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Wildflower Seed Mixes

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii) in oak woodland in the spring. 
It’s been quite the winter in the Klamath-Siskiyou this year. I write this with two and a half feet of snow outside and a one and a half mile snowshoe to the nearest plowed road — an unusually big snow year at 2,100′ in elevation!
Winter beauty in the Klamath-Siskiyou
As winter settles in and you start daydreaming about springtime and wildflowers, take some time to reflect on wildflower seed mixes as well — more specifically, what species are actually in those wildflower seed mixes? If you support the conservation of native flora, intact ecosystems, biodiverse landscapes, traditional ecological knowledge, or if you belong to a native plant society, or other environmental organization that works for land conservation or pollinator advocacy, for example, you may be just as dismayed as I am to learn that many commercially available packets of “wildflower” seed mixes don’t actually contain native wildflower seed at all, and may, in fact, contain noxious weed seeds.

Native wildflowers of the Klamath-Siskiyou

In most commercial wildflower seed packets the term “wildflower” is often used to refer to species that naturalize easy, or in other words, species that can can take over quickly and flower profusely, spreading themselves around in abundance. Unfortunately, this describes many non-native species that take over native plant habitat, displacing native flora and impacting floral diversity as well as pollinators adapted to native plants. Your winter daydreams of vibrant wildflower meadows flowering in profusion may turn into a noxious weed nightmare if you don’t do your due diligence in researching what species are in a wildflower seed mix. In an unpublished study from 2002, a University of Washington undergraduate student researcher grew out the seeds from 19 “wildflower” seed mix packets. The result: All 19 packets contained from 3 to 13 species that were identified as being invasive in some part of North America. And even worse, eight of the plants were identified as noxious weeds. In the University of Washington’s, UW Today, Sandra Hine’s 2002 article about the research explained that the seed packets used were, “distributed by firms including Burpee, Ed Hume, Lake Valley Seed, Lilly Miller, Molbak’s, Napa Valley Wildflower, Nature’s Garden Seed and Sundance. Seventeen of the mixes in the experiment were purchased and two were gift items.” Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) was found in four of the wildflower mixes, but only one had it listed. Toadflax is listed on Oregon’s state noxious weed list. Hine also explained, “Gardeners might be surprised at the flowers and seeds that are readily available for sale that are considered invasive or noxious. For instance, the wildflower most commonly observed as part of the mixes was the popular bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus), germinating in beautiful hues of pink and blue from three-quarters of the packets tested. Bachelor’s button might be fine if kept confined to one’s own yard but it’s invasive — that is it outcompetes other plants — when it gets into native grasslands and prairies.”

Bachelor buttons easily escape gardens and invade nearby native plant communities.

This problem is not limited to large corporate seed companies; unfortunately, even smaller seed companies that espouse organic and non-GMO ethics include non-native or invasive plant seeds in their “wildflower” seed mixes. Take a look, there’s not many native species included in these lists: Territorial Seed Company’s “Northwest Wildflower Mix”: Five-Spot, Siberian wallflower, Scarlet flax, California poppy, Lance leaved coreopsis, Yellow lupine, Blue flax, Russell lupine, Chinese houses, Baby blue-eyes, Corn poppy, Shasta daisy, Bird’s eyes, Dwarf godetia, Clarkia, Globe gilia, Mountain phlox, Tall white sweet alyssum, Black-eyed susan Peaceful Valley’s “Regional Northwest Wildflower Mix”: Aquilegia vulgaris, Centaurea cyanus, Cheiranthus allionii, Chrysanthemum Maximum, Clarkia amoena Semi-Dwarf Single Mix, Clarkia unguiculata, Collinsia heterophylla, Coreopsis lanceolota, Eschscholzia californica, Gilia capitata, Gilia tricolor, Layia platyglossa, Linum grandiflorum rubrum, Linum perenne, Lupinus densiflorus, Lupinus polyphyllus Russell Strain Mix, Lupinus succulentus, Nemophila menziesii, Papaver rhoeas, Phacelia campanularia, Rudbeckia hirta. Eden Brother’s “Pacific Northwest Wildflower Seed Mix”: Gypsophila elegans, Centaurea cyanus, Nemophila menziesii, Clarkia amoena, Digitalis purpurea, hacelia campanularia, Collinsia heterophylla, Papaver rhoeas, Coreopsis lanceolata, Cosmos bipinnatus, Eschscholzia califorica, Gaillardia aristata, Rudbeckia hirta, Lupinus perennis, Lupinus polyphyllus, Cooreopsis tinctoria, Cheirianthus allionii, Linum usitatissimum, Linum grandiflorum rubrum, Phlox drummondii, Cosmos sulphureus, Rudbeckia gloriosa Sustainable Seed Company’s “Northwest Wildflower Mix”: Baby Blue-Eyes, Bird’s Eyes, Black-Eyed Susan, Blue Flax, California Poppy, Chinese Houses, Clarkia, Dwarf Godetia, Corn Poppy, Five-Spot, Globe Gilia, Lance-Leaved Coreopsis, Mountain Phlox, Russell Lupine, Scarlet Flax, Shasta Daisy, Siberian Wallflower, Sweet Alyssum, Tidy Tips and Yellow Lupine. Seed Savers Exchange’s “Flower, Bird and Butterfly Mix” doesn’t list the species that are in this flower mix, but the photo that accompanies it depicts bachelor buttons as being part of the mix.

When you buy seeds from Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds you can be rest assured that 100% of the species in our inventory are native to the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains, valleys, grasslands, woodlands, rock outcrops, or forests. Our seeds are wildcrafted from genetically diverse stock that is regionally adapted and beneficial for the local wildlife and pollinators that have evolved and adapted with them. Healthy, intact ecosystems depend on thriving native plant communities!

More resources:

California Invasive Species List

Oregon Noxious Weed List

California Invasive Species Council

The Oregon Invasive Species Council 

A true wildflower meadow in the Siskiyou Mountains