Burning Plants to Grow Seeds

We associate fire with destruction. But some plants, known as “fire followers”, grow abundantly in places where there’s been a blaze. Apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) is one such plant.

Our nursery and seed bank has been experimenting with different ways of helping this popular garden plant to germinate.

photo of a flower blossom

They recently did five scientific experiments with apricot mallow seeds. That involved:

One control seed tray.

One tray with seed buried half an inch deep.

One fire treatment.

One where seeds were soaked in a smoke primer.

One where the seeds were “scarified” (scratched on sandpaper).

One where seeds were soaked overnight in hot water.

In the following video the seeds are sown in a tray, a metal grate placed two inches above the tray, then pine and creosote are placed on top, and set on fire. The smoke is then contained. With certain seeds, the heat from the fire, the char from the burnt plant materials or the chemicals in the smoke can bring on germination.

We won’t know more until spring, but so far the seeds that were scarified have had the best result. Our nursery director, Madena Asbell, says scarification is effective in some seeds because the coat is hard or waxy. Scratching the seed helps it to absorb water.

We’ll keep you updated on how the seeds are doing in the coming months.

Find out more about our native plant restoration nursery and conservation seed bank by clicking here.

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