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Thread: Can I graft a sunflower onto a thistle?

  1. #1 Can I graft a sunflower onto a thistle? 
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    Sunflowers and thistles are not closely related, but they do belong to the same family (Asteraceae), both have round stems, can grow in similar environments, etc.

    Does their structural similarity imply compatibility for grafting, or is there a genetic compatibility that must be accounted for?


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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    The most persistent thistle in this country is Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), a persistent perennial weed that causes significant crop yield losses. It reproduces through both seed and root regeneration, but the latter is the most successful. It stores food energy in its extensive root system both to survive the winter and to fuel the plant's reproductive drive the following season.

    Canada Thistle and its Control - Agriculture -

    Sunflower - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Given that the thistle is a perennial and the sunflower is an annual plant, as a simple gardener, this would not seem like a logical undertaking to me.

    What is your reasoning behind such a question/proposal? I am curious about why you would entertain such a concept.


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    Canadian thistle is actually the target of this question. The seeds of the idea:

    1. Generally scientific curiosity (possible to graft these plants across genera?) If this is not possible, at least I will learn something.

    2. Canadian thistle's extensive root system must be attacked to eliminate it. Many of the tactics involve draining the root system of energy reserves and/or disallowing it to regenerate. I wondered if some kind of grafting approach could assist with this (eg, cut most of the shoots but graft sunflowers onto 3-4 of them), by basically pulling vast amounts of energy from the root system in to a giant flower, which must be energy-expensive to produce. The energy sink of the sunflower is one conceptual benefit. If the sunflower can be grafted in such a way that the xylem structures line up by the phloem structures do not, that would be a bonus, because it would mean any sugars developed in the scion would not be returned to the roots, further starving the canadian thistle.

    3. If there is any possible way to graft something like a tomato plant or pumpkin onto a thistle stem, the results could be amazing. A vast underground root system pumping energy into a fruit or vegetable. That seems interesting to me, if its possible. I guess artichokes are somewhat related to thistles... I wonder if those could be grafted.
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    Forum Professor astromark's Avatar
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    Grafting to a root stock does not create a 'new' plant.. The seed stock will be true to type.. A sunflower.. All sorts of grafting can be achieved.. what you may be looking for is Genetic manipulation.. Modification of the Genes.. GMO. go search..
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by haugeb View Post
    Canadian thistle is actually the target of this question. The seeds of the idea:

    1. Generally scientific curiosity (possible to graft these plants across genera?) If this is not possible, at least I will learn something.

    2. Canadian thistle's extensive root system must be attacked to eliminate it. Many of the tactics involve draining the root system of energy reserves and/or disallowing it to regenerate. I wondered if some kind of grafting approach could assist with this (eg, cut most of the shoots but graft sunflowers onto 3-4 of them), by basically pulling vast amounts of energy from the root system in to a giant flower, which must be energy-expensive to produce. The energy sink of the sunflower is one conceptual benefit. If the sunflower can be grafted in such a way that the xylem structures line up by the phloem structures do not, that would be a bonus, because it would mean any sugars developed in the scion would not be returned to the roots, further starving the canadian thistle.

    3. If there is any possible way to graft something like a tomato plant or pumpkin onto a thistle stem, the results could be amazing. A vast underground root system pumping energy into a fruit or vegetable. That seems interesting to me, if its possible. I guess artichokes are somewhat related to thistles... I wonder if those could be grafted.
    While this might be an interesting topic, I'd like you to consider just doing the graft and report back to this topic how it's going. Consider doing many different grafts. There's no telling what will happen unless you really do it.

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  7. #6  
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    Well I was hoping for some kind of advice/insight/experience from those who understand the biological foundations of grafting, perhaps some knowledge of thistle structures, etc. Oh well.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Robot View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by haugeb View Post
    Canadian thistle is actually the target of this question. The seeds of the idea:

    1. Generally scientific curiosity (possible to graft these plants across genera?) If this is not possible, at least I will learn something.

    2. Canadian thistle's extensive root system must be attacked to eliminate it. Many of the tactics involve draining the root system of energy reserves and/or disallowing it to regenerate. I wondered if some kind of grafting approach could assist with this (eg, cut most of the shoots but graft sunflowers onto 3-4 of them), by basically pulling vast amounts of energy from the root system in to a giant flower, which must be energy-expensive to produce. The energy sink of the sunflower is one conceptual benefit. If the sunflower can be grafted in such a way that the xylem structures line up by the phloem structures do not, that would be a bonus, because it would mean any sugars developed in the scion would not be returned to the roots, further starving the canadian thistle.

    3. If there is any possible way to graft something like a tomato plant or pumpkin onto a thistle stem, the results could be amazing. A vast underground root system pumping energy into a fruit or vegetable. That seems interesting to me, if its possible. I guess artichokes are somewhat related to thistles... I wonder if those could be grafted.
    While this might be an interesting topic, I'd like you to consider just doing the graft and report back to this topic how it's going. Consider doing many different grafts. There's no telling what will happen unless you really do it.

    Welcome to the forum.
    I can't imagine a thistle root base supporting the stem and leaves of a sunflower. Physically incompatible IMO.
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by haugeb View Post
    Well I was hoping for some kind of advice/insight/experience from those who understand the biological foundations of grafting, perhaps some knowledge of thistle structures, etc. Oh well.
    Yes that's always helpful. Have you done any research of your own yet? Do you have any background in grafts of any kind? I'm just trying to understand the point of your interest in this subject.
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  10. #9  
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    I am only aware of grafting involving plants with a woody stem. I don't even know if non woody plants can be grafted.
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    I've researched grafting but find it's a topic mostly covered with regards to fruit trees. It is implied that grafting is most useful in situations where long-term plant life is important, and some kind of production benefit is achieved (bigger apples, stronger tomatoes, etc.).

    In this case, I want to know if a thistle and (sunflower, pumpkin, artichoke, other form of thistle) are compatible not because I want the resulting plant to be stronger or better, but rather more likely to suffer root death. That's what makes this different.

    Canadian thistle are notoriously hard to kill in the roots. The only methods known involve starving the roots by chemical, cultivation, or shading. I am interested in finding new ways to starve the roots of canadian thistle.

    This exploration began by looking at the structures of the thistle stem. Like most plants, the xylem carries water and nutrients above ground. Leaves bring in energy and send sugar back down through the phloem to the massive underground root system. There are some seasonal timing tricks to this. Generally with CT, the xylem is hyperactive early on, then later in the year more sugar is sent to the roots via phloem after flowering/seeding. This is why waiting until just before flowering is the best time to attack. Theoretically the roots are exhausted, and just beginning to go into energy storage mode. You remove the leaves and it starves. I wanted to find a way to sever or interrupt the phloem, but leave the xylem structures intact. This would give the roots an opportunity to exhaust themselves, but when it came time to pull energy in for storage, realize there is no way to do so. Result: exhausted and possibly dead thistle roots.

    I looked at a number of ways to approach this. Girdling is another topic we see with trees often, but not with other plants. Is it possible to girdle a thistle stem? Remove the phloem but leave the xylem?

    The girdling issue remains open, but lead me to the idea of grafting. Are there compatible scions I could graft onto a thistle which would align in xylem but not in phloem? This would achieve the "active uptake but inactive downtake" behavior I seek. There's also the question of whether grafting a more energy intensive scion to the thistle root could increase the rate of uptake. Gall flies on canadian thistle create large structures which cause the thistle roots to spend more energy, depleting the roots faster. Could this be accomplished by artificially grafting a huge energy sink (pumpkin? sunflower flower?) onto the root stem? To answer this, i first have to explore the fundamental question of whether there is anything that can be grafted onto a thistle stem. If I can't even graft 1 thistle onto another thistle, there's little point in experimenting with pumpkin vines, sunflowers, and artichokes.

    Grafting is something relevant to this board, thus my appearance here. I am hoping this forum can assist with some wisdom on the fundamentals of grafting stems with this kind of structure. Questions like these are relevant:
    - Can an annual scion be grafted to a perennial?
    - Can a scion's xylem be aligned but the phloem mis-aligned (deliberately)?
    - Are sunflowers and thistles too distantly related? Artichokes?
    - Which is more determinant of graft success: genetic similarity or structural compatability? (If I find a way to support the sunflower scion property, would this make it compatible, or would genetic differences prevent any success at all?)

    I hope this clarifies. Any thoughts are welcome.
    Last edited by haugeb; June 19th, 2014 at 02:01 PM.
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  12. #11  
    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    This thread has made me curious enough to do a bit of searching and apparently, it is possible to graft eggplant onto Devil's Plant though these are both perennials.

    In the southern states of Australia, where the climate is classed as “Cold”, the biggest problem with growing eggplants from seedlings is that the growing season is not long enough. They take most of Summer to produce their first crop, then it gets too cold, and no successive crops are produced. By grafting to create an “eggplant tree”, you can produce eggplants for about eight months of the year for two or three years.
    Grafting Eggplant onto Devil Plant | Deep Green Permaculture

    Apparently, the tomato is also a perennial although I have always thought it to be an annual because it is always grown as an annual at northern latitudes. Therefore, there is certainly a possibility that you could graft a tomato onto a thistle though I rather think that this would not be a hardship to the thistle for tomatoes are also as hardy as weeds when their basic needs are met.

    I have had good success with various propagation techniques and I grow tomatoes in containers indoors. It would be fun to experiment but thistles do not grow here.
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  13. #12  
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    Quote Originally Posted by scheherazade View Post
    This thread has made me curious enough to do a bit of searching and apparently, it is possible to graft eggplant onto Devil's Plant though these are both perennials.

    In the southern states of Australia, where the climate is classed as “Cold”, the biggest problem with growing eggplants from seedlings is that the growing season is not long enough. They take most of Summer to produce their first crop, then it gets too cold, and no successive crops are produced. By grafting to create an “eggplant tree”, you can produce eggplants for about eight months of the year for two or three years.
    Grafting Eggplant onto Devil Plant | Deep Green Permaculture

    Apparently, the tomato is also a perennial although I have always thought it to be an annual because it is always grown as an annual at northern latitudes. Therefore, there is certainly a possibility that you could graft a tomato onto a thistle though I rather think that this would not be a hardship to the thistle for tomatoes are also as hardy as weeds when their basic needs are met.

    I have had good success with various propagation techniques and I grow tomatoes in containers indoors. It would be fun to experiment but thistles do not grow here.
    The following article talks about some of the things mentioned earlier. Truthfully I never thought much about grafting tomatoes before, but I like that idea and I really like tomatoes. Notice they did say the graft had to be kept above the ground level or the graft will sprout it's own roots and defeat the purpose of the graft. Without reading that I never would have even considered it.

    The Mighty ‘Mato™

    Posted by Jim under Today
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    The Mighty ‘Mato™, background, shows more vigorous growth than the regular Brandywine variety, in front. (Click to embiggen.)
    A new breed of tomato, the Mighty ‘Mato™, is on trial in Thistle Ha’s garden this year. What’s unique about this tomato is that it’s a grafted plant, combining vigorous root stock with a Brandywine scion, a heritage variety famous for its quality and flavour. Grafting techniques have been used for fruit trees for a long time. Recent grafting experiments by greenhouse growers produced two to three times the number of tomatoes compared to the non-grafted variety. The Mighty ‘Mato™ is the first grafted tomato available for home gardens. Its root stock has been selected to be more tolerant to diseases and over/under watering, and to produce substantially more fruit over a longer season. A desirable tomato for home gardeners with summer vacation absences, limited growing space, or an aversion to using pesticides.
    We are growing four regular Brandywine tomato plants beside the Mighty ‘Mato™ to check the marketing claim that this is a “super tomato”. Not all home gardeners know that tomatoes are stem rooters; planting the stem all the way up to the bottom leaves results in additional root formation and more vigorous growth. The graft on the Mighty ‘Mato™ is marked with a band, but instructions do not emphasize the importance of ensuring that the graft remains above the soil surface during planting. Otherwise the scion will form its own roots, eliminating the benefits of grafting, and resulting in an ordinary tomato at an extraordinary price – $15 a plant.
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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    LOL, as an avid tomato gardener, that much I do know about tomatoes. They are one of the few plants that actually benefit from transplanting several times, removing lower leaves and burying as much stem as possible to enlarge the root system. Tomatoes are a moisture laden fruit and few things suck more water than a tomato plant that is setting and growing tomatoes.

    Jim, the poster above, makes a very valid point about the importance of imparting this information to the customers buying these grafted plants otherwise a few poor results can kill the potential of this emerging concept.
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  15. #14  
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    I had read both of those stories (mighty tomato and devil eggplant). Both promising examples of grafting non-woody plants. I especially like the eggplant example, as the eggplant's genetic difference to the devil plant is probably comparable to the canadian thistle and artichoke. If I can graft multiple artichoke stems onto a single thistle stem, physically support them, and allow them to bloom, that should in theory pull an extraordinary amount of energy from the root system, allowing me to sever surrounding thistles without fearing an instant comeback (the roots will be busy filling the nutrient needs of the artichoke scions).

    All theoretical of course. I'm anxious to experiment.

    If pumpkin vines can be grafted to the massive root system of CT, that's a bonus. Perhaps that's the ticket to growing the elusive 1 ton pumpkin...
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    Quote Originally Posted by haugeb View Post
    I had read both of those stories (mighty tomato and devil eggplant). Both promising examples of grafting non-woody plants. I especially like the eggplant example, as the eggplant's genetic difference to the devil plant is probably comparable to the canadian thistle and artichoke. If I can graft multiple artichoke stems onto a single thistle stem, physically support them, and allow them to bloom, that should in theory pull an extraordinary amount of energy from the root system, allowing me to sever surrounding thistles without fearing an instant comeback (the roots will be busy filling the nutrient needs of the artichoke scions).

    All theoretical of course. I'm anxious to experiment.

    If pumpkin vines can be grafted to the massive root system of CT, that's a bonus. Perhaps that's the ticket to growing the elusive 1 ton pumpkin...
    I'm sure you've seen those massive pumpkins in pumpkin growing competitions. See video below.

    It looks like they just try and use the best pumpkin seeds they can find. But I'm now wondering if it might be possible to start with a giant pumpkin and graft it to a better root system for even bigger pumpkins?

    http://www.hgtv.com/video/giant-pump...deo/index.html
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  17. #16  
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    I saw something online about double-grafting pumpkin plants so that one or more "helper" plants are feeding energy into a single pumpkin. I guess people actually do this. Not sure if it helps much compared to all the chemicals and things you can dump on a plant, but I like the idea..... pull the flowers and fruits off 1 or more plants then graft their vines to a central plant with a single fruit.

    Of course there are folks who do funny stuff with tree grafting as well, disconnecting and reconnecting various branches to make grids and shapes. Crazy stuff.
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  18. #17  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by haugeb View Post
    Sunflowers and thistles are not closely related, but they do belong to the same family (Asteraceae), both have round stems, can grow in similar environments, etc.

    Does their structural similarity imply compatibility for grafting, or is there a genetic compatibility that must be accounted for?
    Just do it.

    Get two plants. Put the top on the stem of the other and vice versa.

    Then you know 100% sure.

    And when it fails you can check out why by maybe taking some sections of the graft area and analyzing what went wrong.
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  19. #18  
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    It's an interesting question and worth trying for its own sake.

    Failing that, here's one parasitic plant that should happily suck the life from a thistle: Cuscuta europaea - Wikipedia
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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