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 types and sizes? And what are some new trying ones that you just would possibly need to strive in 2024?
Don Tipping based Siskiyou Seeds, a household run farm-based seed firm, in 1997. His farm with a view is positioned at 2,000 ft of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 kinds 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 annually.
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 reward certificates for Siskiyou Seeds.
Learn alongside as you hearken to the Feb. 5, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. 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 assume it’s seed-selling season, so in all probability not winter, not quiet, for you.
Don Tipping: Yeah.
Margaret: You and I lately collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me easy methods to do virtually a decade in the past, easy methods to develop them from seed. And so I’ll give a hyperlink to our former dialog, for individuals who need to get began on these earlybird crops. However zinnias: We share this ardour, as I stated within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?
Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks as if form of an apparent factor to love, like having vanilla ice cream be your, or I imply chocolate be your favourite sort of ice cream. However I believe as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to variety of flower types and colours, I simply hold 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 styles and sizes and no matter that I’m seeing as of late. 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’ kinds of every part, are open-pollinated, sure?
Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I believe it’s tough; folks need to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the fact of the matter is, is that populations are continually 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 referred to as leaping genes [laughter], they’re transposons, the molecular-biologist time period for them. However mainly, that is how epigenetics present up in flowers, of genes that may be turned on or off.
So, it’s actually tough to stabilize among the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually need to develop hundreds of crops 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 specific in subsequent generations.
Margaret: Proper. So, the dad or mum plant, all its infants gained’t be an identical, any greater than I don’t appear to be my dad and mom [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 area someplace at your house and stated, “Ooh, I actually like that one over there. I’m going to avoid wasting seed from that one.” How way back, do you suppose?
Don: Properly, 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 once we are doing that, we’re sometimes rising a single colour. So something that deviated from that, we might truly destroy these crops, pull them out by the roots. So then finally, in about 2009, is once I started to appreciate that, oh, these distinctive ones, that is likely to be one thing value saving seed from and really starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of identical to my analogy with ice cream, you may get vanilla and chocolate wherever.
However distinctive sorts, I believe that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the same old form, however having distinctive sorts. Yeah, and it retains it attention-grabbing for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve acquired to search out new methods to maintain it thrilling.
Margaret: New adventures. First, there have been, many years 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 attractive, and so they form of appeared and everyone, lots of people began promoting them. I can’t discover any data on who bred them or the place they started. I see “the breeder” known as simply “the breeder” in numerous catalog descriptions in numerous 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 appear to be “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: Properly, I believe you’re truly shining a lightweight on, once 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 need to begin trying and poking round. I’ve heard that they use irradiation to induce polyploidy and novelty in lots of flower variants, as a result of florists are at all times on the lookout for the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off sorts. The mutants have a tendency to not specific readily.
However by means of actually irradiating or doing novel breeding applied sciences like cell fusion and cisgenics, the mainstream business has been tinkering with issues. So, it’s totally different than the normal GMO.
We’re not doing that right here. I’m simply actually combing the fields on the lookout for novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I truly use jewellery baggage which are like breathable mesh.
So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 crops 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 sort of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, and so they have two varieties of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And for those who’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you possibly can actually see this, or checked out a zinnia, as an illustration, 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 might pollinate themselves or be cross-pollinated. Whereas the ray florets, what we have 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, once you have a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what appear to be 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 for those who rigorously kind out your zinnia seed, you possibly can determine which seeds got here from the disc florets-
Don: … whereas people who got here from the ray florets.
Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you may have 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 understand 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, you must exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless form of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which are just a little on the immature facet, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re enormously decreasing the quantity of viable seed once you do that, however it’s a method to start to slender down within the route you need 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 form of steering the inhabitants, for those who can, in a route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you may have some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny sorts, I neglect which one you may have. And one other combine that I’ve at all times appreciated, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I believe is so well-named as a result of it’s acquired such enjoyable form of colours in it. However you may have one which I’ve by no means truly grown, referred to as ‘Purple Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly totally different. It seems like a species plant to me, that one. Have you learnt what I imply? It looks-
Don: Oh, completely.
Margaret: …very previous, back-to-the-roots form of genetics. Yeah.
Don: Properly, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s truly a special species from the normal zinnias that individuals develop. So, the normal zinnia that most individuals are accustomed to, 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 mainly a wildflower. And so, the ‘Purple Spider’ is, I believe, actually extra of a progenitor of recent zinnias.
Margaret: Isn’t it like tenuifolia or one thing? It’s like a complete species into itself.
Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the crops are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all purple. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a special colour. They usually don’t are likely to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we stay within the mountains, so possibly 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 usually thinner, so I believe that’s the place the identify spider comes from.
You may consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And for those who have a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see form of the parental types that gave start to all of the totally different trendy ones that have been in the end hybrids, after which folks went to tuber copy.
Margaret: Yeah. You might have some enjoyable with them. I imply, you may have, talking of ones which are within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent species, you chose from one that individuals might know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you just name, I believe ‘Firestarter?’ Is that proper?
Don: Yeah. Properly, this began, Frank Morton and I, we had a dialog of, I simply requested him like, “Hey, the ‘Peppermint Stick’ is 2 totally different colours.” And actually three, there’s form of yellow and purple, after which white and purple, however there’s additionally form of a cream and purple in there, which I believe 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 a pricey buddy and mentor of me.
Margaret: And so many.
Don: And an early pioneer.
Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.
Don: And yeah, examine them out earlier than, I believe they’re inching in the direction of retirement, so form of get it whereas the getting’s good. However we have 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 purple. So I used to be like, “Properly, I’ll do the yellow and purple.”
So, we use greenhouses typically if we need to stabilize one thing that’s actually enticing to pollinators, with the pondering that we are able to management pollination just a little bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is admittedly simply saving seed from probably the most yellow and purple ones.
And I need to point out a very enjoyable factor, and possibly you’ve observed this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to supply what are referred to as chimeras. And you can too see leaping genes in motion. So, in my collection of that selection, I look ahead to the primary flower to occur, and I solely need to save the crops that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually appear to be both yellow petals that any individual took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of purple on them, or in a roundabout way.
So then, I rip out all those which are white and purple, after which I minimize 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 purple ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all purple flowers. And earlier than I discovered this, I’d minimize these off or rip these crops out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they’ll produce all purple 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 appear to be our siblings, although 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 mainly half purple and half one other colour, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t suppose chimeras is one thing that you could 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 might have one that you just name the ‘Dreamin’ Remix,’ as an illustration. 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 have a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You would possibly hold going?
Don: Yeah. And this will’t… Perhaps you would 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 believe gardeners like novelty, and I attempt to be clear in our catalog to not anticipate each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re certain to, it’s form 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’ sort zinnias.
I need to get one which has that attention-grabbing form 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 believe typically when you may have a breeding goal, it’s truly counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one manner you be taught that’s by means of trial and error.
Margaret: Yeah. I really like the identify of 1 that you’ve your providing that you just bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this form of cactusy…
Don: Properly, 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 referred to 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, have been form of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s identify for that was Frippertronics, after Robert Fripp, who was the guitarist for the form of ’60s, ’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. However my seed workers, who’re all underneath 40 was like, “No, that doesn’t work.”
Margaret: “No, Grandpa.” They stated, “No. Grandpa.” Proper? [Laughter.]
Don: Yeah, completely. Properly, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can hold monitor of all these things. 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 growth and an orange one in growth and a yellow one. However these aren’t stabilized but.
Margaret: Properly, 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 need to simply ask you about what else are you enthusiastic about for the time being? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless taking part in with zinnias. Are there different issues that you just’re…
Don: Properly, yearly we decide three or 4 issues to do selection trials on, and that permits us right here on the farm to essentially use the farm not only for seed manufacturing, but additionally as a analysis and growth facility. So, those we’re doing for that this yr are radicchios, as a result of there’s a complete development beginning there and we simply need to be taught as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot variety. After which we’ll provide that blend as a seed crop for 2025, which feels bizarre to say that.
After which, we’re additionally doing carrots, however much like zinnias, not many individuals develop China asters, however they’re simply as simple to develop and I believe simply as spectacular. And I believe it could possibly be one of many subsequent huge issues for residence gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.
Margaret: I believe these are, what Callistephus, is that the genus? Callistephus, I believe.
Margaret: Yeah. They usually’re lovely flowers. And talking of issues that may come in numerous flower types, they’ll appear to be a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know easy methods 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 totally different.
Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now pondering they might make a wonderful companion, like some cool variant combine with the ‘Tidepool Combine’ zinnia. And possibly for some future Octopus’ Backyard assortment or one thing.
Margaret: Oh, I really like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, a number of tentacles [laughter].
Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ A number of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Okay. So, these are three issues: radicchio, carrots, China asters.
Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor form of, much 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 mainly, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in growth that may be a candy corn, and once you eat it, every kernel seems like any individual took a small paintbrush and drew just a little starburst of purple on it.
And I’m 85 % of the best way there of getting a range 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 tough 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 over time with flour corns, those as in you’ll make meal or flour out of them, not flower corns.
Margaret: Very colourful, a few of them have been very colourful, that are simply lovely as nicely. And I believe it looks as if you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as nicely, yeah?
Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we now have 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 folks 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 recent herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with an important firm out of Washington referred to as Pals of the Bushes Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify Skeeter, who’s one in every of our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. They usually develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.
Margaret: Properly, lots of enjoyable selections. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and possibly 700 in any given yr being provided. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times be taught from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll hold the teachings going for extra years to return. So, thanks, thanks, and have seed-selling season, huh
Don: Thanks a lot.
extra from don tipping
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