Collecting Seed For Another Season

From one year to the next.

Seed that is available in hardware stores and nurseries came from somewhere. Plants just like those that such seed grows into produced it. Someone, or many someones, collected all that seed to make it available to others. Similarly, several plants in our own gardens produce seed. Anyone who is interested in collecting seed to grow more of the same plants could make good use of it.

After bloom, most flowers deteriorate and disappear into the landscape. Some leave behind desirable developing fruits or vegetables. Many of the flashiest flowers are too extensively hybridized to produce seed. Many produce some sort of seed structure that typically gets removed, or ‘deadheaded’. This diverts resources from seed production to subsequent bloom or vegetative growth.

If not removed, such seed structures can mature to produce viable seed. Those who enjoy collecting seed often intentionally leave a few seed structures for that purpose, instead of deadheading completely. For plants with long bloom seasons, this technique should involve the latest blooms. The same applies to vegetables that normally do not mature prior to harvest, like summer squash.

Such seed or fruiting structures, including vegetables, must be completely mature before collecting ripened seed from them.

Sunflower, cosmos, calendula, marigold, campion, morning glory, columbine, hollyhock and snapdragon are some of the easiest flowers for collecting seed from. California poppy, alyssum, phlox, and several other annuals are happy to self sow their seed, although collecting seed from them is not so easy. Nasturtium and honesty (money plant) seed is easy to collect, but self sows as well.

Collecting seed is limited only by practicality. Some plants, particularly hybrids and exotics (which are not native and may lack pollinators), produce no viable seed. Extensively bred varieties are likely to produce progeny that are more similar to the basic species than the parent. Once collected, some seed need special treatment in order to germinate. All seed should be sown in season.


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.

Expiration Date

All those palm seed . . . and saguaro cactus.

This is worse than the various seed that I happen to collect at work. It is worse than the seed of various species that I brought back from Oklahoma. These are seed that I purchased online and then misplaced . . . for a few years . . . or actually several years. Some were already old at the time, so are about a decade old now. There are leftovers from seed that were sown in 2010.

There was not much expense involved. Back then, they were even less expensive than they would be now. Those that I got a significant volume of were purchased mainly because they were so inexpensive. I figured I could find homes for the surplus that grew from them later. Most of the seed were purchased from eBay. Some were randomly collected for free from my job sites.

With few exceptions, these seed are not remarkably rare. Some are common within the regions from which they were obtained. Some are in small batches of only a few, while there are more than a hundred or a few hundred of others. There are seed for several palms, many yuccas, all but one of the North American firs, and all of the North American spruces. Not all are pictured.

Some seed are in significant quantity. That is more than 300 Yucca aloifolia, and 500 balsam fir.

Neither the expense nor the scarcity of these misplaced seed is a problem. What bothers me is that after so much effort to acquire them, and after so many others put the effort into sending them to me, and after the parent plants put their effort into producing all these seed, they were wasted. As I mentioned about the palm seed yesterday, few are likely viable after a decade.

Nonetheless, all will be sown. Even if none germinate, it will be more tolerable than discarding them without trying.

These actually look as good as fresh. I will find out.


Scrub Palm

104 seeds for the price of 10!

Of all the strange seed I brought back from Oklahoma, none were from the scrub palm, Sabal minor, that is endemic to McCurtain County in the very southeaster corner of Oklahoma. I did not get to that region.

Sabal minor is nothing special to those who are acquainted with it. However, a variety that was selected from those in McCurtain County, which is known simply as Sabal minor ‘McCurtain’, is becoming increasingly popular in climates where winter weather is too cold for other palms. It is sufficiently resilient to frost to survive in New England and Canada.

I just wanted it because it is from Oklahoma.

Since I did not collect any wild seed, I had considered purchasing a seedling of the ‘McCurtain’ variety online. It would have been rather expensive for a single seedling. I was pleased to find seed of the same variety that were significantly less expensive for several seed. I know they grow slowly, but I am in no hurry. I gain bragging rights as soon as the seed germinate.

Unexpectedly, I was even more pleased to find seed on eBay that were collected from trees that were collected from the wild in McCurtain County, but were not of the ‘McCurtain’ variety! I know that seems trivial, and maybe even less desirable to those who want a garden variety, but for me, such seed are more closely related to those I would have collected if I had been there.

For $6.00, I expected delivery of a packet of ten seed of Sabal minor from McCurtain County. I could not pass on a deal like that. Instead, I got the 104 seed in the picture above! That is ten times what I was expecting. They will grow into more scrub palms than my garden can accommodate. RAD!

Six on Saturday: Sow The Seed Of Doubt


There is serious doubt about the practicality of collecting seed that there is no use for. We have no time to sow any of it properly. Some gets tossed unceremoniously where it would be nice if just a bit of it grows and blooms next year. Such folly is better than the guilt of simply discarding all that seed, even if we get more of something we do not want.

1. Echinacea purpurea – coneflower – Deadheading left me with all these dead heads of seed. I have no use for all this seed; but a neighbor is happy to scatter it where some might grow.P91228-1

2. Lychnis coronaria – campion – This is all the seed I got, in a small pill can. Most was left in the landscapes to disperse where already established. This bit of seed goes to new territory.P91228-2

3. Lunaria annua – honesty – This is just one of several hard hat fulls. Seed already sifted down, leaving empty frass on top. I lack an article to link to, so linked to someone else’s article.P91228-3

4. Aesculus californica – California buckeye – This is what is starting to grow from four big seeds that I could not bear to discard earlier. Now there will be four baby trees without a plan.P91228-4

5. Pelargonium X hortorum – zonal geranium – Not all of this folly is from seed. Scrap from pruning geraniums got processed into more cuttings than we will plug. These are the last few.P91228-5

6. Rhus lanceolata? – prairie sumac? – There is even more folly in canning feral seedlings of this unidentified sumac. It is about as sensible as canning the four sweetgum to the upper right.P91228-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

The Bad Seed Redemption

P91103The seed is not really bad. At least I do not think that it is. It is merely misunderstood. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is simply unidentified. I really do not know what it is. I do not say that very often, especially about seed that I bother to collect to sow elsewhere. I believe that it is of American bellflower, Campanula americana. If not, it is very closely related.

It appeared in part of one of the landscapes at work. Because it looked like some sort of campanula, we left it to see what it would do. It got quite tall, but never started to look like something we did not want to take a chance on. We were rewarded for taking the risk when it bloomed with these elegant spikes of small sky blue flowers. That was a little more than a year or so ago.

No one bothered to deadhead it immediately after bloom. It was only a few plants on the back edge of rather relaxed landscape, so was easy to ignore. By the time the dried floral stalks were noticed and removed, the seed had already been tossed. Consequently, there were many more of them through this last season, both in the same area, and in adjacent parts of the landscape.

In fact, there were too many to ignore when their floral spikes had finished blooming. I deadheaded them myself so that I could collect the dried floral carcasses in a small bucket. Some seed had already been tossed for next year. Nonetheless, there is enough dust-like seed in the bottom of the bucket to share with other landscapes. I intend to sow it just prior to winter storms.

So, this unidentified seed should be an asset to the landscapes.

Save Some Seed For Later

90717thumbFlowers do not last forever. Whether they last for only a day, or weeks, they all eventually finish what they were designed to do, and then whither and deteriorate. They only need to stay fresh and appealing to pollinators long enough to get pollinated. After all, that is their only job. The next priority is the development of seed and any associated fruit structures that contain the maturing seed.

After bloom, most flowers are just ignored as they deteriorate and fall. Those in big shrubbery, vines and trees are out of reach anyway. Others are either too numerous or too insignificant to worry about. Of course, fruit and fruiting vegetable plants get to produce the fruits that they are grown to produce. Then there are few flowers that need to be ‘deadheaded’ after they are done blooming.

Deadheading is simply the removal of deteriorating flowers. The remains of sterile flowers might be deadheaded because they are unappealing. Deteriorating flowers that would like to produce undesirable seed or fruit after pollination might get deadheaded for the same reason, and to conserve resources that would otherwise be consumed by the developing seed and associated fruit.

However, there are a few flowers that might be left intentionally to provide seed for later. Different flowers finish at different times, and their seed gets sown in particular seasons, but most of those allowed to produce seed should probably be deadheaded through most of their season, with the last few blooms left to go to seed. The same applies to fruiting vegetable plants like pole beans.

Many flowering plants are genetically stable enough to produce progeny that will bloom mostly like the parents. Most are likely to be more variable, or revert to a more genetically stable form, even if it takes a few generations. Sunflower, cosmos, marigold, calendula, morning glory, columbine, snapdragon, campion and hollyhock are all worth trying.

California poppy, alyssum, nasturtium, money plant (honesty) and a few annuals that do not get deadheaded are often happy to sow their own seed.

Clustered Bellflower

90508Do they seem to be early this year? Clustered bellflower, Campanula glomerata, typically waits until the end of spring to bloom. Once the initial and most prolific bloom phase finishes, sporadic bloom should continue almost through summer. Blue is their most popular and traditional color. White is their second most popular option. Bluish purple and purplish pink are still somewhat rare.

Vegetative growth stays relatively low and unassuming through autumn and winter, and then starts to stand up and get noticed just before spring bloom. Short varieties might bloom without getting even a foot tall, while tall varieties can get two feet tall or a bit taller in partial shade. Each blooming stem supports a dozen or so five-pointed flowers that are about thee quarters to an inch wide.

Clustered bellflower looks neater and probably blooms a bit better as the season progresses if stalks are pruned out as they finish bloom and start to deteriorate. However, a few stalks of some varieties might be retained after bloom to produce seed to scatter elsewhere. Some of the fancier or newer varieties do not produce many viable seed, and such seed may not be true to to type.

Saving Seed For Next Season

80718thumbThe gardens with the most flowers need the most deadheading. This involves the removal of deteriorating flowers and any developing fruiting structures and seed associated with them so that they do not divert resources from subsequent bloom or vegetative growth. Old flowers that do not produce seed because they are sterile or lack pollinators might get deadheaded too if unsightly.

Deadheading is not for everyone though. Flowers up in trees, big shrubbery or large vines are obviously out of reach. Many annuals, like alyssum and nasturtium, produce far too many flowers to be deadheaded. Most plants bloom and disperse seed without bothering anyone, or even getting noticed. Bougainvillea blooms too flamboyantly to miss, but then sheds neatly without any help.

Bougainvillea does not set seed anyway. The insects that naturally pollinate it within its native range in the Amazon River Basin probably do not live here. Yuccas that live far from their native range likewise lack the specific yucca moth that they rely on for pollination, although some get pollinated by accident. Big yucca stalks get deadheaded just because they are not appealing after bloom.

What is more fun than what gets deadhead is what does not get deadhead. The alyssum and nasturtium mentioned earlier naturally naturalize where they get watered. They toss so many seed around that they can replace themselves as readily as the old plants die out. California poppy, cosmos, calendula, campion, and many other annuals as well as a few perennials, can do the same.

Besides that, there are all sorts of seed that can be collected from old flowers for the following season. Each variety of flower finishes in its own season. Each variety likewise gets sown in its own season. It is not necessary to leave all fading flowers if only a few can provide enough seed for later. It is important to remember that hybridized and some overly bred cultivars do not produce viable seed, and that subsequent generations of the fancier varieties will revert to be more similar to their simpler ancestral parents.