Ulluco: For my second true seed trick…

I bring you ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) seed!

True seeds of ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus)
I’ve been watching these tiny ulluco nuts maturing for the past couple of weeks with nervous anticipation.  I wasn’t even sure that they were actually seeds until two days ago as they dried down.  Ulluco flowers sometimes leave behind a dried husk that is easy to regard hopefully as a seed.  After all, I have never seen an ulluco seed – not even a picture of one.  They are not easy to come by.  They were famously produced in Finland in the 1980s (also discussed on Radix) and I have read documents from the International Potato Center in Peru that intimated that they had been produced there as well.
Other than those two instances, I am not aware of any true ulluco seed having been produced by anyone, anywhere.  I’m sure that there are probably ulluco plants quietly setting seed somewhere in the Andes, but this still gives you an idea of the scarcity of ulluco seed.

The last time anyone reported this, Ronald Reagan was still president of the USA.  There was still a Soviet Union.  Milli Vanilli had not yet been revealed as a fraud!

So, I am pretty thrilled.  Unfortunately, I must temper that with some cold reality: the germination rate of the seeds produced in Finland was terrible and the survival rate of the seedlings that did germinate wasn’t so great either.  So, with two seeds, my odds of producing a new ulluco variety are quite slim.  There are about a dozen more seeds developing on the plants – still pretty poor odds.  I would want to have several hundred to feel confident about getting a good seedling.  Not that I won’t try, of course!
The good news is that I have at least confirmed that I have the right mix of varieties to produce seed.  So, I can now scale up the number of ulluco plants that I grow in order to try to increase seed production.  I can also take a more careful approach with hand pollinations to figure out what cross is producing the seeds.  The mother plant was a cultivated ulluco of the Pica de Pulga variety, but the father could be any of 8 other cultivated and wild ulluco varieties.
Of course, I was already planning to scale up my oca plot significantly next year.  I only have about an acre to work with and it is shrinking fast.  But, I’ll just have to find a place to tuck in some more ullucos.

More pictures in the next post.

I’m going to make a bold prediction: someone else will produce ulluco seed next year, most likely in Europe or the UK.  A few years ago, nobody was producing oca seed, but the power of the Internet to spread knowledge and let people know that it is possible has made it almost commonplace now.  So, get busy folks; I don’t like to be wrong.

Ulluco tubers are sometimes available in our seed shop.

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