If you want a clone of a named epiphyllum, you must use a cutting for propagation. However, if you want to see what you get with a random set of genes from one or two parent epiphyllum plants, then you need to propagate by seed. In another article, we’ll talk about controlled pollination and registering your new epiphyllum hybrids, but for now let’s discuss harvesting epiphyllum seeds and preparing them for planting.
When is the Epiphyllum Fruit Ready to Pick?
The fruit of the epiphyllum is classified as a berry in botanical terms, as is the much larger dragonfruit. We can talk about why another time. Depending upon the hybrid characteristics, Epiphyllum berries look a lot like miniature dragonfruit. They grow from the base of flowers, first appearing to be a thickening of the stem or stalk upon which the flower grew. The fruit is attached directly to the branch of the epiphyllum. They generally start out green and stay green throughout the growing cycle until they begin to ripen. They ripen to various shades of red depending upon the specific variety. When ripe, they may also be somewhat softer to the touch compared to the firmer younger fruit. When ripe, the fruit can be removed with either a gentle twisting or a back and forth motion. You may need to hold the branch to stop it from moving along with the fruit.
Opening the Epiphyllum Fruit to Expose the Seeds and Edible Pulp of the Epiphyllum
The skin of the epiphyllum fruit can be readily cut with a knife. I prefer to cut the fruit in half from top to bottom to expose the pulp and seeds. Like many cactus fruits, the fruit of the epiphyllum is edible and flavors will vary between different hybrids. Since the seeds are interspersed throughout the edible pulp, however, you may have to make a choice between eating it and harvesting the seeds.
Separating Epiphyllum Seeds from the Pulp
To separate the small black seeds from the pink or red pulp, first scoop the pulp from the fruit rind with an ordinary spoon. I then drop the entire piece into a small shallow bowl of water. The water helps contain the seeds while we separate them from the pulp. Once in the water, we need to gently mash the pulp. Be careful not to mash hard enough to crack the seeds themselves. We’re try to reduce the pulp to very small or thin pieces while liberating as many of the seeds as we can. We can scoop pieces of the epiphyllum pulp out if it is free of seeds. Commonly, seeds that float are said to have lower (or zero) germination rates, although I haven’t tested this myself. If you’d like, you can scopp out floating seeds and discard them with the pulp. Personally, I leave them in since I’m bulk planting the entire batch and if I get one good plant from 20 floating seeds, that’s a good trade for zero extra effort for me. When we’ve separated as many as we can this way it’s time for step 2.
Straining Seeds and Pulp
Next, carefully strain the water, pulp, and seeds through a paper towel. Be careful not to let it overflow the sides of the paper towel, so you don’t lose seeds. I pour slowly and move the flow around the paper towel to get the seeds and remaining pulp spread as thinly as possible. From there, while the pulp is still wet, we’re going to separate as much as we can of the remaining pulp from the seeds. I use the same spoon I used for scooping to pull the pulp away from the seeds and deposit it around the edge away from the seeds. It’s ok to leave some pulp but try to flatten it out and remove as much excess as possible. When finished, let the paper towel and the epiphyllum pulp dry out. Usually 24 hours in a dry airy dry place will do it. If it takes more time, that’s ok. You want it completely dry for the final seed separation. Once dry, the seeds and pulp are usually stuck to the paper towel. We want the pulp to remain stuck while we free the seeds. As we unstick the seeds, they may tend to jump as they are suddenly freed so it may be helpful to perform this step is a square plastic food container or a cake pan. I use a butterknife to gently push on the seeds to break their grip on the paper towel. Periodically, lift the paper towel to dump the freed seeds to one edge of the container. Continue until there are no seeds left on the paper towel.
How Many Seeds are in an Epiphyllum Fruit?
Each hybrid may have different sized fruits. Growing conditions may also influence fruit size. The short answer is every fruit is likely to have a different number of seeds. The one shown in the pictures for this article contained a total of 235 seeds. If you’re doing a controlled pollination for a specific cross, you may choose to remove all but one fruit from the plant once the fruit is established and growing well to maximize the energy the plant puts into your targeted fruit. A couple of hundred seeds is usually more than enough to get the results you’re looking for.
Storing Epiphyllum Seeds
That’s all there is to it. Once the seeds are dried and separated, they can be planted. I give them at least a full week after the separation before planting. During this time, keep them dry, don’t let them freeze, or expose them to excessive heat. I prefer not to seal them in plastic bag for at least a week to help make sure that no moisture gets trapped with them. I want them thoroughly dried before I store them or plant them. After a week or so, you can pack them up and store them in a cool dry place. I prefer to use a paper envelope for storage because it’s easy to label and allows moisture to escape. Definitely label them clearly. If you have hopes of registering the resulting offspring as your own hybrid variety, you’ll need to know both parent plants so make sure you record this on the package.
What can I Expect from My Epiphyllum Seeds?
Epiphyllums (well, most of them) are diploid plants. Without getting too deeply into genetics (a topic for another time) this means that the pollen provides a random assortment of half of the genes from the plant that provided the pollen, and the plant that provides the “egg” provides a random assortment of half its genes. The genes of the offspring will all have been present in the parent plants, but in different comibinations (unless the parents were derived from repeatedly back-crossed ancestors, but again a topic for another day). Each seed may express traits similar to either or both parent plants, or completely different traits in the case of recessive genes that were “covered” by a dominant gene in one of the parents. In short, your seeds will produce a mixed bag of traits from stem shape, growth habits, flower shape and color, and so on, even if derived from a self-pollinated epiphyllum flower. The only way to tell is to grow them all out, then wait and see! Keep them properly labelled as they grow. If any develop unique traits, you can register them as your own hybrid variety with the Epiphyllum Society of America (ESA). Of course, you may have to wait 3-4 years for them to mature and flower.