Where Do Lettuce Seeds Come From
All seed bearing plants produce seed at some point in their growth cycle. Initially, plants will produce leaves to collect sunlight. Later the plant will produce flowers to pollinate and finally fertile seeds. The leaves of the lettuce plant are what is eaten so they are normally harvested before the plant flowers or seeds.
Lettuce Growth Cycle
If a lettuce plant is allowed to reach maturity, it will grow a central reproductive shoot that springs up and produces a cluster of little flowers.
The flowers self-pollinate and wilt. In their place grows little parachutes called pappus. Each of the parachutes is attached to several lettuce seeds. The pappus is the plant’s natural dispersal system designed to spread the seeds through the wind.
Annual or Biennial
For the most part, lettuce is grown as an annual. This means that it is planted and seeds all in the same year. Since it’s not dependent upon a pollinator, most farmers get more than one crop of lettuce in a year typically planting in the spring and fall.
Some lettuces and lettuce-like plants can overwinter in milder climates and become biennials. Endive, spinach, and chard are examples of biennial greens. These plants won’t flower or seed in the first year but instead, go almost dormant through the winter months and leaf out again the following spring. They provide some of the earliest harvests from the garden before seeding in the spring or summer of their second year.
Bolting vs. Seeding
A lettuce plant goes through a natural growth cycle that ends with seeding. A plant that has produced a lot of leaves and has substantial vegetative growth will naturally go to seed within its growth cycle.
Bolting happens when a plant gets stressed out and goes to seed out of desperation. The plant thinks it’s going to die and seeds in a last-ditch effort to preserve offspring. This is common in lettuce that gets too hot or dry even just for a day or two.
How to Save Lettuce Seed
Here is an easy method for saving lettuce seed. What you’ll need:
- Some Tulle Fabric
- Garden Twine or Yarn
- Resealable bag or jar
Cut a piece of tulle fabric large enough to fit over an entire flower cluster of one lettuce plant. Slip it over the flowers and tie it at the base around the stem. You have formed a little tulle bag around your flower head. As the seeds mature they will fall into your tulle bag instead of blowing away.
When the seeds have matured, cut the stem and shake the remaining seeds into the tulle. Transfer them to a plastic bag or jar and mark it with the variety and year harvested. Store your seeds in a cool, dry place until it’s time to plant them.