Rooting Hormones from Willows and Poplar Trees

Doing a little research today I ran across something that has to be useful to many of us who appreciate and grow plants. Often we’ll start plants by seed, or purchase young plants from a local greenhouse grower. It’s not often that we need to use a rooting hormone to start a plant from cuttings, but sometimes that’s the best way to propagate a plant.

Any garden center will have rooting hormones available for purchase. All you do is take your plant cutting and dip the root end into the rooting hormone and plant the cutting just as you would a transplant. The rooting hormones aid the young plant in developing roots so that it can grow big and strong.

You might pay $6 or $8 for a 2 oz. container of a powder like Rootone.

Instead of paying even a few dollars for a product that you can get directly from nature, forego the convenience and make your own rooting hormone tonic. All you need is a plant that contains the rooting hormones and make a little brew with it. The rooting hormones are known chemically as indole-3-butyric acid (IBA) and 1-naphthalene acetic acid (NAA). If you’re curious about other plant hormones, there are five major kinds. IBA and NAA are in the group of hormones known as auxins.

There are two types of trees that provide an easy source of these rooting hormones, poplar and willow trees. Harvest a few growing branches with leaves and cut the stems into 2-4 inch lengths. Fill a large pot with the wood bits and cover with water. Heat on low for a couple of hours, but do not boil. Turn off heat and let stand for 24 hours. Strain the liquid and compost the wood. Use the liquid as a rooting tonic. Submerge cuttings in tonic until ready to plant.

Thanks for the head-start, Kate! Here’s an Ag-Extension Primer on stem cuttings for propagating woody plants.

Instead of plant hormones for a rooting tonic, some folks rely on honey. They dip their cuttings in honey and take advantage of the natural fungicides and antibiotics in honey. The high sugar and mineral content probably helps the survival of stem cuttings dipped in honey.

Either way, I’ll be using a little help from nature to take some cuttings from the herbs that we could lose during winter. The blueberry patch out back seems another likely place to try these cuttings techniques!

Solomon’s Seal Blue Berries Dangle Down

After the woodman was finished dumping off a truck load of firewood, I noticed that a few of the logs rolled away to the edge of the woods. Here, one lodged against the base of a couple of Smooth Solomon’s Seal plants, Polygonatum biflorum. I was delighted to see so many of the berries still intact.

Two wild Solomon's Seal plants with one crossing over the other.
Two wild Solomon's Seal plants with one crossing over the other. Photos taken 6 September 2010.

Dark blue berries dangle from the arching single stem. Oval, linear leaves alternate from side to side, each being connected to the main stem directly. This type of stalkless leaf, one without a stem of its own, is called sessile.

Looking down on the blue berries.
Looking down on the blue berries.

The berries were about a half-inch in diameter. This surprised me for some reason. I thought they’d be small and delicate like their greenish-white flowers. See an earlier post on the Solomon’s Seals flowers.

Side-view of dangling, blue berries of Solomon's Seal.
Side-view of dangling, blue berries of Solomon's Seal.

Caterpillars Eat Blueberry Leaves: Hairy, Yellow-Orange Stripes on Black

Checking the fruit trees out back one day at the beginning of August, I saw two groups of yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars. There were a dozen or more caterpillars all huddled at the ends of two empty branches of a blueberry bush. They must have eaten the blueberry leaves with abandon as all the leaves were gone on the stems that the squishy critters were found. None of the other four blueberry plants had any of these caterpillars.

Funny thing is I found them by spotting their poop. Those little grenades tend to collect under caterpillar feeding areas and give away the hungry camoflaged mouths.

Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.
Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.

Once you see the scat you can more easily spot the critters who deposited it. Caterpillars that have found the right food source will stay put and continue to feed, so their scat is usually directly below where they’ve been feeding. It’s a little surprising that I didn’t see the critters first, because they were all huddled together at the end of the branches.

Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.
Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they striped of leaves.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they stripped of leaves.
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?

The blueberry shrubs and other fruit trees were checked often in the following weeks, but we haven’t seen this type of caterpillar again. I wonder what type of butterfly they would have morphed into. It’s really too bad they chose to eat from that blueberry bush!

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