Seeds, Glorious *Native* Seeds

Photo © US Department of Agriculture

Soon after the New Year gardeners experience the great seed-catalogue-flood in their mailboxes–company after company hailing their seeds as superior to their competitors. Many gardeners enjoy a slow-down from the rigors of spring planting, summer tending, and fall harvesting, making the winter a time to reflect on what worked last year, what new experiments to try to attempt in the new year, and what seeds to add to the inventory. If planting native is in your agenda for the coming season, this seed company guide may be helpful.

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Photo © Theen Moy

The number one question we often ask ourselves is, where does one actually access reliable native seeds? To help you work through this conundrum, we’ve compiled some basic guidelines to consider when purchasing native seeds, along with a selection of lesser known seed companies that might be worth checking out.

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Photo ©

Know your ecoregion

As a first step, Habitat Network recommends purchasing seeds from companies that are in your ecoregion. If you don’t know your ecoregion you can use the Local Resource Guide on our website, under the EXPLORE tab, to learn more about where you live. Purchasing seeds grown and harvested in a similar plant hardiness zone and ecoregion (they aren’t totally the same) helps to ensure you are purchasing seeds that will more likely be successful in your regional growing conditions.

chokeberries

Photo © plant4wildlife

Plant seeds from your ecoregion

Seeds, like the plants they grow into and the animals they feed, evolve to withstand the seasonal weather changes in the areas they originate. Logically it just makes sense that plants native to and grown in Alaska, for example, may not thrive in the predominantly hot and dry deserts of Arizona, and vice versa. Keeping this in mind when purchasing will increase your chances of success when growing in your own ecoregion.

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Photo © Megan

Know the conditions the seeds need for success

Many seed companies will provide brief descriptions on their websites or in their catalogs. For instance they may say, Grows best in southern regions where the growing season is long. Full-sun, drought resistant. Before purchasing seeds, make sure to read this information if you are unsure of the plants’ growing range or conditions.

columbine

Photo © Nic McPhee

Confirm varieties are native not naturalized to your region

Take caution when purchasing seeds if you are seeking 100% native plants, such as this pictured Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) native to most states east of the Rocky Mountains but introduced in areas west of the Rockies. Naturalized seeds have been introduced by humans to areas where they now grow, reproduce, and thrive without human interference. The companies below do not ALL exclusively sell native seeds. If you are unsure of whether a variety is native, you can contact the company and they will likely be able to assist you. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, also, has an online database where you can enter the common or latin name for a plant and they will provide a list of states where it is native. You can reference our Local Resource Guide for lists of local nurseries that sell native plants, and perhaps seeds.

rose

Photo © Audrey

Think hard about cultivars

Some seeds, even those considered native, are actually harvested from cultivars (such as the rose pictured above). Cultivars are the result of targeted breeding programs to cultivate certain traits–high seed/fruit yield, large flower heads, quality of flower smell, height of plant, etc. In the case of the rose, a cultivar might offer larger, more colorful, longer-lasting blooms which have been selected for over the rose fragrance. This is why roses purchased from a florist may be beautiful, and big, but lack the quintessential rose aroma. Targeted breeding programs often make trade-offs.

corn-hybrid

Photo © Matt Lavin, Ron Dauphin

Humans have been engaging in plant breeding for centuries. Modern-day sweet corn is a prime example of a plant that has undergone years of rigorous breeding of the grass, teosinte. This plant has large kernels that have been selected for over the last several hundred years to achieve larger, sweeter, more numerous kernels. Many people, however, are deeply invested in a different approach, one where heirloom native varieties are grown and cultivars are avoided. While the research is far from conclusive about the impact of cultivars on garden communities, it is up to you to decide how deeply you want to get into this detail of gardening. If you are seeking true native varieties, you may want to use cultivars with caution.

In summary

  • Know your ecoregion
  • Plant seed from your ecoregion
  • Know the conditions the seed needs for success
  • Confirm varieties are native not naturalized to your region
  • Think hard about cultivars
  • The companies below have a selection of seeds and plants that are native and have tools and resources for you to make the best choices for your gardens and ecoregions. We provide at least one example of a seed or plant you could consider selecting that would meet the criteria of native and beneficial to human and wildlife. Happy seed catalogue browsing!

    Click on the states in green to read about companies that sell native seeds!

    Some States have more than one company represented, so read closely.

    Have a company you recommend? Email us at help@habitat.network and we’ll add it to the map.

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