Germinating Schisandra
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Steven Williams
Posted: Before April 1998

I just received my order from Richters a couple of months ago. I am attempting to germinate seeds of Schisandra (Schizandra) chinensis but, as indicated on the seed package, they are proving to be slow and difficult to get any kind of success. I am wondering if you have grown any of these seeds, and if so how you accomplished the task. Have you tried a cold stratification? The plant is from the northern temperate area of China (north of 40 degrees) so perhaps a cool treatment would be in order. I cannot find much information on growing this species and was wondering what Richters experience with the plant has been.

Of all the seeds we carry, schisandra is one of the most difficult to germinate. The seeds have a hard seed coat which inhibits germination, and may well have a second dormancy mechanism that further complicates things. The seeds should be soaked overnight to soften the hard seed coat; or as is sometimes the practice in China, seeds are treated with acid to remove part of the seed coat. Concentrated sulphuric acid is used: the seeds are soaked in acid for at least 10 minutes until they begin to swell and then rinsed thoroughly in running water. Concentrated sulphuric acid is very hazardous to work with: be sure to wear protective gloves and goggles when working with it. In China, seeds are then sown in outdoor seedbeds, in rows 60 cm (2 ft) apart and covered with 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) of soil.

Norman Deno, in his "Seed Germination Theory and Practice," reports that a three month cold treatment (5 degrees Celsius; 40 degrees Fahrenheit) followed by warm temperature (20 degrees Celsius; 70 degrees Fahrenheit) resulted in 100% germination (2 of 2 seeds germinating), although the two cotyledons (first pair of leaves) were slow to develop.

Our recommendation is to soak the seeds in water for at least 24 hours and then sow in a seed flat which is dug into the ground outdoors so that the top surface is level with the ground. If germination does not occur within a month, mulch the seed flat with straw and leave until the following spring, exposing the seeds to a winter freeze-thaw cycle. Remove the mulch in spring and watch for signs of germination. As long as the seeds appear to be firm and not squishy, do not give up hope. Reapply the mulch after a month and leave on until the following spring. It may take as many as two full-year cycles to get germination.

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