GROWING FROM SEED
Narcissus and galanthus seeds are not easy to come by. The best sources are Alpine Garden Society and Scottish Rock Garden Club seed exchanges. I send my surplus seeds to both.
The best and cheapest way to get seeds is to collect and sow from your own plants. Growing both narcissus and galanthus seeds is done in much the same way.
First I assemble my pollinating kit in a waterproof box:
Small pieces of foil to store collected pollen, and the tin to contain them (kept in the fridge)
White sticky labels to label the packets of pollen
Strung tags to label the pollinated flowers
As each species begins to flower decisions are made about which plants to breed from. Narcissus species can be propagated simply by allowing insects to pollinate the plants, but I usually prefer to hand pollinate as this gives me more control over the parentage. Rather than using a brush to transfer the pollen, I use forceps to pick off a stamen with a mature anther shedding pollen, and brush this against the stigma of the other flower. If there is only one flower on that species, the flower is self-pollinated to obtain seeds.
If different species/varieties are to be crossed to produce hybrids, then the female parent is selected as soon as the flower begins to open, and the undehisced stamens are removed to prevent self-pollination. Pollen is transferred from the male parent as above, and then the perianth and corona are removed to make the flower unappealing to insects and minimise the risk of unwanted pollen reaching the stigma. It is essential to label the flower with the parentage of the cross; for this I use small strung tags used for pricing items in shops, and an indelible pen.
Not all attempted crosses are successful. Some fail because of sterility of one of the parents, for instance N. ‘Cedric Morris’ is incapable of setting seeds, but the pollen is fertile and can be used to pollinate other varieties. Some appear to set seeds, but the swollen ovary is empty. Sometimes a good quantity of seeds does not germinate at all.
More frustratingly, after a four-year wait for flowering it may become apparent that the seeds were produced by self-pollination, instead of with the donated pollen. After two generations of this happening using N. watieri as a seed parent, I discovered that the stamens within the flower tube were shedding pollen onto the stigma almost as soon as the flower opened. To counter this I now split open the flower and tube as soon as the bud begins to unfurl, to keep the pollen clear. The same procedure is undertaken with other flowers with a similar structure such as N. rupicola.
Always label your crosses! You will not remember, several years down the line, what the parents were, so label the seed pods, and enter the data into a book or database when you sow the seeds.
As the seeds develop it is best to bag the seeds to prevent losing them - they will usually shed the seeds while you are away for the weekend! I use small drawstring bags, sold for such things as wedding 'favours' and jewelry.
If the seed is a result of a deliberate cross, the information label can be put into the bag with the seeds.
I do not remove seedheads from the bulbs unless they are known to be ‘nuisance’ seeders, for instance N. romieuxii seeds prolifically into the plunge medium and has to be regularly removed. Most hoop-petticoat types will produce copious quantities of seeds, trumpet types usually fewer, but larger, seeds. The production of seeds does not affect the subsequent performance of the bulbs, but they remain in growth longer to compensate.
Much of the same applies to snowdrop breeding as for the daffodils above. An important difference is how to access the pollen on a snowdrop flower.
You can see a video of this process on Youtube:
Note, do not pick the flower that you want to carry the seed!
Be very careful putting the pollen onto the stigma of the mother flower, which is very fine and delicate. It is best to very gently draw the stigma backwards over the pollen to avoid damaging it. Don't forget the label and bag!
I use 7 x 7 x 8cm deep plastic pots for seed sowing, since plunge space is in short supply and unplunged plastic pots are less susceptible to drying out. The seeds are best sown either while they are still fresh (for snowdrops), or at any time up until September (for daffodils) again into a layer of sand halfway down the pot - sowing the seeds deeply saves them energy otherwise needed to pull the tiny bulbs down. Unsown seeds are best stored dry at room temperature, not in the fridge, as many will continue to mature throughout the summer.
If there are fewer than about 20 seeds, they are placed together in a small depression in the sand in the centre of the pot, covered with a little more sand, then topped with compost and top dressed with grit. It is essential to label the pot straight away with the identity of the seeds and the date of sowing. If there are a lot of seeds they are sprinkled evenly over the sand layer then topped off as before.
The seed pots are placed in a shaded frame outdoors and given very occasional light watering in very dry weather, otherwise allowed access to any rainfall that occurs. Germination usually begins in September or about the time that the parent bulbs would begin to produce leaves. All the seed pots are brought undercover in October, watered well and stored under the staging. They are checked regularly and any germinated pots are brought up onto the staging in full light.
Seeds obtained in winter can be sown as before, then exposed to the cold weather outdoors for a few weeks before bringing under cover.
Seedlings are left in the same pots for two years. If you attempt to harvest them after one year, they can be too small to see with the naked eye, and you may miss a secondary germination in the second year.
After the second year of growth, the small bulbs are potted on into fresh compost and grown on further until they flower, and can be selected.
N. rifanus is just asking you to collect its pollen!
A stamen with pollen ready to transfer
Flower ready to accept the pollen
N. rupicola showing long tube behind the flower
Starting to split the flower
Already too late! See the pollen already shedding onto the stigma below it
This is better - pollen not yet shed and anthers held away from the stigma
This is a picture of a snowdrop flower with the 'petals' removed. Notice that you cannot see any free pollen on the outside of the anthers
That's because the pollen is produced INSIDE the tube-like anthers, and shed through the pores at the end
To collect the pollen, hold the top of the flower and whack it with eg a pencil - the pollen, if ripe, will fall out of the bottom
Catch the pollen onto a small piece of foil to transport it to your mother flower.
First-year seedlings are very grass-like
In their second season they will look much stronger and more like their parents.