Journal of the Australian Native Plants Society Canberra region (Inc)

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A Rooting Hormone or Honey for Native Plant Stem Cuttings?

By Bill Willis, Horticulturalist /Grower/ANPSC Member

May, 2024

Honey is a much-vaunted rooting stimulant when applied to stem cuttings. Honey is relatively cheap and readily available. Cutting and dipping using honey into inert propagation media (mixes of perlite, vermiculite, coco peat) or non-inert potting mixes or soil is supposed to stimulate better and faster rooting.

There is pure raw honey and then there is ‘honey’. Not all honeys are pure raw honey. During times of flowering scarcity, such as droughts, bee hives may be fed with a sugary water to ensure the survival of the hives. However, ‘honeys’ themselves may also be adulterated with sugary water negating any ‘power’ of the honey to ‘stimulate’ the rooting of cuttings. The anti-microbial effect is enhanced in raw honey (as it exists in the beehive), versus the poorer anti-microbial effect of pasteurised honey (as it exists on the shop shelf).

Honey, raw or otherwise does not have any root-stimulating auxins per se, (Indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) and Indole-3-butyric acid (IBA). Dipping cuttings in raw honey may help protect the cuttings from pathogens as the cuttings develop roots. Pure raw honey has antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and may protect cuttings from pathogens within the media such as soil fusarium. Dipping plant cuttings in Pure Raw Honey is believed to give the intercalary meristem (nodes) below the media level, time for the cuttings to initiate and utilise innate rooting hormones to stimulate root production.

Many softwood cuttings, eg Asteraceae (daisies), root just as well as cuttings untreated with rooting hormones or honey. Plant cuttings, without hormone or raw honey, will root with time, but may rot before they do so. Commercial rooting hormones ensure cuttings will root well, earlier and importantly, approximately at the same time, especially if placed in inert propagation media.

Dipping cuttings in honey may have positive benefits, particularly when placing raw pure honey-dipped cuttings in non-inert propagation media, however the anti-microbial properties of honey may harm beneficial symbiotic mycorrhiza when potting-up cuttings. Beneficial symbiotic microbial flora is essential for the growth and well being of most Australian native plants.

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