Each year we start collecting seeds in May and usually wind down at the end of October, or in some years into November, depending on fall weather. That means that we are collecting seeds for half the year, every year! We start in the low country and work up in elevation as seeds ripen in the high country, but even at low elevations there are late-blooming species that ripen late in the summer or early fall. Right now is probably the peak of seed collection, as both low elevation and high elevation species are on!
Each year the timing of seed ripening for specific species changes a little. This year we had a wet, cool early start to summer and native seeds have matured a little later in the low country, but have been pretty similar to the average seed collection times in higher elevation areas. We keep detailed seed collection data on the location and date of when and where we collect our seeds to make future seed collection trips more successful and to help us hit the right time to collect seeds.
We have been busy in the field this summer and haven’t had time to do much writing or computer oriented tasks — of course, we’re still getting your seed orders shipped! — as we work hard, drive and hike far out in the backcountry, and collect seeds, often on steep terrain and off-trail, in the heat of summer, to bring you the seeds you need to meet your native seeding and planting goals.
Each year we are excited to offer a few new species to our growing list of diverse native plants seeds, from a wide variety of habitat types, and this year is no different! We’ll have some new, exciting species this year, as well restocked availability for popular species that have been out of stock for a while.
Be patient with us as we get our inventory updated as we are also busy cleaning and packaging seeds! Our trusty Dybvig and Clipper seed cleaning machines have been working away, helping us clean our seeds for packaging. Cleaning seeds is time and labor intensive, but also enjoyable! You really get to know a plant when you clean its seed and look at the seed in detail, observing all the parts that make it particularly adapted to its natural environment.
We have seed collection contracts to fulfill, and waiting/notification lists to contact with updated inventory information. If we are lucky to have found seed for the species you’ve been waiting for this summer, we’ll let you know when we have it ready! Otherwise, just peruse our SHOP page and see what’s available and start dreaming up your fall seeding and planting plans now! August is the perfect time to start planing for fall seeding!
Special thanks goes to Troon Vineyard for having the vision to support the creation of a Native Plant and Pollinator Botanical Garden on their property as part of their Biodynamic and regenerative agriculture goals. You can visit the botanical garden during tasting hours at Troon Vineyard! Feel free to pop in and check it out, and watch the garden develop as it matures, as this is only year two of this exiting project, established mostly by direct seeding of native seeds from Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds.
A few scattered showers brought some gorgeous rainbows that accented the garden for the start of the tour!
The Siskiyou Crest is a rugged, remote and spectacularly diverse mountain range straddling the border of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon. Little known, but incredibly wild and beautiful, the Siskiyou Crest is the only mountain range in the Pacific Northwest running east to west, connecting the volcanic Cascade Mountains to the Coast Range.
This vital habitat connectivity corridor extends from the sagebrush clearings and quaking aspen groves near Mount Ashland, to the fog drenched redwoods of the Smith River. From sagebrush to sea, the Siskiyou Crest is the axis for biodiversity on the West Coast and home to some of the most diverse conifer forests in the world.
In June 2019, partners Luke Ruediger and Suzie Savoie, co-owners of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, hiked nearly 200 miles through the wildlands of the Siskiyou Crest, starting on the Pacific Crest Trail at Interstate 5 near Siskiyou Summit on the western edge of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument above Ashland, Oregon, and ending 10 days later on the shores of the Pacific Ocean south of Crescent City, California. The journey traversed the beautiful Applegate River watershed, the headwaters of the Illinois River, the Smith River and many, many miles of the rugged Klamath River watershed.
We hope to bring you along on this visual journey across this wild and largely unknown region, through old-growth forests, lush mountain meadows, colorful rock gardens, and across the long, rugged spine of the Siskiyou Crest.
Although it’s taken us two years to put this video presentation together, it has been a labor of love, and has allowed us to share this journey with others who may never get to see it themselves, and deepen the understanding of the importance of the region.
Our route through the heart of the Siskiyous traversed two states, Oregon and California, five counties, two wilderness areas, three National Forests, including the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Klamath National Forest, and the Six Rivers National Forest, as well as the Smith River National Recreation Area and Redwood National Park.
With a portable solar panel for charging our phones and cameras for filming our journey we hiked through long hot days, cold, misty mornings, persistent summer downpours and windy afternoons in the high country, then dropped into a thick marine layer of fog to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Check out the film to learn more about the place we love and call home here at Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, and see gorgeous, eye-candy photos of the incredible botanical diversity of the region!
For more information you can check out the Sagebrush to Sea: A Journey Across the Siskiyou Crestweb page or facebook page.
Come learn about native plant ecology, native plant propagation and gardening at the Troon Vineyard Native Plant Botanical Garden tour! Donations for the tour, taken on site, will benefit Pollinator Project Rogue Valley and the Siskiyou Chapter Native Plant Society of Oregon.
In December 2020 Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds installed a half-acre native plant and pollinator botanical garden at Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley. To date, 94 species of native plants have been established in the garden, primarily from direct seeding, with some native planting from nursery plants.
With paths and plant signs to guide you through the botanical garden, and views out towards the Applegate foothills and Grayback Mountain, the Troon Native Plant Botanical Garden provides an easy and delightful place to learn about native plants, pollinators, and a demonstration about how to incorporate more native plants into the farm and vineyard setting.
Suzie Savoie of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds will walk tour participants through the paths of the botanical garden, providing detailed information for various species along the way, including:
Plant habitat in the wild
Plant propagation and establishment methods in the garden
Two separate tour times will accommodate up to 25 registered tour participants for each time slot.
Please bring personal items for a warm, sunny June day and an optional picnic lunch to pair with an optional wine tasting after the tour. The Troon Vineyard tasting room opens at 11am.
Troon staff are also available for farm-wide tours to see the rest of the Troon biodynamic farm and vineyard, after the Native Plant Botanical Garden tour. These 1-hour tours will start at 10:15 & 11:45.
Check out the new species we have in stock! Click on the links below for more information. Every year we add new species to our wide selection of native seed packets. We hope you enjoy these new additions we’ve added over the last month. We are thankful for the incredible, world-class botanical diversity of the Klamath-Siskiyou region that allows us to offer such a wonderful diversity of native plant seeds native to our region. Here at KSNS we are committed to helping to protect, conserve and restore native plant communities for the benefit of biodiversity and the enjoyment of future generations. As spring wildflowers start blooming across the region we look forward to another great seed collection season this summer to help increase the availability of native plant seeds for a wide range of wonderful projects and customers who care about native plants. Happy Spring!
If you live in southwest Oregon, please join us for this upcoming in-person presentation hosted by the Talent Garden Club! Suzie Savoie of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds will be covering a wide variety of drought tolerant native plants that will help your garden be more climate resilient.
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.