French Tarragon Going to Seed
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Rick Cole
Posted on: September 26, 2002

I bought French tarragon plants in April, 2001, from Richters. The plants grew well this year and were harvested in early September. One plant had tiny balls along its stem, similar to what might be seeds. I am curious as to why and what these are. Could this be a Russian tarragon plant, or is this something that happens occassionally, and will it increase with age of the plant? How often should the root ball be separated into smaller plants, and how many from each root?

The plant that had tiny "seed balls" had a different smell, and also, another grower had plants with many of these "seed balls". Her plant’s smell was noticably less appealing than the majority of my plants. I need to avoid this situation.

We find that our plants do produce sterile seed capsules that don’t germinate. We have never investigated if the plants produce a different smell when in flower and seed, but it would be possible, since the insects that attack greenery are different from the ones that attack seeds (e.g. caterpillars vs weevils). The plant produces the smell to repel insects, but since we are not insects we happen to find this particular taste and smell not unappealing.

The sterile seed capsules we see occur at the tips of the branches as would expect for plants that flower and then set seeds. In your case, you are seeing "tiny seed balls" along the stem. We have not seen these and we do not know what is causing them to develop.

That said, it is theoretically possible that a Russian tarragon plant got mixed up with the French plants. That has never happened with our tarragon and we have not received any other complaints, so we think that this possibily is unlikely. If your plant is Russian you can tell the difference between it and the French plants as it will be stronger, more vigorous, and taller. Within a year you should see a big difference in the size and shape of the Russian plant (if it is indeed Russian) and the others.

If you don’t see a big difference in growth habit then something has happened with that particular plant and the possibility of a somatic mutation or possibly an undocumented infection has occurred that interferes with the plant’s ability to produce the essential oils that give tarragon its characteristic scent and flavour.

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