By: Teo Spengler
Breadfruit trees feed millions of people in the Pacific Islands, but you can also grow these handsome trees as exotic ornamentals. They are handsome and fast growing, and it’s not hard to grow breadfruit from cuttings. If you want to learn about the propagation of breadfruit cuttings and how to get started, read on. We’ll walk you through the process of rooting a breadfruit cutting.
Breadfruit trees don’t fit well into small backyards. They grow to 85 feet (26 m.) tall, although branching doesn’t begin within 20 feet (6 m.) of the ground. Trunks get to 2 to 6 feet (0.6-2 m.) wide, usually buttressed at the base.
The leaves on the spreading branches can be evergreen or deciduous, depending on the climate in your region. They are bright-green and glossy. The tree’s tiny blossoms develop into edible rounded fruit, up to 18 inches (45 cm.) long. The rind is often initially green but turns yellowish when ripe.
You can easily propagate breadfruit from cuttings and it’s an inexpensive way to get new plants. But be sure you use the right cuttings.
One of the best ways to grow additional breadfruit trees is by propagation of breadfruit cuttings. Don’t take cuttings from branch shoots. Breadfruit is propagated from shoots growing from the roots. You can stimulate more root shoots by uncovering a root.
Pick root shoots that are at least an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, and cut a segment some 9 inches (22 cm.) long. You’ll use these root shoots for breadfruit tree propagation.
Dip the cut end of each shoot into potassium permanganate solution. This coagulates the latex in the root. Then, in order to start rooting the breadfruit cutting, plant the shoots horizontally in sand.
Keep the shoots in a shady area, watered daily, until calluses form. This may take anywhere from 6 weeks to 5 months. Then you should transplant them to pots and water them daily until the plants are 2 feet (60 cm.) tall.
When this happens, transplant each cutting to its final location. Don’t be too anxious for fruit. It will be some seven years before the young plant fruits.
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Many of the rare plants growing in NTBG’s gardens and restoration sites have been produced by the organization’s sophisticated nursery operations. The climate-controlled micropropagation lab and greenhouse facilities at the Conservation and Horticulture Center in the McBryde Garden currently produce over 10,000 plants per year. Many of these are rare plants native to Hawai’i and the South Pacific region. NTBG’s other gardens also have basic greenhouse facilities, though much smaller in scale.
One way to understand how the complex operation of propagating an at-risk plant works is to follow its progress after it has been brought to the facility. The process begins for most plants in the nursery when field botanists bring in seeds or cuttings (propagules) collected from wild specimens. The materials for propagation are cataloged — all pertinent data is recorded in the computer database. A pressed plant voucher may also have been collected with this material to confirm its identity. This voucher would be placed in NTBG’s herbarium and the records cross-referenced to the collected material in the nursery. Propagules may go directly to the nursery, or the seeds may be stored in the NTBG Seed Bank. In the nursery, fresh plant cuttings are placed on mist tables, where rooting media are kept moist while the plant material establishes roots. Seeds collected for immediate propagation are prepared by removing any pulp or outer husk. Seeds that are slow to germinate, because of a thick coat, may be scarified (scratched or nicked) and soaked for several hours or more.
When seedlings or cuttings have suitably rooted, they are ready for the next step. They are gently removed from the medium and placed in small pots filled with sterile potting medium (fine black cinders for many plants). At this stage the plants are growing in the shelter of the greenhouse, under carefully climate-controlled conditions they are automatically watered daily and moderately shaded. As they grow into larger pots, the plants are gradually hardened by moving them to the adjacent shadehouse, where they get more sun but not full exposure. Once they are approaching an appropriate size for outplanting, the young plants are put out in the “sunny nursery” where they get essentially full sun and less water. Once they are fully acclimatized, they are ready to go into the ground, most likely in one of NTBG’s gardens or restoration sites.
Plants adapted to high, cold areas of the islands are treated somewhat differently as they proceed through the facility. After rooting, many of these often-rare plants are moved to the cool room. A swamp cooler creates cooler greenhouse conditions though the evaporation of water. This can help by reducing air temperature by several degrees. a cold greenhouse, a refrigerated room in which temperatures are kept about 10º F. colder than the ambient environment. From there, cold-adapted native species may be outplanted into one of our gardens or restoration sites. The time it takes for a plant to move through the entire facility, from seed or cutting to outplanting, varies from a few months to a few years. By producing large quantities of a diverse assortment of plants, NTBG is best able to propagate species for its conservation, research, and education programs and also to provide plants for community outreach efforts, educational institutions, and collaborating landowners.
Plastic pot from 8 to 10 inches deep. The pot should have a drain hole.
Coarse sand or 1 part peat and 1 part coarse sand
Fill the pot with to within 2 inches of the top with cutting mix and moisten the mix with water.
Insert the cutting 1/3 to 1/2 its length. If you’re rooting more than one cutting in a single container, space them far enough apart so all their leaves get sunlight.
Cover the cutting with a plastic bag to help retain moisture in the rooting medium.
Keep the medium moist until the cutting develops roots.
To promote rooting, daytime temperatures should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and most cuttings root best if the growing mix is roughly 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a heat pad to keep the rooting zone warm. Many garden supply centers sell special waterproof heating mats designed for keeping the growing mix warm under germinating seeds and cuttings that are rooting.
To increase their odds of survival, transplant rooted cuttings into a planting bed or container before moving them into their permanent landscape location.
Locate an aerial root on the stem that is roughly 2 inches long or longer.
Bend the stem with the aerial root down so that the root touches the soil. This can be garden soil if grown outdoors or potting soil for indoor plants.
Secure the stem to the soil with a landscape fabric pin or similar substitute. Make sure the aerial root is in contact with the soil. Cover with a thin layer of mulch or soil. Water thoroughly.
When the aerial root has taken root, sever the stem attaching it to the mother plant.
You rarely see mention of planting actual branches, called truncheons, because it is a technique done best on trees that bleed white sap -- and these are most often found in the tropics. Among temperate climate fruit trees, the edible fig (Ficus carica spp.), cultivars of which will grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 11, has white sap.
To root a truncheon, select a branch roughly as wide as a human arm, about 4 to 6 inches, and from 5 foot 9 inches to 5 foot 10 inches long near the end of its winter dormant season. Cut the end at an angle through a node just below where the current year's growth ends. Keep it in the shade for a few days so a callus forms on the cut end. Cut the top of the truncheon at an angle to prevent rot from setting in.
Plant the truncheon from 10 to 70 percent of its length to keep it from blowing over. If you live in a climate with hot weather, fill the hole with water before planting.