WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE about zinnias? Natural seed farmer and breeder Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds and I each vote an emphatic “sure” in favor of constructing zinnias part of each backyard yr.
However what goes into creating the range of zinnia colours and varieties and sizes? And what are some new trying ones that you just may wish to attempt in 2024?
Don Tipping based Siskiyou Seeds, a household run farm-based seed firm, in 1997. His farm with a view is situated at 2,000 toes of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 styles of greens, herbs, and flowers in its assortment. As if that weren’t sufficient, Don creates a YouTube channel of how-to movies and a long-running weblog, and hosts a number of on-farm trainings for gardeners and farmers every year.
We talked about that beloved annual flower, the zinnia (that’s ‘Queeny Lime Orange,’ above), and extra.
Plus: Remark within the field close to the underside of the web page to enter to win a $25 present certificates for Siskiyou Seeds.
Learn alongside as you take heed to the Feb. 5, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant beneath. You may subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).
zinnias and extra, with don tipping
Margaret Roach: Winter! However I suppose it’s seed-selling season, so most likely not winter, not quiet, for you.
Don Tipping: Yeah.
Margaret: You and I lately collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Instances,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me the right way to do virtually a decade in the past, the right way to develop them from seed. And so I’ll give a hyperlink to our former dialog, for individuals who wish to get began on these earlybird crops. However zinnias: We share this ardour, as I mentioned within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?
Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks as if sort of an apparent factor to love, like having vanilla ice cream be your, or I imply chocolate be your favourite kind of ice cream. However I feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to range of flower varieties and colours, I simply preserve coming again to my intrigue with them.
Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve at all times recognized them since I first gardened, and but I by no means knew ones just like the sizes and styles and no matter that I’m seeing nowadays. And so, I discover, I see on some catalog web sites that there are some hybrid zinnias, however all of yours, the entire Siskiyou Seeds’ styles of all the pieces, are open-pollinated, sure?
Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I feel it’s troublesome; individuals wish to cut back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the fact of the matter is, is that populations are consistently hybridizing, and that’s the place Dr. John Navazio taught me: to make use of the time period proprietary F1 hybrids when referring to these industrial ones. Whereas zinnias, particularly, as a result of they’ve what are known as leaping genes [laughter], they’re transposons, the molecular-biologist time period for them. However principally, that is how epigenetics present up in flowers, of genes that may be turned on or off.
So, it’s actually troublesome to stabilize among the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually must develop 1000’s of vegetation to see that one-in-a-thousand particular person. And simply since you save seed from it doesn’t essentially imply that you just’ve stabilized it and people traits will proceed to precise in subsequent generations.
Margaret: Proper. So, the father or mother plant, all its infants received’t be similar, any greater than I don’t seem like my mother and father [laughter].
Don: Yeah, precisely.
Margaret: To simplify issues. So, what number of years because you first tinkered with a zinnia, because you let a complete inhabitants develop out in a discipline someplace at your house and mentioned, “Ooh, I actually like that one over there. I’m going to save lots of seed from that one.” How way back, do you suppose?
Don: Nicely, it was form of an evolution. We used to develop zinnia seed yearly for Seeds of Change [catalog] in giant portions, the place we’d develop 5 or 10 kilos of seed. And after we are doing that, we’re usually rising a single coloration. So something that deviated from that, we’d truly destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then finally, in about 2009, is once I started to comprehend that, oh, these distinctive ones, that may be one thing price saving seed from and truly starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of identical to my analogy with ice cream, you will get vanilla and chocolate anyplace.
However distinctive sorts, I feel that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the same old type, however having distinctive sorts. Yeah, and it retains it fascinating for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve obtained to seek out new methods to maintain it thrilling.
Margaret: New adventures. First, there have been, a long time in the past, I don’t even keep in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] grew to become a factor. However these days, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-
Margaret: … are simply so beautiful, and so they sort of appeared and everyone, lots of people began promoting them. I can’t discover any info on who bred them or the place they started. I see “the breeder” known as simply “the breeder” in varied catalog descriptions in varied locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been form of one of many newest in ages.
However you’ve gone off in a route; yours, as you described, a few of them seem like “undersea creatures,” and simply a few of them come off form of cactus-shaped flowers and get even wilder and crazier. Yeah? [Below, a couple of flowers from his ‘Tidepool Mix.’]
Don: Nicely, I feel you’re truly shining a lightweight on, while you describe a few of these new varieties that present up within the huge mainstream catalogs, on a little bit of the underbelly of the largely Dutch flower-seed commerce. And I can’t confirm this, however I wish to begin trying and poking round. I’ve heard that they use irradiation to induce polyploidy and novelty in a whole lot of flower variants, as a result of florists are at all times in search of the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off sorts. The mutants have a tendency to not specific readily.
However via actually irradiating or doing novel breeding applied sciences like cell fusion and cisgenics, the mainstream business has been tinkering with issues. So, it’s completely different than the standard GMO.
We’re not doing that right here. I’m simply actually combing the fields in search of novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I truly use jewellery baggage which can be like breathable mesh.
So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 vegetation or extra, and I observed a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, so that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that kind of factor. And that they extensively open-pollinate, and so they have two varieties of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And if you happen to’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you’ll be able to actually see this, or checked out a zinnia, as an example, up shut and see how the disc florets have little yellow flowers that in and of themselves are flowers, which have each female and male flower components and may pollinate themselves or be cross-pollinated. Whereas the ray florets, what we take a look at as petals.
Margaret: Petals, proper.
Don: … are literally showy bracts, to make use of the botanical time period. These don’t have stamens, so that they don’t make pollen, however they’ll obtain pollen. So, while you take a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what seem like little grey fishhooks, after which bigger buff-colored fishhooks. The little ones are from the disc florets, and the bigger ones are from the ray florets. This differentiation is much less pronounced in zinnias, however if you happen to fastidiously kind out your zinnia seed, you’ll be able to determine which seeds got here from the disc florets-
Don: … whereas those who got here from the ray florets.
Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you’ve got a complete myriad of, it could possibly be self-pollinating. So, I’m explaining this to explain the jewellery bag. Why use that? As a result of then you already know that entire plant is self-pollinated, or that flower, and that’s assuming you bought to it earlier than the florets on the disc opened up. So, it’s a must to exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless sort of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which can be a bit on the immature aspect, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re drastically decreasing the quantity of viable seed while you do that, however it’s a technique to start to slim down within the route you wish to go.
Margaret: Oh, O.Okay. So, you’re not irradiating, you’re placing jewellery baggage on it.
Margaret: So that you’re making observations and placing ribbons on them and placing jewellery baggage on them [laughter] and so forth, and sort of steering the inhabitants, if you happen to can, in a route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve got some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a kind of Queeny sorts, I neglect which one you’ve got. And one other combine that I’ve at all times preferred, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I feel is so well-named as a result of it’s obtained such enjoyable form of colours in it. However you’ve got one which I’ve by no means truly grown, known as ‘Pink Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly completely different. It seems like a species plant to me, that one. Are you aware what I imply? It looks-
Don: Oh, completely.
Margaret: …very outdated, back-to-the-roots sort of genetics. Yeah.
Don: Nicely, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s truly a special species from the standard zinnias that folks develop. So, the standard zinnia that most individuals are acquainted with, the Latin identify is Zinnia, the genus, and elegans is the species.
Whereas the genus for the ‘Jazzy Combine’ is Zinnia, as soon as once more, the species identify is haageana, so it’s truly a special species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was principally a wildflower. And so, the ‘Pink Spider’ is, I feel, actually extra of a progenitor of contemporary zinnias.
Margaret: Isn’t it like tenuifolia or one thing? It’s like a complete species into itself.
Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the vegetation are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all crimson. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a special coloration. They usually don’t are inclined to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we stay within the mountains, so perhaps it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a special local weather than Oregon. However nonetheless, I like rising them only for their novelty. And the petals are typically thinner, so I feel that’s the place the identify spider comes from.
You may consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And if you happen to take a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see form of the parental varieties that gave start to all of the completely different trendy ones that had been finally hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber copy.
Margaret: Yeah. You could have some enjoyable with them. I imply, you’ve got, talking of ones which can be within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent species, you chose from one that folks might know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you just name, I feel ‘Firestarter?’ Is that proper?
Don: Yeah. Nicely, this began, Frank Morton and I, we had a dialog of, I simply requested him like, “Hey, the ‘Peppermint Stick’ is 2 completely different colours.” And actually three, there’s form of yellow and crimson, after which white and crimson, however there’s additionally form of a cream and crimson in there, which I feel is an middleman one.
Margaret: Yeah, and we must always say Frank is a seed farmer, Wild Backyard Seed. Sure, yeah.
Don: Yeah, thanks for mentioning that. And he’s undoubtedly an expensive good friend and mentor of me.
Margaret: And so many.
Don: And an early pioneer.
Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.
Don: And yeah, verify them out earlier than, I feel they’re inching in the direction of retirement, so sort of get it whereas the getting’s good. However we had been joking round. I used to be like, “Hey, have you ever ever considered stabilizing one of many colours?” And he was doing the white and crimson. So I used to be like, “Nicely, I’ll do the yellow and crimson.”
So, we use greenhouses typically if we wish to stabilize one thing that’s actually engaging to pollinators, with the pondering that we are able to management pollination a bit bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is admittedly simply saving seed from essentially the most yellow and crimson ones.
And I wish to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve observed this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to supply what are known as chimeras. And it’s also possible to see leaping genes in motion. So, in my collection of that selection, I await the primary flower to occur, and I solely wish to save the vegetation that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually seem like both yellow petals that someone took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of crimson on them, or not directly.
So then, I rip out all those which can be white and crimson, after which I lower off all of the flowers of the yellow-red ones, that first flower, as a result of it might have cross pollinated with the white and crimson ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all crimson flowers. And earlier than I realized this, I’d lower these off or rip these vegetation out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they’ll produce all crimson and yellow-and-red-striped. And what that’s, is the plant doesn’t distribute development hormones and its genetic potential equally.
Don: Similar to we don’t seem like our siblings, though we technically have the identical genetics. And the opposite factor it’ll do is chimeras, which is, I don’t know if that’s a botanical time period or simply within the flower commerce, one the place the flower is principally half crimson and half one other coloration, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t suppose chimeras is one thing which you can pin down genetically. It simply has to do with development hormones and transposons, and the way genetic potential is distributed in a given plant relying on environmental stresses.
Margaret: Yeah, it’s fairly cool. So, that’s a enjoyable one, ‘Firestarter.’
A few of yours are these mixes, otherwise you typically name them remixes. You could have one that you just name the ‘Dreamin’ Remix,’ as an example. And that was already a cross of elegans, and haageana.
Margaret: That was already a cross of elegans and haageana, that another person did, at Peace Seedlings, Dylana Kapuler. So that you then take a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You may preserve going?
Don: Yeah. And this may’t… Possibly you may describe it as a backcross, so it’s a hybrid between these two zinnia species, then backcross to the ‘Cactus Combine,’ and making an attempt to get my purpose with that. And I feel gardeners like novelty, and I try to be clear in our catalog to not count on each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re sure to, it’s sort of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a special shock in each field or one thing.
That my purpose is to supply one that appears just like the ‘Dreamin’ Combine,’ that Dylana took over from her father, Dr. Alan Kapuler, of that cross. They usually’ve by no means disclosed it’s a cross, however I’ve grown sufficient zinnias the place that’s my hunch, due to that trait that you just see within the ‘Jazzy Combine’ or the ‘Persian Carpet’ kind zinnias.
I wish to get one which has that fascinating sort of bullseye sample of various colours on each petal, however with the quilled petal form of the cactus sorts. So, we’ll see. There’s no assure. I feel typically when you’ve got a breeding goal, it’s truly counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one method you be taught that’s via trial and error.
Margaret: Yeah. I really like the identify of 1 that you’ve got your providing that you just bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this form of cactusy…
Don: Nicely, in order that began by rising giant quantities of the ‘Cactus Combine,’ which has a quilled petal form, which the botanical time period would both be revolute, like rolled outwards on itself, or rolled inwards on itself (which is involute).
And I started to note ones that had these different traits. One truly has a botanical identify known as fimbriated, the place the petals don’t finish at a tidy level, however are extra splayed out.
After which I observed one the place the petals themselves, as an alternative of rising straight, had been form of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s identify for that was Frippertronics, after Robert Fripp, who was the guitarist for the sort of ’60s, ’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. However my seed employees, who’re all underneath 40 was like, “No, that doesn’t work.”
Margaret: “No, Grandpa.” They mentioned, “No. Grandpa.” Proper? [Laughter.]
Don: Yeah, completely. Nicely, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can preserve observe of all these items. So, I used to be like, “O.Okay., you’re going to be Frippertronic,” as a result of he invented the primary digital tape-loop music, simply one thing novel. So, ‘Loopy Legs’ was a extra descriptive identify. ‘Loopy Legs’ is a fuchsia one. I’ve cream-colored model in improvement and an orange one in improvement and a yellow one. However these aren’t stabilized but.
Margaret: Nicely, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which form of seems like undersea anemones, the ‘Tidepool Combine.’
Margaret: So, earlier than we take up on a regular basis with zinnias, I wish to simply ask you about what else are you enthusiastic about in the intervening time? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless enjoying with zinnias. Are there different issues that you just’re…
Don: Nicely, yearly we choose three or 4 issues to do selection trials on, and that permits us right here on the farm to actually use the farm not only for seed manufacturing, but in addition as a analysis and improvement facility. So, those we’re doing for that this yr are radicchios, as a result of there’s a complete pattern beginning there and we simply wish to be taught as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot range. After which we are going to provide that blend as a seed crop for 2025, which feels bizarre to say that.
After which, we’re additionally doing carrots, however just like zinnias, not many individuals develop China asters, however they’re simply as straightforward to develop and I feel simply as spectacular. And I feel it could possibly be one of many subsequent huge issues for dwelling gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.
Margaret: I feel these are, what Callistephus, is that the genus? Callistephus, I feel.
Margaret: Yeah. They usually’re stunning flowers. And talking of issues that may come in numerous flower varieties, they’ll seem like a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know the right way to say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.
Margaret: In order that they actually, they are often fairly completely different.
Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now pondering they might make a superb companion, like some cool variant combine with the ‘Tidepool Combine’ zinnia. And perhaps for some future Octopus’ Backyard assortment or one thing.
Margaret: Oh, I really like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, a lot of tentacles [laughter].
Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ A lot of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Okay. So, these are three issues: radicchio, carrots, China asters.
Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor sort of, just like the zinnias that I’ve been engaged on, is a striped kernel candy corn that I name ‘Starburst Choose.’ And also you see this trait in flour corn, some Native communities name it chin-mark corn, named after the cultural custom of tattooing girls in among the Northwest tribes. However principally, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in improvement that may be a candy corn, and while you eat it, every kernel seems like someone took a small paintbrush and drew a bit starburst of crimson on it.
And I’m 85 p.c of the way in which there of getting a spread that, so far as I do know, has by no means existed earlier than, and I don’t know why, as a result of it wasn’t that arduous to create. So, that’s thrilling. And we provide seed of that. We at all times promote out. It’s very restricted amount proper now.
Margaret: Huh. Attention-grabbing. You’ve completed rather a lot through the years with flour corns, those as in you’d make meal or flour out of them, not flower corns.
Margaret: Very colourful, a few of them have been very colourful, that are simply stunning as effectively. And I feel it looks as if you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as effectively, yeah?
Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we have now what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to answer the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve observed a giant resurgence in curiosity in individuals rising their very own medicinal herbs. So I’ve an worker who has some expertise with that, Taryn Hunter, who I’ve actually simply tasked with determining what’s the new herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with an incredible firm out of Washington known as Pals of the Timber Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify Skeeter, who’s considered one of our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. They usually develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.
Margaret: Nicely, a whole lot of enjoyable decisions. As I mentioned, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 700 in any given yr being supplied. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times be taught from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll preserve the teachings going for extra years to come back. So, thanks, thanks, and have a very good seed-selling season, huh
Don: Thanks a lot.
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