Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the July 3, 2016 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán MÉXICO

This February when volunteer identifier Bea from Ontario visited she brought along some garden seeds. One package contained lettuce seeds. I planted them and before long had a fine crop, off of which I ate for over a month. By April, however, it was getting so hot and the sun was so intense that the leaves got bitter and the plants "bolted" -- developed stems and then flowers. Below, you can see some plants bearing large inflorescences of flowering and fruiting heads:

lettuce with fruiting heads

I wanted to save seeds from these plants, to sow in late November or so, when it's cooler and the sun isn't as strong, so from the plants in the picture I began picking heads full of mature cypsela-type fruits , breaking open the heads with my fingernails, and extracting the fruits, which gardeners think of as seeds. I did get some seeds that way, but it was slow going and the plants' sticky, white latex oozing from torn leaves and snipped-off heads made a mess. Also, most of the heads bore aborted fruits. I think it was because during most of May in our area it got over 100°F on most afternoons (38°C), and proper fertilization just couldn't take place in such heat. I saw this among tomatoes and green beans in Texas.

I pulled up the plants and hung them to dry on the pole wall of my outside shower, shown below:

drying lettuce plants with fruiting heads

After a couple of weeks the plants had dried brown and crisp, and more heads that earlier bore plump, fertile seeds. Below, you can see part of an inflorescence bearing numerous apparently fertile "seeds"

lettuce with dried fruiting heads

Breaking open a head, several white cypselae/seeds were to be found, as shown below:

lettuce seeds

It was easy to crumble these dry heads between the fingers, the latex no longer being a problem, and dump the pieces into a little jar. When the jar was blown into, lightweight chaff flew out, making only a brief mess in my beard and bushy eyebrows, leaving behind the precious seeds, as shown below in a peep into the jar:

lettuce seeds

If I can swing another six-month visa, these "seeds" will go into the ground this November.