One of the fun places to get seed for tropical and sub-tropical plants is the local grocery store. You'll find everything from Avocados to Yams and some of them make very nice houseplants. Here's a couple of the best ones and how to get them started at home.
The avocado used to be known as the "alligator pear". There are two main types, the Persea americana that originated in Guatemala and the thinner skinned Persea drymifolia from Mexico. Today you will find dozens of hybrids and hundreds of variants. It's easier to just lump them into thick or thin skinned.
For home planting choose a very ripe avocado and clean the pit with a soft brush to get all the green off. If it was a thin skinned one remember to be polite. The more pear shaped ones from Florida seem to germinate better than the more round ones from California. After the pit is clean let it sit out overnight to dry slightly which helps break the seeds dormancy. The avocado needs light to germinate and the traditional method of sticking toothpicks into it and suspending it in a glass of water will work fine. Remember to change the water every couple of days while waiting for it to split and send out a root. Put the pointy end up. I plant them directly into soil with the seed buried about two thirds with the pointy end up. I find it easier to keep potting soil moist than to remember the pit in the glass routine.
It can take a month or more for the seed to split and start to grow. Once the tree has started and is up six inches or so, put another layer of soil in the pot to cover the pit. Avocados have shallow feeder roots that can be damaged by drying out and the extra covering helps prevent that.
The avocado is a tree and if left alone will grow straight up and not make a very attractive plant. Help it out by either allowing grazing animals into your living room to eat the tender top shoots or after it's up a foot and has a number of leaves clip off the top two inches just above a set of leaves. This will allow it to send out side branches. As it grows prune it to shape whenever it starts to get out of hand.
Transplant it as it grows bigger. An easy rule of thumb is not to let it get higher than five times the diameter of the pot. Remember to feed it regular houseplant food if it's in commercial potting soil and if you plan on it feeding you it will be a while. It takes seven years for the avocado to mature and even then unless conditions are just right it's not likely to produce fruit. You will however have a very nice bushy houseplant.
This is a challenging one to try and expect failure half the time. Mangos are native to northeastern India, Burma and Thailand and were not grown outside that region until transportation got faster than sailing ships and horseback because the mango seed is not viable for very long. Today they get to North America quick enough to make it possible to grow them as a very nice houseplant. Choose a ripe one and after you eat it and wash the sticky juice from everywhere, clean the pit thoroughly and scrape it off with a knife. Clean as much of the "hair" off as you can without damaging the pit.
The Mango has among its ancestors the infamous Poison Ivy plant and some people get a rash from the mangos skin and juice. If you're sensitive to Poison Ivy wear gloves. Soak the seed in water for four or five days changing the water every day. The seed will have an "eye" where the fruit was attached to the plant and this is the end to have up when you plant it. Use a potting soil that is loose and well drained. You can add 30% perlite to potting soil to get a good fast draining mix. Place it so the "eye" is about an inch deep with the seed standing on end in a pot big enough so there's at least four inches of soil under the seed. Keep it damp but not wet. It can also take months to germinate but is worth the wait.
When it gets up a few inches it will sprout a batch of spectacular bright red leaves. They will slowly turn to green. Your mango will grow in spurts sitting dormant for months and then sprouting a new batch of red leaves that slowly turn to shiny green. Mangos are very sensitive to cold I discovered so set it back away from the window in the winter. It takes four years to mature and to make it flower it needs to go through a simulated "dry" season which means you can go on vacation and forget to water this one and it will actually help! The mango grows slower than an avocado and mine bushed nicely without pruning it.
The Avocado and the Mango are just two of the many possibilities for houseplants you'll find in the grocery store. Give them a try.
John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail email@example.com. or at http://www.netshop.yk.ca\tropnor\
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