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Air layering

February 19, 2012

Seeds are the natural propagules for plant reproduction, also providing genetic diversity which is important in restoration projects. For a gardener who wants to multiply a certain variety, say a particularly beautiful flower or tasty fruit, cloning is the option. Previously I have blogged about mango grafting. Another cloning technique is by taking cuttings. For some species like Ixora, Cassava, Plumeria and Malabar spinach this works without problems, simply put a cutting in the soil and water.

In many cases this does not work because a particular species may not cope with the water losses, and so you can bend down living branches and put a stone on the branch and cover with soil to induce root formation. This is a way of natural cloning, performed by lianas such as Pride of Lanna (Congea tomentosa, Lamiaceae).

If this is technically impossible due to an erect tree or shrub, you can bring the soil up to the branch, i.e. you can wrap a branch section in a plastic bag with moist soil, wait until roots are formed, and then detach the branch. To further stimulate root formation, you may cut the bark (more precisely the phloem under the bark) so that sugars can not disappear from the branch, but water can still transport into the branch via the wood (xylem). This is called air layering.

Working in the tropics gives many surprises and I am still not used to the tremendous force of growth here. During the past rainy season we simply tied socks and shade cloth to branches of guava. After a few weeks we unwrapped the branches and sure enough there were roots. No need to bring soil or think of watering!

Air layering can be a simple way of cloning a neighbour’s delicious fruit variety.

A completely different topic: here is a link to overview the air pollution indexes in Thailand.

Text and photo: Eric Danell

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