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Seeds of Love at Kew

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CycadKew's coning cycad
A rare male cycad plant has begun 'coning' (the equivalent of flowering) at Kew Gardens in London. Now the race is on to spread its seed.

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Emma Fox tells us about the fertilisation process (09/09/03).
The cutting of the cycad

The cutting of the cycad.
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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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Kew's cycad

The rare 'coning' cycad, in all its glory.
The cycad

The window of opportunity to fertilise the Bristol's female cycad is small.

Staff at the gardens have cut open the cone and extracted the pollen, which is now being rushed to Bristol where a female cycad is also coning.

These ancient plants pre-date the flowering variety. "If you can imagine a normal conifer cone, it's like a very large version of that" Emma Fox, Keeper of the Palm House at Kew told us. "This particular one is very bright red, a very attractive plant. The male one at the moment is very large. They elongate just before they release the pollen."

The rarity of such an event has meant timing the timing is crucial. Emma Fox explained that the fertilisation process isn't so very different from the artificial insemination process used with animals.

"The actual pollen is mixed with water, then using a turkey baster, it's inserted into the top of the cone and it will run through the cone and hopefully pollinate the female and then we'll hopefully have a seed that will be viable", she explained.

However it will be some time before the horticultural staff know whether their efforts have been successful. The whole process can take up to eight months.

Kew's male cycad began to cone back in July and has since grown to around half a metre in length. It's at this point they become ripe for pollen extraction.

The whole process is made harder by the fact that there's only a short window of opportunity to fertilise the female cycad, when her scales begin to separate.

While cycads can live for hundreds of years, Kew's male specimen is only around 80-years-old.


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