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GARDEN MEDICINALS

and Culinaries
P.O. Box 320, Earlysville, VA, 22936

Phone: (434) 964-9113

Fax: (434) 973-8717

E-mail: mailbox@gardenmedicinals.com

Copyright 2006 - 2007 Jeff McCormack, Ph.D.

GROWING FALSE UNICORN FROM SEED


(Chamaelirium luteum Liliaceae)

Habitat and culture False unicorn is a long-lived, slow-growing perennial. Small populations range from the Atlantic seaboard, westward to the Mississippi and northward into southern Canada. Scattered populations of the plant are also found in the southern Ozark plateau, but the greatest concentration is found in the southern Appalachians. In its native habitat, it prefers to grow on northern and northeastern slopes in the dappled shade of mature, mixed hardwoods, coniferous forests, or on slopes in small clearings surrounded by mountain laurel and rhododendron. It prefers areas devoid of heavy leaf mulch that can smother young seedlings. Communities of false unicorn occur as small, scattered groupings rather than continuous stands. Plants grow best in dappled shade (approximately 70% shade). Though mature plants tolerate direct sun (especially early morning sun), prolonged direct exposure during mid-day can be deleterious, especially for seedlings. Moist, well-drained soil is preferred, but soggy soil is not tolerated. Mature plants will withstand periods of drought without notable adverse effect. Plants that grow in association with false unicorn include acid-loving heath plants such as rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel. It may also be found growing with foam flower, hepatica, Solomons seal, and spice bush. False unicorn can be grown successfully outside of its normal range provided that care is taken to mimic conditions of its natural habitat. Cultivation from seed Due to over-collection of native plant populations, false unicorn is now a threatened plant. The seeds that you received have been grown only from cultivated plants under natural conditions. False unicorn seed is naturally dormant when it disperses from the seed capsules in late October. Germination requires stratification, a long cold moist period which duplicates the conditions of wintering over. Though seed is shipped year-round, it is best sown from mid-October through December. If you are unable to plant the seed during this period, the seeds will need to be stratified for 8 to 12 weeks so that the stratification process is complete prior to sowing time. Once the seeds have germinated they require about 4 months to fully develop their first set of true leaves. For that reason, artificially stratified seeds are best sown in place November through April they need to have a full growing season to accumulate the food reserves to successfully over winter. A good soil mix should have a high organic content, good drainage, and moderate acidity. Such a mix would typically include 2 parts peat moss, 1 part good potting soil or compost, part perlite, and part decomposed pine needles or pine duff (which contributes acidity and beneficial fungi). Prepared mixes suitable for growing rhododendron and azalea are also suitable. The soil mix is then placed in deep flats (or 4 to 5 pots), the seed is sprinkled on the surface and tamped lightly, and then stratified outside in a shady area or shade house. Alternatively, the seeds may be stratified in the refrigerator until ready to set outside. After seedlings have germinated, they should be left undisturbed for 1, and preferably 2 growing seasons before they are transplanted to the shade garden. The germinating seedlings are slow growing at first, and resemble a single, wide, blunt blade of grass about long followed by emergence of a wider, broad, rounded leaf, and finally by a whorl of leaves. The seedlings can be carefully teased apart and transplanted at wider spacing the following spring. False unicorn grows nicely in pots, and the pots can be moved if desired, until the plants are transplanted to a permanent location. Growing in pots also reduces transplant mortality. Thank you for helping to preserve this valuable and beautiful plant. Your efforts will help ensure that there will be an ample number of false unicorn plants for future generations to use and enjoy.
Version 1.2, Updated April 2, 2007