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Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong?

Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong? - Botany Forum

Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong? - Botany Forum

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Old 10-18-2005, 03:15 PM
Harry Haller
Posts: n/a
Default Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong?


Can you tell me what I'm doing that is so wrong, and how to do it

Last year I tried to grow Sassafras seeds with no success. This year I
will try again!?! I followed the instructions on the seed packet

I soaked the seeds in tepid water. After 12 hours, I removed the (now
wet) berry. I continued soaking for another 12 hours. I cleaned the
seed coat by scrubbing lightly with a plastic kitchen scourer (to
remover any remaining berry tissue). At this time nearly all the seeds
had sunk to the bottom of the water. I then divided my seeds into 2
equal portions (discarding the seeds which floated on top). I soaked
half the seeds in fungicide suspension for an hour. I used
"Supercarb", at a dilute concentration of 1g/450 ml water. This
contains "carbendazim plus activator". I placed the seeds into 2 used
Petri dishes containing moist sand, both in the same plastic bag (to
prevent them drying out). After cold stratification in a fridge, at a
temperature of about 2-5 C for 4 months, I noticed that the seeds
without the fungicide treatment had (as expected) gone mouldy. I
planted my seeds out into 2 containers (last March). One half of the
seeds (half of the treated ones and half untreated seeds) were put in
a container with sand and the rest of the seeds into a container with
John Innes No 1 compost. So I had 4 series of seeds; each series given
a different treatment. These were all put in a cold frame. I ensured
that the seed containers did not dry out by checking the moisture (by
touch) and watering when I thought it had got too dry. None of the
seeds germinated.

I missed out the mulching, (described below). Is it that important?

Sassafras is a dioecious plant. Is it possible that I had a bad, e.g.
an infertile, batch of seeds?

I am at a loss to figure out what I did wrong. This method of soaking
in fungicide has worked well for other seeds both those requiring cold
stratification and those that don't.

Most of the instructions I've read on the Internet for growing
Sassafras seeds mention cold stratification but not all describe how
it should be done. Some of the instructions say that 2 months of
stratification at 2-5 C is sufficient.

The original reference on that topic (Bonner and Maisenhelder [ref. 1]
) says:
<quote>Germination:- The seeds exhibit strong embryo dormancy, which
can be overcome with moist stratification at 41 F. (5 C) for 120
days. Germination can be tested in moist sand or other media at
temperatures of 70 to 85 F. (21-29 C) for up to 120 days.</quote>

As I said I am down but not out. I have ordered a new batch of seeds
and will try again. Apart from mulching (with leaves?) and trying
different fungicides, is there anything else I should try? For
instance, should my cold frame be in the shade or in the sun? What is
the sense in trying to germinate seeds in sand? I noticed that the
sand dries out quite quickly. I only tried sand because the guys who
did the initial trials, using 120 days cold stratification, also used
sand. They published their results in the

This year I will start 8 series (for planting next spring). I will try
out 2 different types of fungicide and a quarter of the seeds will get
no fungicide at all. I propose:

Series treatment (fungicide, cold stratification period):
1 no fungicide, 2 months
2 no fungicide, 3 months
3 Supercarb, 2 months
4 Supercarb, 3 months
5 Supercarb, 4 months
6 Dithane 945, 2 months
7 Dithane 945, 3 months
8 Dithane 945, 4 months

I will put my cold frame in direct sunlight, all series will be
germinated in John Innes #1 and mulched with leaves. Are there any
other recommendations?

I got my seeds from a recommended US seed supplier: "The Sheffield
Seed Co." Here are the instructions provided on the seed package:

Sassafras albidum db. Source 2004, Missouri.

Scarification: Soak in water, let stand in water for 24 hours.
Stratification: cold stratify for 120 days.
Germination: sow seed, 3/8" deep; damp the soil, keep moist, mulch the
seed bed, can be sown outdoors in the fall for spring germination.
Other: remove seed from fruit prior to treatments.


1) Bonner, F. T., and L. C. Maisenhelder. 1974. Sassafras albidum
(Nutt.) Nees sassafras. In Seeds of woody plants in the United States.
p. 761-762. C. S. Schopmeyer, tech. coord. U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 450. Washington, DC.
2) <http://wildwnc.org/trees/Sassafras_albidum.html>
4) <http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/sasalb/all.html>

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Old 10-18-2005, 04:00 PM
Doug Kanter
Posts: n/a
Default Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong?

How about putting some of them in the freezer and seeing if they do better
than the ones in the refrigerator? Sassafras grows where I live, and winters
get down to nearly zero F.

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Old 10-18-2005, 04:05 PM
mel turner
Posts: n/a
Default Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong?

"Harry Haller" <Harry@Steppenwolf.com> wrote in message
[snip long description of efforts so far]

Googling for "Sassafras + seed + propagation" finds quite a bit
that sounds basically similar to your information, e.g.:

[Only registered users see links. ] :
"Propagation is fairly simple from seed. If you can obtain it, fresh
seed will give the best results and this should be sown immediately
in a cold frame. It should germinate in the spring. If you can only
obtain stored seed then this will need four months cold stratification
at 4c. Soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water and then mixing it
with some damp compost and placing it in the salad compartment of the
fridge for 3-4 months should suffice. As soon as they are large enough
to handle, prick out the seedlings into individual pots and grow them
on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter before planting
them out. Give the young trees some protection for at least their
first winter outdoors[K].

Suckers can be dug up in late winter. If they are well-rooted they
can be planted straight out into their permanent positions but if the
root system is rather sparse it is best to pot them up and place them
in a lightly shaded place in the greenhouse until they are growing
away strongly. In addition root cuttings can be taken from the suckers.
These cuttings should be about 1 - 2cm long, they are taken in December
and planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse. Grow them on for
their first winter in the greenhouse before planting them out into
their permanent positions".

[Only registered users see links. ]
says much the same as the above.

[Only registered users see links. ] :
"Sassafras albidum , Sassafras ,zone= 4 , sow 4m @ 39F, move to
70F for germ."

[Only registered users see links. ] :
"Propagation Method: Seed
Product Type: Container (plug)
Propagule Processing: Seeds exhibit physiological dormancy.
Pre-Planting Treatments: Seeds are cold stratified for 120 days
and germinate at 30/20 C."
[gives refs]

Hope that this helps.


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Old 10-20-2005, 03:36 PM
Posts: n/a
Default Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong?

In article <[Only registered users see links. ]>,
Harry Haller <[Only registered users see links. ]> wrote:

You've been given good technical advice. If you don't mind, I'll add a
few fairly ignorant comments.

(1) If you haven't thrown all your pots of no-shows away yet, bury them
in your garden for the winter. It's amazing what can come up after a
year or two on occasion.

(2) It's quite possible that despite doing everything right, the seed
you received was non-viable. I don't know anything about the company
you ordered from, but for many species, if the seeds aren't carefully
handled with suitable temperature and humidity from collection until
you plant them, germination can be dismal. While some companies are
very careful, others feel that as long as the seeds they send you are
from the species named on the label, they've done their part. Seed
could be old, could have been exposed to excess moisture and then
redried multiple times, could have been exposed to excess heat or
dryness, etc. It also may not have been mature when collected, or
otherwise defective -- e.g. empty or aborted or poorly developed seed.

The times I've had the most success with seed of wild plants is when
I've collected them fresh, when the plant is dispersing them, and
planted them immediately where the temperature cycles and precipitation
they are adapted to can set off germination as the seed "expects". So
I'd recommend that you collect your own seed, and plant lots. If
sassafras doesn't occur in your area, see if you can find someone to
send you fresh seed from an area with a climate similar to yours. You
might also consider planting the seed you have now shallowly in a high
humus soil (leaf mold would be ideal, since sassafras is a forest
understory and edge species) and sinking the pot in a sheltered spot in
your garden, under a shrub would be good, perhaps covered by a few
handfuls of autumn leaves. If squirrels or mice are a problem, cover
the pots with screen. Note that seed may keep germinating for several
years if you put the pot back in the ground and keep it watered after
you remove this year's seedlings.

This is the ultimate low-tech approach, but it has the advantage of
managing factors that nobody may even be aware of. Once you go with
controlled conditions, you have to control everything. It's not good if
you need very reliable, repeatable results, but it has the advantage of
simplicity for an amateur.

Sassafras is a wonderful tree, beautiful and fragrant. I hope you have
better luck in germinating it next time, whichever method you use. I'm
outside its range, or I'd offer to collect seed for you. If your
objective is just to get a few trees, sassafras suckers like crazy, and
getting a few pieces of freshly cut root, kept cool and moist until
planted, may be the easiest method. Or perhaps you can dig up suckers
or seedlings from a fencerow or the edge of someone's woodlot (with
permission, of course).

Good luck, and let us know what happens.

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Old 10-25-2005, 05:20 AM
Harry Haller
Posts: n/a
Default Germinating Sassafras seeds - failure - what is wrong?

On Tue, 18 Oct 2005 16:00:43 GMT, "Doug Kanter"
<[Only registered users see links. ]> wrote:

I'll get a thermometer to check my freezer temperature but it seems a
little too cold in there. I wouldn't want to go below -5 for too long.
It may get very cold where you live but I doubt it stays that cold for
120 days! Nevertheless I'll consider that for a percentage of the
seeds for, maybe, a month.

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failure , germinating , sassafras , seeds , wrong

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