Ulluco: Flowers

Yellow flower of domesticated ulluco

Most of our ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) plants are now flowering.  I would like to breed a variety of ulluco better suited to our climate even more than I would like to do so for oca, but the job is a lot tougher with ulluco.  There have been perhaps two or three successful breeding projects with ulluco and only a few observations of ulluco seed even in the wild.

So, it is not impossible to get ulluco seed – just really, really unlikely.  That would not deter me, normally.  You can fight low odds with more plants, of more varieties, in more places, over longer periods of time.  Eventually, like playing the lottery, your number may come up… or not.

Unfortunately, there is a further problem with ulluco, which is that, when you do get seeds, the germination rate is very low and, when they do germinate, few of the seedlings survive.  So, if you get a seed from 1/1000 pollinations, and 1/50 of those seeds germinate, and 1/100 of those seedlings survive, you need to do 5,000,000 pollinations to get a single new variety.

So, the prospect of successful ulluco breeding has much slimmer odds than oca, which really looks quite easy in comparison.  Ulluco breeding is not made any easier by the facts that the flowers are very small – about 1/4 inch from petal tip to petal tip – and that they tend to be located deep down within the leaves.

Orange flower of wild ulluco

All of that said, I do some ulluco pollination every day.  I don’t give it the attention that I do oca; I don’t track flowers, or label, or even pollinate the majority of the flowers.  I just go through the ulluco bed with my little paintbrush, stirring the flowers that I can spot easily and working in a different order every day.  I’ll keep an eye out of the tiny and elusive ulluco nut, but I won’t get my hopes up too much.

Perhaps when I have built up enough of a tuber stock, I’ll plant 1,000 plants and do something a bit more rigorous.

Ulluco tubers are sometimes available in our seed shop.

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