Oldies but not likely goodies.

31,800 years or so ago, busy arctic squirrels of northeastern Siberia stored more campion seed than they could consume. Of a store of more than 600,000 such seed, which were found deep below permafrost, three immature seed contained viable embryos. These three embryos were extracted and grown into plants that bloomed and produced new seed as they would have 31,800 years ago.

A 2,000 year old date palm seed, which was found in the palace of Herod the Great on Masada in Israel, is the oldest known intact and mature seed to germinate. It was approximately 29,800 years younger than the miraculously viable embryos of the Siberian squirrel stashed campion seed, but is ridiculously older than the oldest of the old seed in my partly neglected collection. There is hope.

Some of the seed that I saved is not dated because, at the time, I figured that they would be sown during the following season. A few of those that are dated are embarrassingly from five years ago. I know that canna seed lasts much longer than that. So do seed of some of the most aggressively invasive exotic species, such as broom and Acacia dealbata. Vegetable seed are not so fortunate.

However, I cannot discard them without giving them a chance. If they do not germinate on schedule, replacements will be sown immediately.

The two cans of seed to the left in the picture above are for two unknown varieties of pumpkin, and might have been three years old last autumn. Butternut squash seed to the upper middle is about the same age. Hyacinth bean seed to the lower middle is perhaps a year older. Blue dawn flower seed to the upper right is at least five year old. Parsley seed to the lower right was packed for 2015.

15 thoughts on “Viability

  1. Sounds like some good food there, Tony, if they germinate. I know that I have been surprised by old seeds (although I don’t think that I have tried anything as far back as 2015. Last year I grew pole beans from 2017 though).


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    1. I have found the same; that surprisingly old seed are viable. It will not be a problem either way. I sowed them, but will replace them if nothing comes up. There is still time. I suspect that the hyacinth bean seed are still viable, but I really do not like hyacinth bean.


  2. This made me laugh this morning…i have planted loads of old seeds as getting new ones in the post is impossible at the moment here in france…one of the casualties of our lockdown…the postal system has been commandeered for delivering food and medicines to the sick and elderly. We are not allowed out for anything other than essential food and medicines, and the police are stopping everyone to check what you are doing. Very fortunately i had bought some seeds, seed potatoes and onion sets before the lock down. I have a feeling we are all going to have to be more self sufficient this year. Good luck with your ‘old’ seeds….you will have to talk to them! All the best, Claire

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    1. After writing this, I happened to go to the supermarket for the first time in weeks. While there, I got seed from a seed rack that is loaded with some of the most popular varieties. (I prefer the common and familiar to the rare and . . . weird.) It was discouraging to see that no on is taking this epidemic seriously. I tried to avoid people, but no one else put any effort into avoidance. The store was just as crowed as it always is! I really do not want to do that again any time soon.


    1. They are only going into the vegetable garden here, so it is not too much of a bother. If they do not grow, I have no problem replacing them. I do not expect many to be viable. However, I have been surprised before. I grew Yucca glauca from seed that was much older. There are canna seed here that are a few years old, but I suspect that they are mostly viable, just because they are known to last for many years. There is surprisingly minimal information about the viability of various seed. If I try to research seed that I know last a long time, I only find that is should be grown within one year, even cannas.

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    1. Oh, so I am not the only one. I have been surprised in the past. I sow some closely together, so that even if only 25% are viable, that would be just fine. I also make a point of using them all up, just because I do not want them for next year, when they are even older than they are now.


  3. Going through my deceased mother-in-law’s “end of days” stock of seeds, I decided to see what would grow. None of it was stored in a climate control area, some were in plastic, some in paper packets, some in 40 year-old plastic vacuum sealed buckets, and some were saved from her gardens over the years in baby food jars, plastic containers, and plastic bags. I scattered them in a couple of vast, sunny areas that get partial shade and ample water. To my knowledge none of them germinated. If they did, they never reached maturity. I think the main factor was that most were not kept in a climate controlled area, and were perhaps subject to moisture. But, it was worth a try!

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    1. It is also important to replenish them. Seed should be used during the year after it was collected, and then replaced as seed for the same becomes available at the end of the season. That is how I used to do it when my lifestyle was more stable. It worked out well. There was typically plenty of seed, and actually too much of some types. The surplus compensated for the deficiencies. For example, I did not mind a lack or shortage of one type of summer squash if there was plenty of another type.

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    1. All seed are different. Some germinate within a a year and do not last much longer. Others germinate only if environmental conditions are favorable. Some in this region germinate only after a fire, either because they felt the heat, or because they sense the chemicals in the soil from ash.

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