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 creating zinnias part of each backyard 12 months.
However what goes into creating the range of zinnia colours and types and sizes? And what are some new wanting ones that you simply would possibly wish to strive 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 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 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 reward 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 assume it’s seed-selling season, so most likely not winter, not quiet, for you.
Don Tipping: Yeah.
Margaret: You and I not too long ago collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me methods to do nearly a decade in the past, methods 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 stated within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?
Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks like form 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 believe as a result of they’ve a lot potential by way of variety of flower types and colours, I simply preserve coming again to my intrigue with them.
Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve all the time identified them since I first gardened, and but I by no means knew ones just like the sizes and shapes and no matter that I’m seeing lately. 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 all the things, are open-pollinated, sure?
Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I believe it’s tough; individuals wish to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality of the matter is, is that populations are continuously 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 business 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 principally, that is how epigenetics present up in flowers, of genes that may be turned on or off.
So, it’s actually tough to stabilize a few of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually need to develop hundreds 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 simply’ve stabilized it and people traits will proceed to precise in subsequent generations.
Margaret: Proper. So, the dad or mum plant, all its infants received’t be equivalent, 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 subject 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: Effectively, it was type 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 shade. So something that deviated from that, we might truly destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then ultimately, in about 2009, is after I started to comprehend that, oh, these distinctive ones, that may be one thing price saving seed from and really starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you will get vanilla and chocolate anyplace.
However distinctive varieties, I believe that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the standard variety, however having distinctive varieties. Yeah, and it retains it fascinating for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve received 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 bear in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] grew to become a factor. However currently, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-
Margaret: … are simply so attractive, they usually 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 varied catalog descriptions in varied locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been type 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 type of cactus-shaped flowers and get even wilder and crazier. Yeah? [Below, a couple of flowers from his ‘Tidepool Mix.’]
Don: Effectively, I believe you’re truly shining a light-weight on, if you describe a few of these new varieties that present up within the large 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 wanting and poking round. I’ve heard that they use irradiation to induce polyploidy and novelty in quite a lot of flower variants, as a result of florists are all the time on the lookout for the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off varieties. 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 completely different than the standard 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 can be like breathable mesh.
So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 vegetation or extra, and I seen a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, in order that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that kind of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, they usually have two kinds 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 elements and may 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, in order that they don’t make pollen, however they will obtain pollen. So, if you have 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 work out 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’ve got a complete myriad of, it might be self-pollinating. So, I’m explaining this to explain the jewellery bag. Why use that? As a result of then you recognize that complete 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 form of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which can be somewhat on the immature aspect, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re vastly decreasing the quantity of viable seed if you do that, however it’s a option to start to slender 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 form of steering the inhabitants, if you happen to can, in a route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you simply promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve got some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny varieties, I neglect which one you’ve got. And one other combine that I’ve all the time favored, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I believe is so well-named as a result of it’s received such enjoyable type of colours in it. However you’ve got one which I’ve by no means truly grown, referred to as ‘Crimson Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly completely different. It seems to be like a species plant to me, that one. Have you learnt what I imply? It looks-
Don: Oh, completely.
Margaret: …very outdated, back-to-the-roots form of genetics. Yeah.
Don: Effectively, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s truly a distinct species from the standard zinnias that individuals develop. So, the standard zinnia that most individuals are aware of, the Latin title 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 title is haageana, so it’s truly a distinct species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was principally a wildflower. And so, the ‘Crimson 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 vegetation are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all pink. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a distinct shade. They usually don’t are likely to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we dwell within the mountains, so perhaps it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a distinct 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 title spider comes from.
You may consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And if you happen to have a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see type of the parental types that gave delivery to all of the completely different fashionable ones that had been finally hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber copy.
Margaret: Yeah. You’ve gotten 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 individuals might know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you simply name, I believe ‘Firestarter?’ Is that proper?
Don: Yeah. Effectively, 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 type of yellow and pink, after which white and pink, however there’s additionally type of a cream and pink 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 good friend and mentor of me.
Margaret: And so many.
Don: And an early pioneer.
Margaret: He’s superb. Yeah.
Don: And yeah, examine them out earlier than, I believe they’re inching in direction of retirement, so form 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 pink. So I used to be like, “Effectively, I’ll do the yellow and pink.”
So, we use greenhouses typically if we wish to stabilize one thing that’s actually enticing to pollinators, with the considering that we are able to management pollination somewhat bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is absolutely simply saving seed from probably the most yellow and pink ones.
And I wish to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve seen this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to supply what are referred to as chimeras. And you can even see leaping genes in motion. So, in my collection of that selection, I anticipate 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 pink on them, or in a roundabout way.
So then, I rip out all those which can be white and pink, after which I minimize off all of the flowers of the yellow-red ones, that first flower, as a result of it may have cross pollinated with the white and pink ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all pink flowers. And earlier than I discovered this, I might minimize these off or rip these vegetation out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they will produce all pink 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, 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 principally half pink and half one other shade, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t suppose chimeras is one thing 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’ve gotten one that you simply 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 have a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You would possibly preserve going?
Don: Yeah. And this will’t… Perhaps you might 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 objective with that. And I believe 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 certain to, it’s form of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a distinct shock in each field or one thing.
That my objective 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 simply see within the ‘Jazzy Combine’ or the ‘Persian Carpet’ kind zinnias.
I wish to get one which has that fascinating form of bullseye sample of various colours on each petal, however with the quilled petal form of the cactus varieties. So, we’ll see. There’s no assure. I believe typically when you’ve got a breeding goal, it’s truly counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one approach you be taught that’s by means of trial and error.
Margaret: Yeah. I really like the title of 1 that you’ve your providing that you simply bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this type of cactusy…
Don: Effectively, 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 title referred to as fimbriated, the place the petals don’t finish at a tidy level, however are extra splayed out.
After which I seen one the place the petals themselves, as an alternative of rising straight, had been type of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s title 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 employees, who’re all underneath 40 was like, “No, that doesn’t work.”
Margaret: “No, Grandpa.” They stated, “No. Grandpa.” Proper? [Laughter.]
Don: Yeah, completely. Effectively, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can preserve monitor 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 title. ‘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: Effectively, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which type of seems to be 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 meanwhile? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless taking part in with zinnias. Are there different issues that you simply’re…
Don: Effectively, 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 12 months 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 variety. After which we are going to supply 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 simple to develop and I believe simply as spectacular. And I believe it might be one of many subsequent large issues for house 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 several flower types, they will seem like an enormous double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they will look ethereal and, I don’t even know methods to say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.
Margaret: So that they actually, they are often fairly completely different.
Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now considering they’d 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, numerous tentacles [laughter].
Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ Plenty 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, 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 ladies in a few of the Northwest tribes. However principally, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in growth that could be a candy corn, and if you eat it, every kernel seems to be like someone took a small paintbrush and drew somewhat starburst of pink 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 arduous to create. So, that’s thrilling. And we provide seed of that. We all the time promote out. It’s very restricted amount proper now.
Margaret: Huh. Fascinating. You’ve executed loads through the years 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 effectively. And I believe it looks like 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 reply to the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve seen an enormous 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 referred to as Associates of the Bushes Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the title 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: Effectively, quite a lot of enjoyable selections. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 700 in any given 12 months being supplied. I’m so glad to talk to you; I all the time 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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