Growing Gunnera Seeds – Tips On Seed Propagating Gunnera Plants

Growing Gunnera Seeds – Tips On Seed Propagating Gunnera Plants

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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Gunnera manicata is one of the most astounding plants you will ever see. The larger specimens of these ornamental giants can be quite expensive but don’t worry, collecting gunnera seeds and growing plants from them is easy. Read this little article for some tips on how to propagate gunnera from seed and grow your own giant rhubarb.

Collecting Gunnera Seeds

There are over 50 species of gunnera, but the most impactful is the huge Gunnera manicata, which is native to the mountains of southeastern Brazil. This monster of a plant can have leaves of 11 by 6 feet (3 x 2 m.) on petioles that are 8 feet (2 m.) in length. It is the most common in cultivation and harvesting seeds from the plant is relatively simple but they need special treatment to ensure germination. Seed propagating gunnera plants requires exacting temperatures and careful handling of the seed.

Gunnera plants produce large brownish panicles filled with tiny red brown flowers. Pollinated flowers become small red, berry like fruits. Once ripe, these fruits are filled with numerous fine black seeds. These seeds are sensitive to handling and the oils on your skin can affect germination. When harvesting seed, wear gloves to prevent contamination. Seed propagating gunnera plants is not the only method of reproduction.

Another common and quick method is by dividing the root ball and planting the resulting individual babies. Growing gunnera seeds is a much slower process but you can get many more starts and have the fun of watching these monstrous plants grow from pups to huge garden specimens.

How to Propagate Gunnera from Seed

Once the panicles produce fruit, wait until they are ripe and bursting before harvesting them. Open fruits over a container to collect the tiny seeds. Use them immediately for best results or refrigerate them for a short period. Always use gloves when handling seed.

Sow in a flat filled with good moistened compost mixed with vermiculite or perlite. Seeds should be lightly strewn at about one inch (2.5 cm.) apart. These seeds need light for germination so you can simply lightly tamp them into soil or gently cover with a fine layer of sand.

Cover the tray with plastic or glass and place where temperatures are 68 to 77 degrees F. (20-25 C.). Best gunnera seed propagation is achieved in warmer temperatures. Bottom heat will speed germination. Remove the plastic or glass once every day to allow air into the area and mist to keep moist.

Follow-up Care When Growing Gunnera Seeds

Germination is generally quite quick, within 15 days, but may take up to 60 days. Thinning is necessary, grow the seedlings on in their flat until two pairs of true leaves appear. Then, transplant to 2 inch (5 cm.) pots filled with good compost. Keep them moistened and provide ventilation in a warm area of the home, garden, or greenhouse.

Lighting should be bright but not scorching. It is important to not let the seedlings dry out. Give seedlings a liquid diluted fertilizer once per month during the growing season.

Do not transplant outdoors until young plants are a year old. Protect plants in the garden from freezing. In a few years you will have your own giant gunnera plants, a sight which will amaze and awe your friends and family.

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What Is Gunnera?

Gunnera is a large perennial plant that is native to South America in Brazil. This plant has 45+ different species, with the most familiar being the gunnera manicata.

The plant is sometimes nicknamed “Dinosaur Food” and for a good reason. It has the potential of growing to 8ft tall or more if allowed, and its leaves can be as wide as 4ft.

Gunnera plants love the sun and water. They’ll mostly be found in very wet areas where other plants’ roots tend to drown or rot from the amount of water.

Gunnera by seed

Is this easy to germinate? When searching for this plant I always see seeds available. I was just wondering, if anybody's germinated this by seed, and how long it took to get huge like the plants I always see on the net LOL

I bought this plant last year and it promptly died on me, or at least I think it did. I think I've attempted to grow it twice now. Is it only hardy to zone 7? maybe that's why it does't come back here .

I'd love to grow it, but it's too big to grow in a pot LOL if it's just zone 7.

I've done lots of experiments with these guys over the years, since I need to test seed before I distribute it. I've tried all sorts of things, but what works best is to first rub the seed in the palm of your hand to rub off the brown wrinkly outer seed husk. Then take the small smooth seed you end up with and soak them in regular rubbing alcohol for 15 minutes - this helps to remove germination inhibitors. Then sow them on the surface and keep nice and moist )remember they are from wet environments), and expect seedlings to pop up starting in about a month, and straggling in over the next ten months or so.

I'm not sure how long they will take to get to be the gigantic plants they become - as a seedman, I always say that I've grown millions of plants - until they are an inch tall and the germination test is over! Wish I had the time and space to grow them all on to maturity.

These are great plants, so good luck with the seed. Try this method - it works! Let me know how you do.

I think I'm going to try the plants though .

I've never heard of using rubbing alcohol to remove germination inhibitors, are there anyother seeds to do this with, I would love to grow the Gunnera but it's not hardy in my zone :(

I've had horrible luck germinating gunnera. I've had one group of seeds in peat pots for going on two months, and another group in peat pellets for six weeks. Not a sign of roots or shoots.

says zone 7, I'm thinking it's not hardy in my area either, I've bought it twice now LOL lost it both times

Is it your winters that are the problem, or is it your summers? I have seen this plant doing great in places like foggy San Francisco or in the Pacific Northwest, and often plants that do great in areas like that don't appreciate southern heat.

Well, I think one time It never made it past summer, It was quite healthy when I bought it, the second time, never came back from the winter, and never really got big like in all the pictures either.

I tried growing gunera from bulbs, they grew well in the springs. The summer's heat got them twice in a row.

hi all. i have a huge (will be now thats its coming 'out" again. gunerras are really hardy and should do well in zone 6 and 7. i live in s. coast oregon and depending on where u are were either a 7 or 8. gunerra love LOTS and LOTS of water. everyday when its warm or hot. if you see it wilting not a good sign, let the hose just soak for awhile. they die back (at least they do here) in the winter and all you need to do is cut off the leaves when they die and cover the furry root ball to protect it. you can throw some mulch over it to if it gets snowy where you are. it should do just fine. this was taken jsut this week

starting of the bloom, hasnt flowered yet, turns yellow and gets pollen everywhere!

Don't make me jealous now. LOL, nice plants.

lol. maybe try again, does your area where you put it get really hot sun? if so might try a slightly semi shadey spot, abnd lots of water.

they thrive in ths cool weather. we have a botanical garden here called shore acres and they have a few gunerra that are over 10 tall! spectacular. good luck!

I bet that is spectactular, I had it in a shady place both times but it did dry out quite a bit and was a bit far for the water hose too. I may try again. I doubt mine would ever get that large. Good to know they come back in your area,

do try again, plant it in a big hole with lots of bark mulch, and must water it at least every other day, if not everyday when its hot. get and extention for your hose and just let the water drizzle for awhile. will take gallons when it gets bigger. i swear mine will soak up at least10+ gal/day in the summer. but they are such a cool plant . let me know how its going! good luck!

They're darn expensive, I've tried them two different years, and for $15.00 a bulb! I'm almost cured of wanting them in my garden. lol.

yea they are, I saw a couple on ebay but were about the same price. I think last year I got 2 off ebay for l0.00 each, I killed them of course. I keep trying to find them cheaper.

need another source for them

I came across a web site that had several diff kinds, I'll see if I can find that site again

doesn't look like it's for sale any more though.

i've ordered from this place 2 or 3 times this spring alone, I don't know how I missed these.

I think i'll get them from here

I just noticed one of those gunneras isn't availble till fall. I saw brian's botanicals had one that's on ebay that is hardy zones 3 to l0 or something like that. couldn't believe it was that hardy. but it was l2.99 or higher.

I'll have to wait till after my memphis trip LOL to order

Most of my gardening friends have all tried them here in the low country. All have failed just as miserably as I did. It's just not a plant that likes high heat/humidity. I can get them started with no problem planting them in March. But by May, theyr'e fading badly, and die in June/July. Never had one make it through a whole year here. I gave up on them.

StoneRiver, thanks for echoing my sentiment about those lovely. Something just isn't meant to be in our "hot & humid" wheather, that's all there is to it.

hey all. gunerras are zone 7-10 so i dont know whats going on with yours unless it in direct hot sun or not enough water. oh well. a local nursery here grows them but they might be a bit big to ship. oh well good luck!

shokami2 have you tried them before? If so maybe we can just enjoying seeing your pictures/success. Southern climate just isn't made for Gunnera, that the giant kind anyway.

yes i do lily. scroll up about 12 or so, i have pics of mine from earlier this week. its already grown a bunch more! sorry i wont cooperate in your area. :( i will post occassionally with up dated pics of mine. its always changing everyday.

Like others, I'm jealous and green in envy. Nothing I can do about it. boohoooo. Thanks for sharing the picture.

I think too much heat in general and not enough moisture is what's killing mine.

Yes, same here, it sprouted and was happily in my protected area. Then one summer day, it was gone. It's just a memory now.

LOL. OUr memory gardens are empty aren't they LOL. I need a garden just full of plant tags for memories of my dead plants ha ha

lol so sad guys. :( just drench yours kathy, everyday. you really cant overwater it since its a bog type plant anywho. good luck!!

When I get one I will LOL

here is my gunerra now. just a few days ago. its really growing!

I haven't even purchased any yet.

mine is loving all this rain weve been having! love loves the water. seems like it grows everyday.

havent been here for a bit. here is my baby as of yesterday. it really is growing!

wow, that's beautiful. I love it. it' sure is happy

i started collecting seeds form it last week. only did the bottom 8 inches on one stalk and got a plate full! still have to get more. maybe tom.

Is that the only one you have? That plant there?

yes.. the only one. that all i have room for! lol. i am collecting seeds and will be trying to do starts. i can let you know when and if they get going.

Collecting Gunnera Seeds For Planting - How To Propagate Gunnera From Seed - garden

Gunnera is one of the biggest and most spectacular, architectural, herbaceous plants. Thought to be around 150 million years old and first introduced into Europe in the 1860′s it if often called Dinosaur Food or Giant Rhubarb due to its gigantic, deeply lobed, deep green leaves, which grow up to 2 metres (6ft) across.

The plants need a lot of space because it is difficult to restrict their size. They look best standing as specimen plants in a damp bog garden, or beside a large pond where the reflections reveal the undersides of the leaves. The stalks hold tiny red-brown flowers on erect panicles up to 1m (3ft) in height, followed by small red berry-like fruits.
The fat growth buds clustered in the crown are prone to frost damage, so pile the dead leaves and stems into a mound over the plants in autumn for winter protection.
Gunnera manicata is easy to grow. Good soil with steady moisture, by a pond or stream perhaps, and a great deal of space is all you need to enjoy this magnificent plant.

  • Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
    Gunnera manicata was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.

Sowing: Sow seeds as soon as possible.
For maximum freshness, please keep seed refrigerated in its original packaging until you are ready to sow them.
Fill a large pot (see below) with fertile moisture retentive medium. Sow thinly and evenly distribute seed over surface (don't touch seed as skin oils interfere with germination).
Tamp into soil. Keep moist and mist often (a plastic cover greatly improves success) Provide bottom heat if possible, and ventilation.
Optimum germination temp: 20 to 25°C (68 to 77°F). 15 to 60 days to germination.
Do not let seed suffer temperatures of less than 10°C (50°F) otherwise germination will be delayed. Do not disturb seedlings for its first year.
Give dilute liquid fertiliser during growing season. Never let seedlings dry out or expose to full or direct sun.

Now…about that pot size …the plant growth after their first winter is incredible. Seedlings 3 to 4 cm in size will resemble rhubarb by the end of August. In order not to disturb the seedlings, you may wish to start the seeds off directly into a large container – perhaps a two gallon pot if you have one (Yes…that large!)
In the second year transplant to individual containers or seat in permanent site. Grow on in any good moist garden soil.

Though considered hardy, Gunneras need special care in cold winter areas in order to survive. i.e. where winter temperatures are likely to drop below -5°C (20°F). Cut down all greenery in late October to 30cm (12in) of the root ball then place a thick layer of dry mulch over the crown for the winter. The mulch should be kept dry by a tarp or other rain proofing material. Remove mulch when last spring frost is past. A heavy mulch can help these plants survive to -17°C (0°F)

Plant Uses:
Architectural, Pond and Streams, Damp and Bog gardens.

Gunnera manicata is native to south east Brazil and is thought to be around 150 million years old.
It was first introduced into Europe in the 1860′s by J.J Linden.

The genus name Gunnera is named after Johan Ernst Gunner (or Gunnerus) (1718-1773), a Norwegian botanist and founder of the Royal Norwegian Society. He was the author of Flora Norvegica and the first to suggest that since the northern lights were caused by the Sun, there also had to be auroras around the moon, Venus and Mercury
The species manicata is from the Latin meaning ‘having long sleeves’, possibly in reference to the hairy ‘trunks’.
It is commonly known as Giant Gunnera, Chile Rhubarb, Giant Rhubarb, Prickly Rhubarb or Dinosaur Food. Despite the common names, this plant is not closely related to rhubarb.

Lawn and Garden Shop Garden Improvement Information Series

Gunnera is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants, some of these are gigantic. The genus Gunnera, was named after Johann Ernst Gunnerus (1718–1773), a Norwegian botanist.
The genus is the only member of the family Gunneraceae. The 40-50 species vary enormously in leaf size. Of the 45 or so summer-flowering species in the genus, there are drastic differences in leaf size.

  • Gunnera manicata, native to the Serra do Mar mountains of southeastern Brazil, is perhaps the largest species, with leaves typically 1.5-2 m (5-6 ft) wide, but exceptionally long, up to 3.4 m (11 ft), borne on thick, succulent leaf stalks (petioles) up to 2.5 m (8 ft) long. It germinates best in very moist, but not wet, conditions and temperatures of 22 to 29 °C. Their tiny, light green flowers grow in conical spikes in early summer.
  • Only slightly smaller is Gunnera masafuerae of the Juan Fernandez Islands off the Chilean coast. This species is native to southern Chile and neighbour zones in Argentina. They can have leaves up to 2.9 m (9 ft 5 inches) in width on stout leaf stalks 1.5 m (5 ft) long and 11 cm (4.5 in) thick.
  • On nearby Mas a Fuera, Gunnera peltata frequently has an upright trunk to 5.5 m (18 ft) in height by 25–30 cm (10–12 in) thick, bearing leaves up to 2 m (6 ft 4 inches) wide.
  • Gunnera magnifica of the Colombian Andes bears the largest leaf buds of any plant up to 60 cm (2 ft) long and 40 cm (16 inches) thick. The succulent leaf stalks are up to 2.7 m (8 ft 10 inches) long. The massive inflorescence of small, reddish flowers is up to 2.3 m (7 ft 6 inches) long and weighs about 13 kg. Other giant Gunnera species are found throughout the Neotropics and the Hawaii Islands.
  • Several small species are found in New Zealand, notably Gunnera albocarpa, with leaves only 1–2 cm long.
  • In South America, Gunnera magellanica, commonly known as "giant rhubarb", has leaves two to three inches wide on stalks three to six inches long. You’ll definitely need to consider space requirements carefully before planting several of the large varieties.
DESCRIPTION: These perennials are mainly grown for their beautiful foliage. Gunnera (commonly known as the Giant or Prickly Rhubarb) isn't hardy in very cold climates they are natives of South America, South Africa, Tasmania, Abyssinia, Java, New Zealand and Hawaii. The natives of South America eat the thick leafstalks of Gunnera manicata and Gunnera chilensis either raw or cooked they are known as Pangue. The Rhubarb plant used to make pies, tarts, etc. is Rheum rhabarbarum.

Propagation can done by dividing the rootball or by the method most commonly used which is by dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs, including offsets. Another propagation method used is by planting their tiny seeds. Tiny red-brown flowers are borne in erect panicles to 1m in height. followed by small red berry-like fruits. Sow these seeds in gentle heat as soon as ripe, seed quickly loses viability. Germination may be improved by maintaining very moist, but not wet, conditions and temperatures of 75-85 degrees Celcius. Germination should happen within two weeks. Germination may be slow and erratic, so prick out individual seedlings as they become large enough to handle and transfer to pots or trays. Over-winter in a cool, frost-free shed or greenhouse and plant out in April or May. Gunnera has roots that are host to microscopic blue-green algae, which convert atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form of nitrogen that the plant can use for growth. NOTE: In Nature, water is the main way that the Gunnera seeds spread and colonize other areas. Birds are secondary.


  • SOIL:
    Gunnera species grow in deep, permanently moist, humus-rich soil in sun or partial shade. Large varieties need shelter from cold, drying winds and winter protection all varieties are unsuitable for high heat and humid climates.
    Gunnera manicata demands a virtually unlimited water supply in their growing season that’s why it’s ideally planted along the edge of a stream or a pond). Plant it right after the last frost in spring and add as much compost, well-rotted manure and slow-release fertilizer as possible to the soil. Even after the plant has settled in, massive amounts of compost, manure and fertilizer are needed.
    Unprotected crowns can not survive temperatures below -8°C. The crowns of smaller varieties should be protected with dry mulch. The leaves of larger varieties should be cut off after the first hard frost. Inverted, the leaves provide excellent coverage for the resting crowns. Another method to help keep out moisture is to remove leaves after the frost, cover the crown with 20 inches of straw, cover with a burlap tarp, or large plastic container, such as a tub, and than add another 20 inches of straw. Seasoned wood chips or sawdust will work even better. After all danger of a hard freeze is gone, in late March or early April, protection can be removed. Then be sure to mulch the Gunnera plant.
    Sow seeds in containers as soon as they are ripe and keep them cool but frost-free through the winter. Germination is slow. Large species can also be increased by taking cuttings of leafy, basal buds in spring. Divide small species in spring.
    Gunnera plants may be planted in large containers for their first few years, depending upon their need for deeply cultivated, moist, fertile soil, in a sheltered location. Gunneras are great for waterside planting and other moist places. The crowns of these plants should be protected in the winter by mulching with dead leaves.
    The larger Gunnera make gorgeous architectural plants for the edge of a pond or stream, a waterfalls setting, or a bog garden, while smaller species make interesting additions to a rock garden.

Cyanobacterial Symbiosis:
In nature, all Gunnera plants form a symbiosis with a nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria, thought to be exclusively Nostoc punctiforme. The bacteria invade the plant via glands found at the base of each leaf stalk[1] and initiate an intracellular symbiosis which is thought to provide the plant with fixed nitrogen in return for fixed carbon for the bacterium. This intracellular interaction is unique in higher plants and may provide insights to allow the creation of novel symbioses between crop plants and cyanobacteria, allowing growth in areas lacking fixed nitrogen in the soil.

Scientific classification:

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Gunnerales
  • Family: Gunneraceae
  • Genus: Gunnera
  • Species:
  • Selected species
    Gunnera albocarpa
    Gunnera arenaria
    Gunnera densiflora
    Gunnera dentata
    Gunnera flavida
    Gunnera hamiltonii
    Gunnera magellanica
    Gunnera magnifica
    Gunnera manicata
    Gunnera masafuerae
    Gunnera monoica
    Gunnera perpensa
    Gunnera prorepens
    Gunnera tinctoria

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Growing Plants and Gardening

The genus Gunnera contains some plants that are on the tender side: while the large Gunnera manicata merely needs some winter protection, the creeping G. magellanica should be brought under cover for winter.

The most familiar gunnera is Gunnera manicata and it is almost compulsory for those with big water gardens to grow it. It is the largest of any hardy herbaceous plant, and many call it the giant or prickly rhubarb, because of the similarity of its leaves in truth the two plants are not even related. Close inspection will show that the plants are very different, Gunnera being more spectacular. As long as there is sufficient space, even in a small garden, gunnera will help to create an exotic atmosphere. The oversized leaves afford shelter for all manner of garden wildlife, even waterfowl.

The vast jagged and indented leaves are the main reason for growing this plant.

Individual leaves on some mature plants can reach to 2m (6ft) in diameter. They are carried on thick stems with nasty spikes on the largest.

Conical clusters of small, greenish-brown flowers appear in late spring and early summer. The flower spikes can reach 1.5m (5ft) in height. Rust-brown seed pods follow.

The giant Chilean rhubarb (G. tinctoria) is slightly smaller and slightly hardier. Leaves on mature plants are lm (3ft) wide and the overall height is 2m (7ft). Alternatively, you could opt for the dwarf, carpet-creeping gunnera, G. magellanica. It has bright green ‘crinkled’ leaves and plants barely reach 10cm (4in) in height, with a spread of just lm (3ft).

Choose a position in full sun or medium shade, at the edge of larger ponds. Gunneras are tolerant of most soils, but prefer deep, fertile soils with high moisture content. Plant during spring. Feed with a general fertilizer in spring. They are undemanding plants, as long as they have some shelter from the coldest of winds and the latest of frosts. Cut back the dry leaves in autumn. In colder areas, give the plants a protective mulch with straw or sacking some gardeners use the old leaves to cover the plants.

Propagate by division of larger clumps in spring, or by seeds sown fresh in the autumn. Choose a loam-based compost and store the growing seed in a sheltered cold frame.

Watch the video: Germination - Benefits of Hydrogen Peroxide H2O2 and Perlite Propagation in Planting Growing Seeds


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