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 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 positioned at 2,000 toes 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 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 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 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 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 as if sort 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 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 recognized 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 today. 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 little thing, are open-pollinated, sure?
Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I believe it’s troublesome; folks wish to cut 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 industrial ones. Whereas zinnias, specifically, 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 troublesome to stabilize a few of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually need to develop 1000’s 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 simply’ve stabilized it and people traits will proceed to specific in subsequent generations.
Margaret: Proper. So, the guardian plant, all its infants gained’t be an identical, any greater than I don’t appear to be 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 an entire inhabitants develop out in a area someplace at your house and stated, “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: Properly, it was kind 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 coloration. So something that deviated from that, we might really destroy these crops, pull them out by the roots. So then ultimately, 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 path, as a result of identical to my analogy with ice cream, you will 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 standard variety, 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 acquired to seek 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 beautiful, and so they sort of appeared and all people, 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 numerous catalog descriptions in numerous locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been kind of one of many newest in ages.
However you’ve gone off in a path; yours, as you described, a few of them appear to be “undersea creatures,” and simply a few of them come off kind 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 really shining a light-weight 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 wanting 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 all the time searching 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 actually irradiating or doing novel breeding applied sciences like cell fusion and cisgenics, the mainstream trade 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 searching for novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I really use jewellery luggage which are like breathable mesh.
So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 crops 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 sort of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, and so they have two forms of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And when you’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 elements and might 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, in order 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 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 when you fastidiously kind out your zinnia seed, you possibly can 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 an entire myriad of, it may very well 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, you must exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless sort of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which are a bit of on the immature facet, 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 strategy to start to slender down within the path you wish to go.
Margaret: Oh, O.Ok. So, you’re not irradiating, you’re placing jewellery luggage on it.
Margaret: So that you’re making observations and placing ribbons on them and placing jewellery luggage on them [laughter] and so forth, and sort of steering the inhabitants, when you can, in a path that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you simply promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny sorts, I overlook which one you’ve. 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 acquired such enjoyable kind of colours in it. However you’ve one which I’ve by no means really grown, referred to as ‘Crimson Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly completely different. It appears to be like 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 sort of genetics. Yeah.
Don: Properly, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s really a distinct species from the standard zinnias that individuals 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 really 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 an entire species into itself.
Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the crops 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 distinct coloration. 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 distinct local weather than Oregon. However nonetheless, I like rising them only for their novelty. And the petals are typically 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 when you take a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see kind of the parental types that gave delivery to all of the completely different trendy ones that have been in the end hybrids, after which folks went to tuber copy.
Margaret: Yeah. You may have some enjoyable with them. I imply, you’ve, 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 simply 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 completely different colours.” And actually three, there’s kind of yellow and crimson, after which white and crimson, however there’s additionally kind of a cream and crimson 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, test them out earlier than, I believe they’re inching in direction of retirement, so sort 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 crimson. So I used to be like, “Properly, I’ll do the yellow and crimson.”
So, we use greenhouses generally if we wish to stabilize one thing that’s actually engaging to pollinators, with the considering that we are able to management pollination a bit of bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is admittedly simply saving seed from probably the most yellow and crimson ones.
And I wish to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and possibly you’ve seen this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection specifically tends to provide what are referred to as chimeras. And you can even see leaping genes in motion. So, in my number of that selection, I await the primary flower to occur, and I solely wish 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 crimson on them, or not directly.
So then, I rip out all those which are white and crimson, after which I reduce 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 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 might reduce these off or rip these crops 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 progress hormones and its genetic potential equally.
Don: Identical 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 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 that you could pin down genetically. It simply has to do with progress 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 generally name them remixes. You may have one that you simply 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 take a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You would possibly preserve going?
Don: Yeah. And this could’t… Perhaps 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 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 sort of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a distinct shock in each field or one thing.
That my purpose is to provide 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’ sort 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 believe generally when you’ve a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one manner you be taught that’s by trial and error.
Margaret: Yeah. I really like the identify 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 kind 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 really 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 seen one the place the petals themselves, as an alternative of rising straight, have been kind 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 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 preserve observe of all these things. So, I used to be like, “O.Ok., 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: Properly, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which kind of appears to be like 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: Properly, yearly we decide 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 12 months are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire 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 may very well be one of many subsequent huge 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 stunning flowers. And talking of issues that may come in numerous flower types, they’ll appear to be an enormous 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 completely different.
Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now considering 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 lot of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Ok. 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 a few of 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 appears to be like like any individual took a small paintbrush and drew a bit of starburst of crimson 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. Attention-grabbing. You’ve achieved loads 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 stunning as effectively. And I believe 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 seen an enormous 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 new herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with an important firm out of Washington referred to as Mates 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: Properly, a whole lot of enjoyable decisions. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and possibly 700 in any given 12 months being provided. 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 an excellent seed-selling season, huh
Don: Thanks a lot.
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