In last week’s blog post, we introduced you to Psiguria, a vine whose pollen is an important food source for some of our butterflies. We concluded a post with a quandary: how do you get more Psiguria if you can’t buy it?
Most butterfly exhibits solve this problem by propagating their plants through taking cuttings. Basically, if you cut off a piece or branch of a mature plant, then stick it in some water and flood it with hormones, you can stimulate that cutting to start growing roots. The rooted cutting will then proceed to grow into a new, genetically identical plant. This would be like cutting off an arm of a person you like so that you could grow a clone from the severed arm. It was through this method that we received a few cuttings of Psiguria from other butterfly exhibits prior to our grand opening, but our butterflies needed more vines than we received. We lacked the equipment and greenhouse space to propagate the vines through cuttings and it is exceedingly difficult to grow Psiguria from stored seeds. So how did we do it?
When the fruit of Psiguria matures, it will drop to the ground. After a few days, the fruit will split open to reveal germinating seeds on the inside. This, it seems, is the key to getting the plant to reproduce – to leave the seeds inside the fruit. Problem solved. Except that all of the Psiguria vines that we started out with were male (because all Psiguria start out male before turning female at some point later in their lives). For this particular species, a vine will only turn female once it reaches a certain length. Therefore, getting fruit requires one vine to grow very long to become female, and at least one additional vine must be kept short enough to stay male. Last year, we were able to grow one vine long enough for it to turn female and produce fruit. Now, we have ten vines growing in six locations throughout the exhibit. With any luck, each will produce an abundance of flowers this summer that will help our butterflies live longer.