I was gifted a set of vintage Will’s cigarette cards with gardening hints a little while ago, and thought it interesting to go through the collection, because come January next year, it will have been 100 years since they were published – making them antique!
I thought it might be intriguing to see how much gardening might have changed in 100 years. Or probably more likely, how little it has changed in 100 years… So, to begin I thought I’d start on ‘Ringing’.
The hint on the back of the cards reads : ‘Indoor plants, India rubber Plants, Dracaenas, Aralias, &c., sometimes grow very tall and leggy. These may be improved (and also increased) by Ringing. Carefully remove a strip of bark round the stem a few inches below the lowest leaves, as shown in A. The wound should then be bound round with moss, and if this is kept moist roots will eventually be produced at B. When a fair number of roots appear, the stem below may gradually be cut through, and the upper plant potted.’
So, to begin with, if you like me are wondering what the plant is on the card, it’s a Fatsia. Fatsia’s are also referred to as Aralias. The family Araliaceae consists of a wide array of different plant types. Deciduous, Evergreen, and as implied on this card, indoor. On a side tangent, Araliaceae is made up of 55 genera and 1,500 species (1). Many are used in oriental medicine.
So, what is ringing? Well, as the card suggests – it’s the removal of the bark and cambium layer in a ring shape around the whole plant. This would result in exposing and wounding the cambium layer which then results in meristematic tissue (undifferentiated cells) choosing what cell type to become to heal the wound. Wrapping the moss around the ring and wetting it creates moisture contact with the surface of this damaged tissue and results in the undifferentiated cells becoming root tissue. Keeping the moss wet would enable a constant supply of water to newly developed roots enabling them to develop further.
Whilst all of this is happening, the primary internal vascular tissue will be unharmed and be able to keep sucking up moisture through the plant. Once the roots have established well, then the whole plant is severed below the new root system and re-planted. This would mean the new root system would become the primary source of moisture uptake until further roots develop.
Is this propagation technique still used today? Definitely! Although there’s no mention of ‘ringing’ anywhere on the internet in this context, the principal methodology is widely used throughout the gardening world and is referred to as ‘Air Layering’. From what I can see, the only thing that might differ today is the way in which the moss is fixed on to the plant. Plastic has become far more common place unfortunately comparing to 1923, and a plastic bag is able to retain moisture for longer in the moss than simply tying string around it to keep it in place.
Also, there’s the negative discussion of moss being used as a growing media to deliver water to the newly forming roots. Unsurprisingly, this has not changed in 100 years. Surely, we must find alternatives to be used in the present day. Sawdust and choir perhaps?
Evolution of the Araliaceae family inferred from complete chloroplast genomes and 45S nrDNAs of 10 Panax-related species
Kyunghee Kim, Van Binh Nguyen, Jingzhou Dong, Ying Wang, Jee Young Park, Sang-Choon Lee, Tae-Jin Yang
Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 4917. Published online 2017 Jul 7. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-05218-y