A West-Coast Challenge: Growing Gaultheria From Seed
Since they are native to the Eastern United States and Canada, Galtheria procumbens thrive in a humid environment with temperatures that can swing between upwards of 100 deg. F. in the summer months, and below Zero in the winter. In the warm months Wintergreen shrubs extend pinkish rhizomes just below the surface as a means of self-propagation. In the right environment it can become a nice ground cover. If given enough sun, the plant can also successfully produce flowers and seed-bearing berries.
God, our all-wise creator, has endowed many seed-bearing plants similar to Wintergreen with a built-in assurance that their seed will get a chance to survive in the midst of such climatic swings. In order to germinate, a Wintergreen seed needs to see a prolonged period of temperatures that just approach freezing--but never quite get there. We call it winter. Once these bio-chemical safeguards are satisfied--hopefully by the time a warm spring rolls around--the seed can safely begin to grow.
In the moderate climes of the Bay Area, we attempted to grow Wintergreen with no success, until we learned about this bio-chemical safeguard (while learning about growing an alpine species of Calochortus, incidentally). We learned that we could make winter--in the crisper of our Whirlpool upright refrigerator!! Botanists call this process 'stratification'.
So, we bagged up our next supply of Wintergreen seeds (small as ground pepper, they were), and put them in the fridge for a month or so. We then sowed them in the cool months of late winter. After about fifty days we noticed the appearance of what looked like tiny red stems with a ball on top. Could it be...??? A few days later one of the 'balls' fell off, revealling tiny green leaves. Yes!!! Those seed guys weren't trying to rip us off after all! [NOTE: The 'Seed Guys' just needed to get their growing instructions straight--which they have since done. Is it possible that they too were struggling to figure this thing out like we were?]
Some of our first Gaultheria procumbens seedlings in a 4 inch pot--tiny!
Below: Red Wintergreen berries glow in the sunshine of a late October afternoon.