Grown from leaves

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Leaf cutting in progress

Plants are amazing things. They can be reproduced by sticking a stem into the ground, which will grow into a new plant identical to the original one. Despite all our human sophistication, we are not yet able to clone ourselves like that! Recently, I have discovered how plants can also be reproduced from merely a leaf.

Rhizomatous Begonia Connee Boswell, grown from a leaf from the garden of Margaret Chedra in Sydney

A number of months ago, a garden group to which I belong had a discussion on foliage plants, and members brought along a number of different leaves from their gardens to show. It was a fabulous meeting and it reinforced the idea of how important foliage plants are in our gardens. Amongst the leaves on display were two large and decorative rhizomatous Begonia varieties: one with stippled silver and dark purple markings ('Connee Boswell'), rather similar to the stunning shrub Begonia 'Little Brother Montgomery'; the other one with lime-coloured patterns on a brownish background (name unknown by me). How I desired those leaves! I was allowed to have them and I was told that if I put the leaves into a container of propagating medium and waited quite a while, the leaves would take root and give me some plants!

I had never taken leaf cuttings before so with some trepidation I did as instructed. I cut the main veins on the back of my leaves in a few places with a razor blade before I buried the stalk of each leaf in pots of my favourite propagating mixture, which comprises perlite and hydrated cocopeat. I find this holds moisture yet drains very well, and I have had good success with many stem cuttings using it. The leaves were lying horizontally on the surface of the mixture. I weighted them down with a few small pebbles so that the leaves would be in contact with the mixture.

My improvised incubator boxes for plant propagation

After watering the pots, I popped them into one of my homemade incubators: big, clear-plastic tubs with lids, and with holes drilled at the bottom of it for drainage. I keep them in a shaded spot so they don't overheat. After several months, I gently tugged at the leaves and was met with resistance. My leaves had developed roots! It seemed impossible, the stuff of science fiction, but it had really happened. I gradually exposed the pots to more air by lifting the lid of the tub a little more every few days, then eventually placed the pots on my propagating bench and repotted them into containers of potting mix. At this point, they both still looked like a leaf lying on the top of the mix.

Rhizomatous Begonia, name unknown, grown from a leaf from the garden of Margaret Chedra in Sydney

A few weeks ago, when inspecting my nursery of cuttings, I saw a group of baby begonia leaves arising from the surface of the pots, each perfectly formed and coloured just like the original 'mother' leaf! It was a thrilling moment. I have since learned that my method of laying the leaf horizontally on the surface of the propagating mixture is the 'slow' way of leaf propagating; if I had trimmed the stalk close to the leaf and inserted the leaf upright in the mixture, I might have had my new plants a lot quicker! Hormone gel or powder can be a useful aid for the cuttings. Some people actually cut the leaf up into pieces, each having a junction of two leaf veins near the base of the section, to end up with more plants.

Streptocarpus hybrid: these can be grown from leaf cuttings

Rhizomatous Begonia - which are wonderful groundcover plants for shaded spots in Sydney gardens, with myriad colours and patterns on their leaves - are excellent subjects for leaf cuttings. Other suitable subjects are Begonia rex (done similarly to rhizomatous Begonia leaf cuttings); African violets and Peperomia (use the whole leaf, burying the stalk below the surface of the compost); and gloxinia and Streptocarpus (cut the leaves in half and insert upright into the pot). Other suitable candidates are Acanthus mollis, and succulents such as Crassula, Echeveria and Sedum, which are best propagated by inserting them upright into the propagating mix. Other succulents - such as Kalanchoe - produce tiny plantlets at the edge of their leaves, which naturally drop to the soil and take root: this process can be expedited by removing a whole leaf with plantlets and laying on the surface of the propagating mix. They will quickly take root and begin to grow. Leaf cuttings like warmth, so spring or late summer are ideal times to take them. It is an intriguing way to make new plants!

Reader Comments

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 28 November 2016

    congratulations! I must try propagating begonias again. used to do African violets and peperomias many years ago but never had any success with the begonias. (I don"t need to propage acanthus - never had any luck in garden in Sydney but here they are weed=like!!) I know what you mean about acanthus. Once planted they can never be eradicated. I guess the leaf cuttings would be for the fancier varieties such as the gold leaf one and the white-variegated leaf one. I think root cuttings also work for these - another method I must try one day. Deirdre

  • By Karen 2620 Monday, 28 November 2016

    I accidentally discovered a much easier (and seemingly reliable) way of taking leaf cuttings from begonias and gesneriads - simply cut the leaf from the plant, ensuring it still has a good inch or two of petiole. Immerse the cut end of the petiole in water in a cup/vase/jar and place on a warm windowsill (not hot, or in direct sun), or in your greenhouse if you have one, and watch it develop roots at the cut end of the petiole! Plant out and watch the baby plant grow from the leaf base. What a fab technique, Karen! I will definitely try it. Thanks for letting us know about it. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 Monday, 28 November 2016

    A lovely blog of one of my favourite plants. Must do some more myself. - might even try Karen"s seeing it is so easy. I have one un-named tuberous begonia of light green with yellow blotches which was given to me 40 years ago by an old friend, such a nice memory to look at. Thanks for the tip on acanthus as I have a gold/citrus leaf one (Hollards Gold) which I would like more of. Yes, that tip Karen gave us sounds amazing. I might also try the lead cuttings with my white-variegated leaf acanthus as I would like more of them. It is a very slow grower. I love the golden acanthus too. Deirdre

  • By Simon 2126 Monday, 28 November 2016

    I"ve been wanting to have a go at leaf cuttings for streptocarpus. I think I will try the method with the leaf petiole in warm water and see if I can get it to grow some roots that way. In the past I failed with leaf cuttings for Rex begonias but perhaps I wasn"t as careful with the day to day process. Thanks, Simon. I am going to try the water method too! Deirdre

  • By Karen 2620 Monday, 28 November 2016

    I also have a variegated acanthus that is very slow to grow, but hadn"t thought to try propagating from leaf cuttings. Will give it a go! Hope it works out OK! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 29 November 2016

    Great advice, and hints, Deirdre. Just a note of warning: rooting begonias in water does work, but the roots are water ones, and in transplanting the small plants into the growing media, sometimes the tiny roots are damaged, and so the plant does not survive. Thanks for your note of caution about this method. I will give it a go and try to be very careful when potting up. I imagine this probably applies to any plant which takes root in water. Currently I am trying basil cuttings in water to see if they take root!? Deirdre

  • By lillian 3951 Wednesday, 30 November 2016

    Diedre hi- just got to this week"s blog. Like Margaret I"ve often found that water-rooted cuttings dislike the move to potting mix. When I remember I wrap the stem in a bit of paper towel, add some sand, rubber band it and grow in a deep skinny container. Then plant the whole thing - without the rubber band. Less shock. It even worked with a special Artemisia that you"d expect to hate wet feet. Didn"t work with perennial basil but will try it again now the new season growth is firming up. L Thanks so much for those tips, Lillian. Deirdre

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