If you live in southwest Oregon you’re invited to an upcoming free presentation by Suzie Savoie of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds at the Applegate Library in the beautiful Applegate Valley on February 23rd at 2pm.
Come learn about the incredible botanical diversity of the Siskiyou Crest region through an in-person presentation, Wildflowers of the Siskiyou Crest, given by local Applegate naturalist, Suzie Savoie. This presentation will highlight rare, threatened and endangered species, as well as common botanical beauties. Suzie is owner of the local native seed company, Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, is Conservation Chair for the Siskiyou Chapter Native Plant Society of Oregon, and is on the Advisory Board for Pollinator Project Rogue Valley. She has lived off-grid at the base of the Red Buttes Wilderness in the Upper Applegate for 20 years. Free and open to the public. Masks are required.
Despite their eye-catching beauty and value for pollinators and birds, native thistle species have long been undervalued and underutilized in native plant gardens and habitat restoration projects. Many people either don’t know there are native thistles, and/or they have a bad association with thistles because of the numerous highly invasive species of thistles. However, native thistles are highly important components of native plant communities and play important roles in native ecosystems; therefore, appropriate native thistle species should be considered for inclusion in various native planting or seeding projects.
Nutritious thistle seeds are highly prized by birds such as the Lesser or American goldfinch. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Their diet is composed almost entirely of seeds, with those of the sunflower family, particularly thistles, strongly preferred.” Birds also use the fluffy thistle chaff to line their nests.
The list of butterfly species that use native thistles for nectar is too numerous to list here. It is common to see butterflies nectaring on native thistles in the wild. Several butterfly species use native thistles as a larval host plant, including, Painted lady (Vanessa cardui), Mylitta crescent (Phyciodes mylitta), and the California crescent (Phyciodes orseis).
Hummingbirds are especially fond of thistle nectar. It is not unusual to find many hummingbirds competing for the nectar of Western thistle (Cirsium occidentale) flowers in the wild. Hummingbirds will often spend a considerable amount of time around a thistle patch, sipping nectar in between their aerial acrobatics. Additionally, native bees, pollinating flies, beetles, moths, and wasps also forage on and pollinate native thistles. Native thistles support and increase biodiversity!
Native thistles are adapted to grow in many different habitat types, from deserts to wetlands, and low elevation to high elevation. There are approximately 62 species of native thistles in the genus Cirsium in North America. For more detailed information about the ecological importance and cultivation of native thistles throughout North America, with an emphasis on species found in the eastern part of the United States, check out the Xerces Society‘s 92-page native thistles conservation guide: Native Thistles: A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide.
Although there are at least eleven or more thistle species, with many varieties, native to the Klamath-Siskiyou region, we will use the showy and beautiful red-flowered Western thistle (Cirsium occidentale) as our example of how to grow native thistles for this guide. Western thistle is native to California, Oregon and Nevada. It has many additional common names, including snowy thistle, cobweb thistle, or cobwebby thistle. There are also many varieties of the species. The common names are due to the appearance of the spines of the flowers which are laced in fibers resembling cobwebs or snow.
In the wild, Western thistle is adaptable to various soil types, but is generally found growing on poor soil with good drainage and full sun, in open grassland, chaparral, or rocky areas in various habitat types where there is little surrounding competition from other plants. It is a biennial to short-lived perennial plant that forms a rosette the first year(s), flowering the second year before producing seed and dying out. In drought years or on particularly harsh sites it may just remain a rosette for several years and take multiple years to flower. Most species in the genus Cirsium are monocarpic — they flower only one time and then die.
When in flower the height of Western thistle may vary from 1′-6′ tall. Smaller plants may just have a single stalk and flower, but larger plants may have many branches and many flowers.
Thistles are in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), with many individual flowers packed within each flower head, protected by a spiny involucre. Like a sunflower, each flower produces a single seed, and each seed head produces many seeds.
Western thistle is deer resistant and drought tolerant, making it ideal for dry areas with heavy deer pressure. That being said, as we have mentioned, native thistles are used as larval host plants by numerous butterfly species, and sometimes the caterpillars can eat a plant to the point that resembles deer browse. Native thistles have co-evolved with our pollinators and are adapted to caterpillar browse. Native thistles are never aggressive and won’t spread rapidly like their non-native and invasive relatives.
Growing Native Thistles from Seed
Western Thistle Seed Germination
The most basic rule of thumb for growing Western thistle from seed is to sow the seed outside in fall to early winter.
In the nursery setting, sow Western thistle seeds in seed trays or flats to upsize later, or directly sow into deeper containers such as tubes, deeppots, mini tree pots, or band pots etc. Thistles are fast growing in the nursery setting and have rapid root growth. Out-plant the seedlings in their first year of growth, either in early spring or fall. Use a soil mixture with good drainage, with extra perlite, vermiculite or pumice.
Our understanding of what specific cold-moist stratification requirements Western thistle seed needs has evolved over time. With years of growing Western thistle from seed, observations of seed germination patterns in the wild, and input from other growers — including people who have bought seed from us — we have come to realize that seed germination of Western thistle is quite variable.
Most sources of information suggest that native thistle seed needs “winterization” or cold-moist stratification to germinate, with a basic recommendation of 60-90 days exposure to cold-moist conditions. In the past we have always sown our seed in the fall, the seed overwintered, and we achieved seed germination in early spring. However, our recent experience has shown that fresh Western thistle seed may germinate in the fall in wet years with early fall rain. This year was one of those years! The early fall rain in the Klamath-Siskiyou region this year led to abundant germination of Western thistle seed in wild populations we visited in October-November 2021. Our own patches of Western thistle on our own land, where we are growing this species for seed increase, also had fall germinating seeds. Additionally, seed we sowed into seed trays in October were observed to be germinating in early November, showing that fall germination of Western thistle seed is possible in years with abundant fall rain and ideal conditions. This may be able to be replicated in dry years as well, with irrigation in the garden or habitat restoration seeding projects. In most years in the Klamath-Siskiyou region fall weather can be quite dry and warm, but this year was different, showing how different conditions year to year can achieve different results with seed germination.
Remember that seeds are living organisms that may not always behave in the way you expect! That’s why experimentation is at the foundation of seed germination success!
It is clear to us that fresh Western thistle seed may not have “dormancy” that needs to be overcome with cold-moist stratification; however, if the seeds are sown in early winter and conditions are too cold to germinate, the seeds will just wait in the cold-moist winter conditions to germinate when the weather warms up in early spring. It is also possible that older seed that has been stored for a year or more may become more dormant and need 60-90 days of cold-moist stratification before it can germinate.
Our basic guidelines for Western thistle seed germination are as follows:
No pretreatment is required for fresh seed. Seed germination may be improved with 30 days cold-moist stratification. Sow outside in early fall to late winter. Seeds may germinate with early fall rain if sown in early fall. Stored seed may need 60-90 days cold-moist stratification.
We love getting feedback from our customers and clients regarding their own experiences with seed germination. Sometimes people have different results than we do, which can make seed germination protocols difficult to generalize for different regions of the country. Different methods can sometimes achieve the same results and vice versa. We feel it is important, however, to provide some basic seed germination information and short protocols to get people started with their own seed germination experimentation.
James H. in Eugene, Oregon emailed us the photos above of Western thistle (Cirsium occidentale) seed he purchased from us that germinated quickly after he sowed the seed in fall 2020. We appreciated getting James’ feedback and photos! After the early fall rain this fall in the Siskiyou Mountains, our experience was the same — fall germination of Western thistle.
As you can see from the photos, James uses cages to protect his seedlings. Cages are important to prevent seed predation by birds, squirrels, mice and other small mammals. Wire cages or bird netting is an easy solution to prevent sometimes major losses of seed and/or germinates to wildlife.
Direct seeding of Western thistle also works really well. We have directly sown Western thistle seeds in many native seeding projects over the years, in various types of projects, from private land habitat restoration projects, to native plant demonstration gardens at vineyards, to upscale landscaping. We are excited to have Western thistle as part of the demonstration native plant garden we have established at Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley, and we hope to be sharing the results of the project this year with on-site tours and presentations.
On our own land here in the Siskiyou Mountains we have been growing Western thistle for more than fifteen years. Early on we would directly sow Western thistle seeds into burn pile sites we created after fuel reduction work in our land. We sowed Western thistle seed into sunny burn pile sites with great results. Over the years we have also done some small-scale prescribed burns and seeded Western thistle seeds into the small burn areas along with other wildflower seed, as shown in the photos above. Growing Western thistle on our own land for biodiversity, pollinator habitat and seed increase for seed sales has been a rewarding process that brings us great joy when we see butterfly caterpillars and other pollinators using the plants.
Protecting the viability of native thistle populations in the wild is important to us. Native thistles face many threats, including unwarranted eradication due to the assumption that all thistles are invasive and unwanted. We must protect our wild populations of native thistles and grow more native thistle seed in gardens and seed increase plots to help increase native thistle populations for biodiversity and the benefit of pollinators.
At the time of publishing this blog post we currently have only 18 packets of Western thistle seed remaining in our inventory for this season. We won’t have any more until next summer/fall. We can only collect a small amount of seed each year, so orders are limited to one packet per order so more people can grow these gorgeous plants! This is precious seed — plant wisely.
Native wild buckwheat species in the genus Eriogonum are iconic in the American West. Wild buckwheats have long been grown in gardens for their rugged beauty, drought tolerance, and importance for native pollinator species. Although there are currently around 250 described species of wild buckwheat in the United States, many are rare and endemic and have very restricted ranges, and it is assumed that active speciation is still occurring. Oregon has 45 Eriogonum species and California has 121 Eriogonum species, plus many, many varieties. With so many wild buckwheat species to choose from, you are sure to find one that is right for your garden or native planting project!
Wild buckwheats in the genus Eriogonum come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Seen above are tall woolly buckwheat (Eriogonum elatum) on the left, arrowleaf buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) on the top right, and barestem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) on the bottom right.
The late James L. Reveal was an expert on wild buckwheats. His treatment of the genus Eriogonum in Flora of North America explained how large and complex the genus is. Here is an excerpt from Flora of North America below:
Wild buckwheat [Greek erion, wool, and gony, knee, alluding to the hairy nodes of the species first described, E. tomentosum]
James L. Reveal
“As presently circumscribed, Eriogonum is one of the larger genera in the flora area, being exceeded in numbers of species only by Carex (ca. 480), Astragalus (ca. 350), and Penstemon (ca. 250). As a native North American genus, Eriogonum (ca. 250) is second only to Penstemon. Ecologically, species of Eriogonum occur from the seashore to the highest mountains in the United States. They are among the last plants seen atop the Sierra Nevada and on the “outskirts” of Badwater in Death Valley. About one-third of the species are uncommon to rare in their distribution.”
Butterflies and bumble bee nectaring and foraging on sulphur flower buckwheat.
Wild buckwheats are considered by some to be “superplants” because of their ecological importance. The flowers are prized by numerous native pollinators, including native bees, pollinating flies, beetles, butterflies and wasps. Wild buckwheats are used by many species of butterfly as larval host plants. One study in Washington state found that the total butterfly-buckwheat larval host plant association in the state was 44. If a similar study was done in other states, the number of butterfly-buckwheat larval host plant associations would probably be astounding.
Maps from CalFlora and OregonFlora depicting the ranges of sulphur flower buckwheat in California and Oregon.
Sulphur flower buckwheat
Our information on growing wild buckwheats from seed will focus on one of the most common Eriogonum species: sulphur flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). Although some species of wild buckwheat may have slightly different growing requirements than sulphur flower buckwheat, since it is such a common and widespread species throughout the American West, it is familiar to many people and provides a good example for how to successfully grow wild buckwheat from seed.
Sulphur flower buckwheat grows abundantly in hot, dry, open, and rocky places from low to high elevation throughout the western United States. Due in part to its large distribution, sulphur flower buckwheat is extremely variable, and sometimes hard to identify because the different varieties can look very different from one another. There are 25 varieties of sulphur flower buckwheat in California alone. In the Klamath-Siskiyou there are at least 15 separate varieties that vary in shape and form. The typical specimen has rounded, mounding, and low-growing evergreen foliage with bright yellow flower clusters. Sulphur flower buckwheat is perfect for a sunny, dry location or large rock garden. It is drought tolerant once established.
Growing Sulphur Flower Buckwheat From Seed in Containers
Sulphur Flower Buckwheat Seed Germination Requirements: 60 Days Cold-Moist Stratification
Sulphur flower buckwheat seeds typically need about 60 days of exposure to cold and moist conditions in order to break dormancy and trigger germination. This may vary depending on the source of the seed, the variety of sulphur flower buckwheat, the seed source elevation, and just plain, old seedling variation. In general though, sulphur flower buckwheat needs about 60 days cold-moist stratification.
Natural Cold-Moist Stratification
Natural cold-moist stratification can most easily be achieved by sowing the seed outside in fall to early winter and letting natural exposure to winter conditions — freeze/thaw, rain/snow, etc. — provide the cold-moist stratification, as it naturally occurs in nature. Seeds can be sown in containers or directly sown in the place you would like the plants to grow. On our land, here in the Siskiyou Mountains on the border of Oregon and California, we sow our sulphur flower buckwheat seeds in containers, or directly sow, typically in late November, but no later than late December.
Sowing sulphur flower buckwheat seeds outside in late fall to early winter works best for people that live in areas with cold winter climates; however, for people that live in areas without cold winter climates, or along the coast where freezing temperatures are rare, using artificial cold-moist stratification may be required to achieve germination success for sulphur flower buckwheat.
Pros: There is less up-front work involved in using natural cold-moist stratification methods. Simply sow seed outside in fall to early winter and let nature do the work.
Cons: People who live in warmer winter climates may not be able to achieve the natural cold-moist stratification requirements for sulphur flower buckwheat seeds.
Artificial Cold-Moist Stratification
As the images above depict, there are different ways to achieve cold-moist stratification artificially for sulphur flower buckwheat seeds. One of the methods is the “sandwich method,” where seed is placed on layered moist (not wet) paper towels, folded over and then slipped into a ziplock bag. The bag is then placed in the refrigerator for 60 days prior to sowing the seeds. It is best to check the seeds often for early germination. If you see that the seeds are starting to sprout, it is time to plant the germinates (aka sprouting seeds).
Another method is to place the seeds in layered cheesecloth, tied off a the top, and placed in moist peat moss in a breathable (at least not air-tight) container. The container is then placed in the refrigerator for 60 days prior to sowing the seeds. It is best to check the seeds often for early germination. If you see that the seeds are starting to sprout, it is time to plant the germinates.
Some people may prefer to germinate seeds using artificial cold-moist stratification techniques, prior to sowing the seeds, even if they do live in a cold winter environment, as it can ensure that each container will have a viable plant, without the risk of germination failure, wasting less soil and creating a more uniform planting.
Pros: Using artificial cold-moist stratification can result in a higher seedling establishment rate, with less soil wasted on “blanks,” or seed that doesn’t germinate.
Cons: It is more work up front to germinate seeds ahead of seed sowing.
Types of Containers for Starting Sulphur Flower Buckwheat from Seed
Tip: Sulphur flower buckwheat prefers well drained soil. A little extra perlite in typical potting soil mixture will help your soil drain better and keep your plants healthier.
There are many types of seed starting trays, with varying size cells and soil capacities. Starting seeds in seed trays is probably the most familiar method of native seed propagation. In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into individual cells within the seed tray. If several seedlings emerge within a single cell they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and/or thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per cell ensures at least one seed germinates in each cell.
Seeds should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit.
Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed.
Pros: Each plug can be easily removed individually and transplanted into a larger container. Damage to roots is unlikely during transplanting if done with care.
Cons: Using a typical seed tray that is 2.5″-3″ deep requires that the seedlings be upsized soon after they are ready in order to prevent transplant shock, and/or root deformation. If you are the type of person who can get behind on transplanting, it’s better to use a deeper seed tray, like 5″ deep or more, to give yourself more time before upsizing needs to occur.
Much like a many-celled seed tray, placing many small pots into a tray and sowing seeds in them can also be a good way to grow individual wild buckwheat plants without crowding. Any size small container can be used for this method. Do you have a lot of 4″ pots around from purchasing plants from nurseries or from veggie starts? Put them to use growing wild buckwheat!
Sow a few seeds per individual small container. The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit.
Pros: Small plants can be grown directly into a container that can then be transplanted directly into the ground or upsized into a larger container. Root damage and transplant shock are minimized.
Cons: More soil is needed upfront to germinate seeds in individual small containers. This method takes up more space for germinating seeds than seed trays.
Sowing Many Seeds in Single Containers
This method uses a single container to grow many seedlings for transplanting. Any small to medium sized container will work. Seed is sprinkled onto the surface of the soil medium with the expectation that many seedlings will emerge within the single container. The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit. (Example: Use one KSNS packet of sulphur flower buckwheat seed per 1 gallon pot.)
Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed after seed germination. Transplanting involves “pricking out” the seedlings after loosening the soil medium around them. This method works well for wild buckwheat species because they have fibrous root systems that are easy to transplant.
Pros: Sowing many seeds into single containers and “pricking out” transplants saves space in the nursery and is less work up front. Many plants can be grown from seed originally sown into only a single container.
Cons: If seed is sown too thickly, dense seedlings can be susceptible to “damping off” and other diseases. Transplanting and “pricking out” can be laborious and time intensive.
Utilizing seed flats is similar to sowing seeds into individual containers, however, flats are generally larger and more shallow. Seed is sprinkled onto the surface of the soil medium with the expectation that many seedlings will emerge within the seed flat. The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit.
Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed. Transplanting involves “pricking out” the seedlings after loosening the soil medium around them in the seed flat. This method works well for species like sulphur flower buckwheat.
Pros: Sowing many seeds into seed flats and “pricking out” transplants saves space in the nursery and is less work up front. Many plants can be grown from seed originally sown into a single seed flat.
Cons: If seed is sown too thickly dense seedlings can be susceptible to “damping off” and other diseases. Transplanting and “pricking out” can be laborious and time intensive.
People that buy vegetable starts in the spring end up with a lot of extra pony packs that can then be reused to grow native plants, including sulphur flower buckwheat.
In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into individual cells within the pony pack. If several seedlings emerge within a single cell they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and/or thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per cell ensures at least one seed germinates in each cell.
Seeds should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit.
Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed.
Pros: Each plug from a pony pack can be easily removed individually and transplanted into a larger container. Damage to roots is unlikely during transplanting if done with care.
Cons: Pony packs are shallow and require that seedlings be upsized soon after they are ready in order to prevent root damage and/or deformation.
Most home nurseries don’t have tubes on hand, however, if you find yourself with tubes you’ve bought from other nurseries, or were given tubes by someone to reuse, they are a great way to grow sulphur flower buckwheat. Many commercial and agency nurseries use tubes for growing wild buckwheats because they can get a deep root system while using less space in the nursery.
In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into individual tubes. If several seedlings emerge within a single tube they can all be retained for a fuller tube, or they can be cut and/or thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per tube ensures at least one seed germinates in each tube.
Seeds should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit.
Pros: Great for deeper root growth of wild buckwheat seedlings. Individual plants can be grown in each tube, which can then be easily planted in the ground or transplanted into a larger container when ready. Damage to roots is unlikely during transplanting if done with care.
Cons: Tubes require special trays to hold them, which can take up a lot of space in the nursery. Tubes and their trays can be expensive to purchase brand new. Tube trays are difficult to recycle and create a lot more plastic in the nursery.
Ellepots and Jiffypots
Ellepots and Jiffypots are examples of premade miniplugs or small-volume, mostly biodegradable containers that you can purchase for starting seeds. Products like these have fully or mostly biodegradable wrappers and the entire plug can be transplanted, eliminating transplant shock and preserving healthy root structure. Take note that not all products like these are eco-friendly. Jiffy pellets (a type of Jiffy pot) have nylon mesh that is “photodegradable,” (will degrade when exposed to sunlight) that can break down in several years, but it is still a plastic product.
In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into Ellepots or Jiffypots. If several seedlings emerge within a single pot they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and/or thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per ellepot/jiffypot ensures at least one seed germinates in each pot.
Seeds should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or nursery grit.
Pros: Ellepots and Jiffypots come premade and are easy to work with. After roots fill out the pots the entire pot can be transplanted without transplant shock.
Cons: Special trays may be required to hold Ellepots or Jiffypots, and the product is expensive and needs to be shipped to you unless you can purchase them at a local nursery supply store. This method isn’t for everyone and a small trial run should be made before investing heavily in Ellepots or Jiffypots for growing wild buckwheat from seed. Also, make sure the soil mix is right for the species you will be growing. Jiffy pellets are primarily composed of peat moss, which may be too acidic for growing wild buckwheats.
Direct Sowing Sulphur Flower Buckwheat Seeds
Sulphur flower buckwheat seeds can be sown via direct sowing. Direct sowing is the process of sowing seeds directly at the site where you wish to grow the plants.
The photo at the left shows various wild buckwheat species grown from directly sown seeds in a KSNS native seeding project, including sulphur flower buckwheat. You can see the darker, sulphur-yellow-colored flowers of suphur flower buckwheat near the center of the photo. This photo was taken three summers after seed sowing.
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has also worked on a large native seeding and planting project at Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley in southwest Oregon that will eventually be a demonstration garden, complete with paths, plant signs and interpretive signs. Out of the nearly 100 species included in the project, the majority of species were established through direct seed sowing, including a patch of sulphur flower buckwheat that has established very well via direct sowing this first year of growth. Next summer we will have more photos and documentation of this successful project!
In order to successfully grow sulphur flower buckwheat through direct sowing of seed, you must first prepare the site, or choose a site with minimal competition from existing vegetation. If sowing seed in a small area, place seed in a small container, or empty the contents of a seed packet into the palm of your hand, and scatter the seed by hand onto the soil surface. Sow a little seed in one direction and then switch directions and sow seed in the opposite direction in order to get better coverage. Only scatter a little seed at a time. After sowing the seed use a rake or your hand to lightly rake the seed into the soil, just so the seed is barely covered by soil. Contact with soil is important for seed germination. It helps the seed stay moist and limits predation by birds and small mammals. Burying seed too deeply in the soil will prevent seed germination. Only a light layer of soil, sifted potting soil or grit is needed to cover the seeds. After sowing, water the seeds into the soil using a watering can or watering hose with a water breaker. It is always nice to time your direct seed sowing for just before predicted rain so you can let a natural rain show water the seeds in.
*Fun Fact* — The spelling of the word sulphur with a ‘ph’ rather than an ‘f’, as in sulfur, is simply the distinction between Oxford English spelling and American English. For more information you can read about the switch from using the spelling sulphur to sulfur in this Nature Chemistry article. The historic spelling of the common name, sulphur flower buckwheat, will probably remain and is an interesting example of how language and spelling evolves over time.
We currently have 30 seed packets of Sulphur flower buckwheat available for purchase through our online shopping cart, with more on the way. Just click on the Buy now button below.
Silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons) is back in stock after being sold out for a couple of months. Silver lupine is one of our best selling seed packets, and each year we try to collect enough seed to meet the high demand. We now have 30 seed packets available and more are on the way as we continue cleaning and packaging the seed we have collected this summer. We get enough requests for silver lupine seed packets that having it back in stock is worth a blog post of its own.
One of our favorite plants due to its beauty and rugged character, silver lupine is a go-to plant for drought-tolerant native gardens, xeriscape native landscaping, or dry-site habitat restoration projects. For a small amount of work required to establish this plant, you can receive knockout blue, purple, to violet blooms! Silver lupine blooms in late spring in the Klamath-Siskiyou region. The attractive, evergreen, silver leaves are lovely year-round and the plant generally grows 2-3′ tall. It is also tolerant of soil with low fertility. There’s no need to amend your soil to grow this plant, as this plant is a soil builder! Silver lupine is a nitrogen fixing plant, pulling nitrogen out of the air and fixing it into the soil.
Silver bush lupine requires no summer water after its established, but can handle occasional watering. Too much water may cause root rot and a shorter lifespan. It generally doesn’t like to be pruned. It does not sprout back from the root after fire or cutting back, and it relies solely on seed for propagation.
Silver lupine is not a long-lived species. It generally doesn’t live over ten years. Growing multiple plants will aid cross-pollination and better seed set. When multiple plants are grown together, this species can be a prolific seed producer. Just let the seedlings grow and you will have continuous generations of self-seeded silver lupine. You can also collect the seed and sow the seed where you want the plant to grow in future years.
In the wild silver lupine is found on dry, rocky, sunbaked slopes, chaparral, open grassland, dry meadows, sandy or cobbly streambanks, ridges, and openings in oak woodland and coniferous forest. It can be found as a solitary plant, or in large populations, and is native to Oregon and California.
Silver lupine is a pollinator magnet when it is in full bloom. It is very attractive to bees, especially bumble bees. It is also a larval host plant for some butterflies.
Although deer may nibble on silver lupine at times, we would consider it a very deer resistant plant overall. Deer resistant, drought tolerant, and beautiful — what’s not to love?
Seed Germination & Plant Propagation
No seed pretreatment is required to grow silver lupine. You can simply sow the seed outside in fall to early spring. However, seed germination can be uneven — some seeds will germinate right away, and other seeds may take some time to germinate, germinating at different times. To encourage more even seed germination you can soak the seed overnight in hot (not boiling) water before sowing the seed. This helps break down the seed coat for more even seed germination.
Direct Seeding: Direct seeding silver lupine where you want it to grow is the most reliable method of propagation. The seed germinates well, even without irrigation in years that we have moist spring weather; however, if we have dry spring weather, some occasional water may help the seedlings grow.
Container Growing: Silver lupine can be easy to grow in the nursery setting too, and plant starts tend to grow well initially, but these drought tolerant plants are prone to root rot in nursery containers. The best success is achieved by using well drained potting soil and by transplanting your seedlings in the spring or fall in the first year of growth, as they can be difficult to overwinter in containers. Nursery methods and containers that encourage well drained plants and air pruning will help seedling survival.
You can purchase silver lupine seed packets at the link below.
The two species of native tobacco seeds we offer are some of the few species we don’t wildcraft because they are hard to find in the wild. Our tobacco seed is grown agriculturally and this is the time of year we are collecting tobacco seed, observing the plants and their many pollinators, and thinking about the ecological and cultural significance of these beautiful species.
In 2018, Luke and I began work on a native planting and seeding project at a private fishing retreat on the Klamath River. In preparation for planting near some of the structures compost was tilled into the sandy riverbank soil. In the spring as our native plantings began to grow so too did hundreds of native tobacco plants! We hadn’t seeded or planted the tobacco, it had germinated from seed long-stored in the native soil seed bank, just waiting for the right conditions and disturbance to germinate. Both native tobaccos that grow in the Klamath-Siskiyou region germinated: coyote tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) and Indian tobacco (Nicotiana quadrivalvis). With the compost and irrigation for the native planting establishment, the tobaccos got huge that year. In the years since tobacco plants still germinate here and there, but nothing like that first year following light tilling.
For millennia native tobacco has grown wild and was grown agriculturally by Native American tribes along the Klamath River and throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou region. Tribal communities have long used burning techniques to aid the germination of tobacco seed. Plots of tobacco are grown for both smoking and ceremonial purposes. The location where our native planting project is located is at a major confluence on the Klamath River and was certainly an historic village site where tobacco was tended. Additionally, tobacco germination also occurs following wildfire and flooding along the Klamath River when natural soil disturbance takes place.
We had been growing native tobacco for 20+ years but our original seed sources were from outside the Klamath-Siskiyou region further south in California. After getting a good quantity of native tobacco seed at our planting project along the Klamath River we have been able to transition slowly to exclusively growing tobacco strains that originate from the Klamath River and have long been cultivated and adapted to the Klamath-Siskiyou region.
Native tobacco species in the Klamath-Siskiyou
Coyote tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) is a highly revered plant to many Native American tribes in the Western U.S., where it has long been cultivated for ceremonial and medicinal use. Like other tobaccos, our native coyote tobacco also contains nicotine and has been smoked ceremonially for thousands of years. Coyote tobacco is an annual herb, typically growing 1-5′ depending on growing conditions and location. In the garden setting with summer irrigation, coyote tobacco can grow in excess of 5′ tall. The white, five-lobed, tubular flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, sphinx moths, and native bees, especially carpenter bees that chew holes at the base of the tube to get to the nectar. This species blooms from May to October, depending on water availability and soil conditions. The leaves are long and narrow and the foliage is hairy and somewhat glandular. Coyote tobacco grows in full sun in dry locations, well-drained slopes, along cobbly or sandy floodplains, in rocky washes, and in post-fire habitat. Wildfire can trigger seed germination. Coyote tobacco is a larval host plant for hawkmoths, which are also one of its pollinators. When hawkmoth caterpillars start to damage the plant, coyote tobacco can switch from blooming at night to blooming in the morning in order to attract hummingbirds and bees as pollinators instead of hawkmoths.
Indian tobacco (Nicotiana quadrivalvis) is also a highly revered plant to many Native American tribes in the Western U.S., where it has also long been cultivated for ceremonial and medicinal use. Individual family plots of Indian tobacco were seeded and tended with weeding and soil building techniques. Lewis and Clark documented the detailed farming practices of Indian tobacco during their expedition. Indian tobacco seeds were and still are traded far and wide throughout tribal networks. Like other tobaccos, native Indian tobacco also contains nicotine and has been smoked ceremonially for thousands of years. Indian tobacco is a bushy annual herb that grows in many habitat types, including sunny, open slopes and along well-drained, cobbly or sandy floodplains and washes. It also likes disturbed and post-fire habitat. Indian tobacco typically grows 1-4′ depending on water availability and soil conditions. The foliage is hairy and somewhat glandular. The tubular flowers are generally white, but can be tinged with green or purple. The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, bees, sphinx moths and more.
Calflora recognizes only one variety of Nicotiana quadrivalvis in California: Nicotiana quadrivalvis var. wallacei. OregonFlora doesn’t currently recognize any varieties of this species. Nicotiana quadrivalvis in California does have variation in growth, however, and in some areas the plants grow smaller and bushier (Sierra foothills & Central California), and in other areas the plants are taller and grow more erect (north of San Francisco). Neither Calflora nor OregonFlora recognize any varieties of Nicotiana attenuata. California has a couple other native species of tobacco that don’t grow in the Klamath-Siskiyou region.
For an historic look at anthropological studies of native tobacco in the United States, this article, Aboriginal Tobaccos written in 1921 for American Anthropologist, a publication of the University of California, Berkley, by William Albert Setchell, not only dives into the understanding of the different species at that time, but also different methods for growing tobacco.
A more modern book from 2000, Tobacco Use By Native North Americans, edited by Joseph C. Winter, University of Oklahoma Press, also has great, detailed information about the different native species of tobacco in North America, as well as uses and cultivation practices.
Native Tobacco: Nectar Robbers and Outwitting Hawkmoths
Native tobacco is great for pollinators. Many species are attracted to the trumpet shaped flowers: bees, moths, hummingbirds and more. Our observations have shown that in our area carpenter bees are the primary pollinator, at least during daylight hours when we observe the flowers; however, carpenter bees are “nectar robbers” on native tobacco and may not pollinate the flowers during every visit. Nectar robbers create slits near the base of the flower to access floral nectaries, circumventing the usual plant-pollinator relationship and “cheating” by entering the flower from the outside to steal nectar and avoiding pollination or contact with the anthers.
In some areas hawkmoths are the main pollinator. Some interesting research has been done regarding the relationship between hawkmoths and coyote tobacco. One study showed that coyote tobacco moves its flowers during the day in order to maximize the ability of hawkmoths to pollinate their flowers.
“Additionally, N. attenuata flowers move vertically during the day − flowers face downward during the midday and upward during the night. N. attenuata flowers adjust their upward or downward orientations in synchrony with the active periods of their main pollinators.”
“Clearly, hawkmoths provide superior pollination services when flowers are at 45° and deliver more pollen to the stigma when flowers are oriented at 45° compared to 0° with respect to the horizontal.”
Fitness consequences of altering floral circadian oscillations for Nicotiana attenuata Felipe Yon, Danny Kessler, Youngsung Joo, Lucas Cortés Llorca, Sang-Gyu Kim, Ian T. Baldwin First published: 13 December 2016 https://doi.org/10.1111/jipb.12511
Coyote tobacco can also change the time of flowering and the shape of its flowers in response to foliage damage from hawkmoth caterpillars, resulting in an advantage for hummingbirds to be their main pollinator. Tobacco plants have essentially outwitted hawkmoths.
“Normally, the tobacco plant is pollinated by hawkmoths that visits its flowers every night. But when these hawkmoths leave eggs behind that develop into leaf-chomping caterpillars, the plant’s self-defense snaps into place and switches to flowering in the day. That attracts a different pollinator, the hummingbird. Ecologist Danny Kessler noticed this change when he was trying to get a picture of the plant being pollinated for a study. He saw that the plant was not just flowering in the day but also that they had changed their flowers to make them more attractive to hummingbirds: they emitted less of a chemical that attracts moths; they had less sugar in the nectar, which is the way hummingbirds prefer it; and they were more tube-shaped, making them friendly to a hummingbird’s long, thin beak.”
Growing Instructions for Native Tobacco for Gardens
Native tobacco is easy to grow from seed. The seed doesn’t have any pretreatment requirements and can simply be started outside or in a greenhouse in the spring. Our property is at 2,200′ in the Siskiyou Mountains, and we usually start our seeds in March in a greenhouse. Once the starts are rooted and have numerous sets of leaves the plants can be out-planted in well-drained, fertile soil in the garden. Although the plants are drought tolerant, some summer irrigation will help the plants grow larger and produce better leaves and seed. If too much water is given the plants can fall over from their own weight. Pruning and pinching flowers will produce larger leaves.
Growing native tobacco from seed in burn areas
One of our favorite ways to grow native plants on our own property is by seeding into burn pile ash after doing fuels reduction or other cleanup work around our forested homestead. Once the burn pile cools down we sow seeds into the ash in fall to winter. The burn pile clears the area of competing vegetation and creates a nice mineral ash layer that many species prefer, especially fire-followers like native tobacco. The photos above show a small burn pile area that was burned in late fall 2020. Native tobacco seed was included in the native seed mix, along with native bunchgrasses and other wildflowers. Due to the drought conditions, some occasional water has been given to the area to help the plants establish and grow. Despite a little nipping from our local deer, the tobacco has grown well and has just started to flower, opening in the early evenings to the delight of carpenter bees, clearwing moths, hawkmoths, and other pollinators.
Coyote tobacco rises from the ashes of the Almeda Fire
Last September when the Almeda Fire burned through urban towns in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon during an historic wind event that fueled wildfires throughout Oregon and northern California, Luke’s mom lost her home in the small town of Talent. Although there was a tragic loss of homes and lives during the Almeda Fire, and the traumatic event will forever be part of our family as we continue to support my mother-in-law as she rebuilds her life, we were heartened to find coyote tobacco growing at the site of her burned-out home. For years she had grown native coyote tobacco from plant starts we had given her for her small garden. The seeds survived the tremendous heat of the Almeda Fire that was so hot it turned glass and metal into unidentifiable molten masses. From the ashes of the Almeda Fire grew native tobacco that flowered in the devastated landscape of burned homes. There are lessons to be learned from the tenacity of native tobacco that flourishes after fire.
Tending the Wild
Excerpts from Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson
Cultivating Tobacco Patches
“California’s native tobaccos, both Nicotiana attenuata and Nicotiana quadrivalvis were widely used by tribes in rituals, as offerings, and medicinally to heal cuts and as an emetic. Burning, pruning, and sowing of areas of native tobacco were common practices throughout California, and there is evidence that in some ares the care of tobacco patches approached a level resembling that of agriculture.
The Western Mono loosened the earth around favored tobacco plants with digging sticks when it became dry and carried water to soften it. The tips of the plants were pinched off to encourage the growth of big leaves. The Ethnobotanist Maurice Zigmond described the leaf pruning process among the Kawaiisu: “It was relatively late in the summer when the women embarked upon a series of prunings of the individual tobacco plants [Nicotiana quadrivalvis] and may also have done some weeding at the same time. There were three prunings a week apart as leaves were approaching maturity. On each occasion the small, weak leaves, the new growth at the junctures of the large leaves and stalks, and the flowering tops were broken off. After the third pruning there were left only the large healthy leaves on the stems. About five days after the last pruning, when these leaves were picked off, only the bare stems remained.” Zigmond noted further that “sometimes the ground about the plants was burned to make them grow better.”
Enhancing tobacco growth was one of the most consistently recorded reason for indigenous burning in California. For example, Driver recorded that the Western Mono, Foothill Yokuts, Panamint, Kawaiisu, Tubatulabal, and Owens Valley Paiute all pruned tobacco to increase leaf size and burned over the fields where the tobacco grew. Omer Stewart recorded burning by the Pit River (Achumawi): “When the grasslands, with their weeds and herbs, dried in the late fall they were set on fire nearly every year, because the Achumawi recognized that burned-over plots produced tobacco and wild seeds more abundantly than the areas not burned.”
Not only were tobacco plants pruned and the areas in which they grew burned, but seeds of tobacco were sown. The Sierra Miwok understood the environmental conditions required by native tobacco, so they sowed seeds on north-facing slopes. The Yurok cultivated tobacco in the following manner: “[After] selecting a proper place, pile brush over the ground and then burn it, which would leave the ground with a loose layer of wood ashes. Over this, while the ashes were yet dry and loose, they would sow the seed and protect the crop by putting around it a brush fence. From year to year they would select from the best stalks, seed for the next year, and at times to hold the seed for a number of years if necessary, for if kept properly it will grow after being kept for a long time.”
Burning off shrublands to plant tobacco seeds was common among various tribes:
Tobacco grown [by the Tolowa]; burned off clump of brush, planted seed, covered with aromatic leaves, fir boughs, etc., to impart good flavor; patch sheltered by brush windbreak, to prevent wind from blowing away strength of leaves.
Tobacco was cultivated [by the Shasta]; every spring after burning logs and brush, wild tobacco was planted. There was a tobacco garden at Butler Flat and others elsewhere.
Where logs have been burned the best ones grow. They [the Karuk never sow it [tobacco] in an open place. Upslope under the trees is where they sow it….And where they are going to sow tobacco, too, they burn it too….It is in summer when they set fire to the brush, at the time when everything is dry, that is the time that is good to set fire, in the fall before it starts in to rain.
Patches of tobacco growing on open shrublands and in forests were unique habitats ecologically. Today they are no longer present; instead, only a few scattered plants of native tobacco can be found.” (pages 173-174)
From early accounts of tobacco planting, we know that many tribes gathered leaves in ways that ensured the plant would produce seed. For instance, the Maidu would pinch off the leaves, to use for smoking in stone pipes, and leave “the stalk to mature” so that “the seeds from it” could be “replanted the next year.” (page 272)
Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson, 2005, University of California Press
Are you enjoying the gorgeous spring wildflowers in bloom right now? Do you want to grow and enjoy wildflowers in your own yard or for a native planting project you are developing? Now is the time to plan for fall planting and seeding in order to achieve native seed germination next spring!
When it comes to native seeds, in general, it is best to sow seeds in the fall. By preparing a project site this spring and summer, you will be ready when the time comes!
Whether you have a small, backyard garden plot where you want to sow native seeds, or a larger field or project site, the following site preparation information fact sheets from The Xerces Society provide solid information to help you get started.
These fact sheets provide information about various site preparation methods. Different methods are appropriate for different sites and projects, so choose the method that fits the needs of your specific project. From solarization, sheet mulching, smother cropping, organic herbicides and sod removal, these fact sheets will help you consider various site preparation options and get started on preparing an area for fall seed sowing.
Weed control is generally the largest barrier to native seed establishment and seedling growth. Act now, during spring and summer, to prepare your site for fall native seed sowing. No matter the size of the project area, site preparation ahead of time can make a huge difference in the success of your project.
Although our favorite methods for establishing native seed on rural properties in the Klamath-Siskiyou region is to seed into burn pile scars or areas burned using prescribed fire or propane torch methods, once spring arrives and fire danger is in full effect, other site preparation methods need to be pursued. Many people also can’t safely use fire for site preparation, no matter the time of year, so these Xerces Society fact sheets are great!
We’ve added a new species to our seed packet inventory!
Western wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) is a biennial to short lived perennial wildflower with knockout, four-petaled, bright yellow to deep orange flower clusters borne at the top of an erect stem that grows from a basal rosette. Western wallflower is in the mustard (Brassicaceae) family and grows throughout the United States, but mainly in the West. It is also referred to by the common name, Sanddune wallflower, due to its preference for well drained, rocky or sandy soil throughout its range.
Although it has a preference for well drained soil, it grows in a wide variety of habitat types, from sea level to high elevations, which leads to variability in appearance.
Western wallflower blooms in spring to early summer, depending on elevation. In bloom it will grow between 1-2′ tall. It has tubular, upright seed capsules that burst open and spread seed as they dry out.
Western wallflower is attractive to pollinating species such as bees and butterflies, and is a larval host plant for numerous butterflies, including Sara orangetips and others.
Western wallflower will grow best in part-shade to full sun, with well drained, rocky or sandy soil. It grows well in medium-dry garden conditions. It can grow as a single stemmed or multistemmed plant. If pinched when first bolting to flower, it can produce more flowering stems.
It is an especially prolific bloomer 2-3 years following wildfire. Wildfire not only helps trigger seed germination, but it also clears out vegetation and increases available nutrients in the soil, allowing for more sunlight and nutrients for larger, more robust plants.
Unlike humans that may be called “wallflowers” because they are shy or unassuming, Western wallflower can be quite showy. From our research, the use of the term “wallflower” for shy people comes from the European relatives of Western wallflower that have a propensity to grow out of cracks in walls or rocky paths. Western wallflower is anything but shy!
Seed Germination Instructions
No pre-treatement necessary. Sow seeds outside in fall to early spring.
Western wallflower grows in a wide variety of habitat types. From low-elevation river washes, canyons, oak woodland, and chaparral, to mid-elevation mixed conifer forests, to high elevation rocky ridges and subalpine meadows.
If you love the world-class biodiversity of the Siskiyou Mountains, you’ll love southern Oregon artist, Deb Van Poolen’s, newest biodiversity-focused poster, “Plant Diversity in the Siskiyou Mountains.” Featuring rare, endemic, and special plants of the region, the poster includes twenty plant species that inhabit the subalpine region of the Siskiyou Mountains.
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds proudly sponsored Deb’s exquisite work, and we support her efforts to bring biodiversity to life through art. Check out Deb’s other amazing posters as well, and support art that supports biodiversity!
“Deb’s posters focus on the region where the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges meet in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Renowned as a world-class hotspot of biodiversity, this area teems with life. The posters for sale are beautiful pieces of art, plus rich in educational and scientific information.”