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Anita’s Blog -- Basket Flower Harvest

Basket Flower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

If your basket flower, Plectocephalus americanus, fields are beginning to look more brown than lavender, it’s time to begin harvesting the seeds,

A field of Basket Flower ready for harvesting the seeds. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Many people picked up basket flower seeds from the South Texas Border Chapter Texas Master Naturalist booth in January at W.O.W.E. on the Island and in April at our booth at the McAllen Convention Center during the annual Rio Grande Valley Home & Garden Show. Hopefully, all went well, and you’ve enjoyed a couple of months of beautiful basket flowers.

Others have successfully grown these butterfly-attracting plants in their gardens for a number of years.

If you’re not familiar with basket flower, it’s a valuable plant to have in the spring and early summer garden and one that should continue to be propagated. It’s a showy, tall, multi-stemmed nectar and pollen source that attracts butterflies, bees, and marvelous bugs like the dark flower scarab beetles and other interesting beneficial bugs.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly drawing nectar on a Basket Flower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I have found that my returning patch of basket flowers is not commiserate with the number of seeds I scatter each year after the blooming season. I have deadheaded the spent plants and tossed them back in the garden amongst the standing crops. During June, in several years past, I have flicked numerous seeds from the spent heads into areas where I want the plants to come up in the following year. It’s a bit of a mystery, but those tactics don’t seem to produce an abundance of plants so I tend to speculate what the problem might be.

Bugs possibly find the seeds on the ground and consume them, or rodents eat them, rabbits maybe – rabbits will eat sunflower seeds on the ground. And perhaps the seeds rot or do not remain viable for any length of time.

This conundrum has me experimenting with planting times. Initially, I thought it would be fruitful to plant the seeds when nature does – scattering them when they are ready to fall from the plants in June and July or cutting off the pods and tossing them where I want next year’s crop, thinking the seedhead itself might protect the seed and also supply extra nutrients at germination time. For the past two years, I’ve scattered seeds in a prepared area at the end of winter, covering them with a dusting of soil and patting them down with my hand and watering them in. That’s been moderately successful in some areas of my yard, but not in all the beds where I’ve experimented.

My conclusion is that basket flowers are just simply persnickety, although more likely, I’ve not come upon the right equation of time, place and soil ingredients. Still, I’m thrilled to see the beautiful plants bloom wherever they sprout up.

But don’t think about planting right now because now is the perfect time to collect basket flower seeds, during scorching hot, sunny, dry, windless afternoons like we’re having now.

Harvesting is easy. The plants show you when it’s time. The bloom will have closed into a tan colored ball, similar in shape to the bud stage and then opened out to a flat disk in a golden wheat color. Black seeds might even be coming to the top, looking as if they are ready to tumble out.

Basket Flower seedhead. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The underside of the basket and the top of the stem will be dried, and no longer green like when the flower is fresh.

The dried Basket Flower basket and stem top. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The stunning Basket Flower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Collect seeds in something breathable, like paper or cardboard. If you use containers in other materials to collect the seed heads, transfer them to cardboard boxes, shoe boxes or paper bags or envelopes as soon as you return from collecting.

For basket flower, I use a large cardboard oatmeal container because it has a wide mouth and large capacity, it’s light weight and easy to hold in one hand while using a pair of clippers in the other. I will store the seed heads in the container with a bug repellent strip.

There are many types of hand clippers, small sharp ones make the task easier.

Harvesting Basket Flower seedheads. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I clip the seed head, at the top of the stem and keep the seeds in the seed head. That way, when I give them away, the recipient knows what the seed head looks like.

The seeds can easily (but laboriously) be extracted from the dried seed head if that is your preference. You can flick them out with your thumbnail as you delve down to the base of the seed head, but I’ll let you find your own way for that project. And again, store seeds in paper-type products.

Be sure to re-seed your own garden or save seeds for experimenting with different planting times.

Basket Flower seedhead and seeds. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)



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