure cross-pollination, however, it is necessary to transfer the pollen yourself while at the same time preventing insects from pollinating the flower first! This generally involves flower surgery, removing the unneeded stamens and taking away the petals that bees would use for landing pads in spreading and gathering pollen and nectar.
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