One of the most popular trees along the west coast and throughout parts of California is the Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), a member of the Taxodium Family (Taxodiaceae). It is possible to grow the trees from seeds, but it takes time and often plenty of seeds.
As one of the largest living creatures on terra-firma, and very valuable as a timber tree, coast redwood has been grown from seed since about 1843. Redwoods are naturally limited to a narrow strip of coastal California, but have been planted worldwide, with commercial plantations in such places as Italy, South Africa, and New Zealand.
The flowers of a redwood tree are inconspicuous, although sometimes you'll find tiny male cone-like flowers full of yellow pollen. The fruit is a woody oval cone with persistent thick woody scales. The seeds are borne on the scales, and look like tiny burnt potato chip, wavy dark red or brown about 1/8 inch in diameter. The seeds have seed wing-like appendages, but are technically more nut-like than a samara. With about 60 seeds per cone, there are an average of 120,000 seeds per pound.
Collect the cones in late September and through October before the cone scales open. They are easy to pick by hand, but the trick is to reach them. Since trees will start to bear good seeds in as early as 5 to 15 years old, the tree height is somewhat reachable. Take one or two sections of PVC pipe (3/4 inch Schedule 40) with a sturdy wire loop duck taped to the end works well as a cone striper. Loop the wire over the cone, and pull. Really, it works pretty well. This is a great tool for many types of seed collection.
Allow the collected cones to dry and open in a garage or other dry, and preferably warm room. The seeds are easily screened from the cones.
Seed quality from coast redwood is generally very poor. Try to collect from trees that are older, say in the 20 to 90 year old range, but plan on good seeds being no more than 23% of the total, with 2- to 12% being more common. In other words, plant at least five seeds for every one you hope will sprout.
The seeds will store ok, in a sealed container, with cold temperatures down to 0-degrees. This is one of those that will lose germination energy quickly if there is wide temperature changes.
One of the nice features about redwood is the seeds don't need any pretreatment, and can be sown directly. In a few weeks to a month or so, some of the seeds may sprout. Keep the planting container in a protected warm and humid location, and allow the seedlings to develop. Water lightly, seedlings dont like being overwatered. As the seedling develops, the shiny green stem will develop into a woody or reddish color. Wait until these tougher stems develop, about six months to a year before transplanting into a container. Grow them in a container for another six to twelve months before planting in the ground.
One last thought, Coast Redwoods are more popularly grown by cuttings. Its not the easiest trick, but with a root-hormone and greenhouse-like conditions, the tips might produce for you! Something to try as well...
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