Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds (KSNS) has created a Seed Germination and Propagation Reference Guide to help you more easily and successfully germinate native seeds of plants native to the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion of southern Oregon and northern California.
These short protocols provide basic information for seed germination, including recommended cold-moist stratification, warm-moist stratification and heat treatment times, or if no pretreatment is necessary at all.
We also make recommendations for when to sow the seeds outside to achieve the best germination results; however, these recommendations are for the Klamath-Siskiyou region and climatic conditions in other regions may necessitate different seasonal sowing times. For regions that have less winter chill time (e.g. coastal regions), artificial cold-stratification may be essential for seed germination.
Western thistle (Cirsium occidentale) seed germinating in the fall in Eugene, OR. Photos by James H.
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!
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 this past fall. Our experience has been that this species needs 60-90 days of cold-moist stratification for seed germination, but perhaps because the seed was very fresh, or perhaps because Eugene has a more mild climate than the Siskiyou Mountains region where we germinate our native seeds, James achieved different results. We appreciated getting James’ feedback and photos!
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.
Those who are familiar with using cold-stratification for triggering native seed germination may enjoy trying other types of seed treatments. Experimentation with heat treatments for fire adapted species can be really interesting and fun, and can help deepen your understanding of plant and fire ecology.
There are many methods of heat treatment, including hot water, oven, and direct heat. Using an oven or hot water are some of the easiest heat treatment methods. For Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum), however, our experimentation has found that direct heat works the best to break down the tough seed coat.
Yerba Santa: The Holy Plant
Yerba Santa has a rugged beauty that’s hard to beat. The aromatic evergreen foliage of thick, leathery and resinous dark green leaves, combined with gorgeous white to lavender, trumpet-shaped flowers in late spring that are often adorned with bumble bees and other pollinators, is the perfect combination for a drought tolerant native planting project. Yerba Santa typically inhabits dry, sun-blasted slopes and ridges, often in rocky soil, but can be found in a variety of habitats, from disturbed sites, valley bottom grasslands, foothill chaparral and woodlands, to high elevation rocky ridgelines. It can grow from 2-6′ tall, depending on the location and growing conditions, and when mature it can spread by woody underground rhizomes and form clonal stands.
Yerba Santa is native to California and southern Oregon, where it is adapted to the Mediterranean climate and is a “fire-follower,” germinating readily by seed after wildfire events, and sprouting from underground rhizomes. Yerba Santa is an important medicinal plant with significant ethnobotanical uses. The name Yerba Santa means holy plant in Spanish. Many Native American tribes and modern herbalists have long-used various parts of the plant for a wide range of ailments.
Yerba Santa is currently classified in the Boraginaceae (Borage) family, and was formerly classified in the Hydrophyllaceae (Waterleaf family). It is deer resistant, drought tolerant, and is best grown in full sun in well drained soil.
We currently have a limited amount of seed packets available of Yerba Santa seeds, but we hope to expand our availability for this species in years to come.
Many people know and love Yerba Santa but have a hard time growing it from seed. The trick: heat! Using a metal pail and a handheld propane torch, a flash burn of Yerba Santa seeds has worked well for us for successful seed germination. We place uncleaned Yerba Santa seed in the metal pail and use the propane torch to light the material on fire for a quick, flash burn.
If needed, a small amount of wadded newspaper will help to ignite the material. Remember that this will get hot and can be dangerous. This heat treatment method should be conducted with safety in mind, and should only be used outdoors, away from combustible material and on a calm day with no wind, preferably during the rainy days of late fall or early winter when fire danger is at a minimum.
If you are unable or uncomfortable using direct heat to treat Yerba Santa seeds, alternatively, you can heat the seeds in an oven for 5 minutes at 190 °F, or scarify the seed coat by rubbing the seeds between two pieces of sandpaper to help break down the tough seed coat.
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!
Seed pot of Yerba Santa, grown from heat treated seed.
Yerba Santa seedlings ready for transplanting.
Transplanted Yerba Santa seedlings.
Seed Coat Dormancy
In general, there are two types of seed dormancy: seed coat dormancy and internal dormancy. Internal dormancy is most often overcome using cold stratification methods. Seeds with seed coat dormancy usually have a tough seed coat that is impermeable to oxygen and/or water, allowing the seed to stay dormant, sometimes for a very long time, until an external mechanism (e.g. fire, animal digestion, chemical reaction, etc.) cracks the seed coat and allows for oxygen and water to permeate the seed coat and trigger seed germination.
Using Charate for Fire Adapted Species
For some species, just adding charate (charred wood containing leachable chemicals) to the soil alone can stimulate seed germination. Heat treatment is a mechanical treatment that can crack the seed coat and allow for germination; whereas, using charate or liquid smoke is a chemical treatment. Chemical treatments mimic the signals fire adapted species get when plants on the soil surface have burned in a wildfire and open ground is available for seed germination success.
In other words, the chemicals from charate signal to the seeds: “Hey, there’s great post-fire conditions up on the soil surface for successful seed germination, growth, and plant establishment. You should germinate now while there’s room to grow and mineral rich ash to help you grow healthy and strong!”
If you want to experiment with using charate for a natural chemical treatment for fire adapted species, use the following method: Char small branches with a propane torch until blackened through — do not burn to ash — or use charred wood from a campfire or woodstove. Finely grind the charred wood to a powder. Mix the powder into your soil. If you don’t have the materials to grind the charred wood, soak it in water for 24-48 hours and use the extract to water the soil. Char wood only from species that don’t have allelopathic properties.
Using an Oven for Fire Adapted Species
Mimicking fire through the use of an oven can be used to heat seeds and open serotinous cones of species such as knobcone pine. Serotinous cones are sealed with a resin that must be melted for seed dispersal. This adaptation allows species to exploit the favorable conditions of the post-fire environment, and cones can remain sealed for over twenty years. Just place cones on a lined baking sheet and heat them briefly in the oven until they open.
For heat treatment of seeds in the oven, just place the seeds on a tray and place in the oven at the recommended temperature and for the recommended duration. You may need to do some research prior to heat treatment, to find the recommendations for the species you are treating. As mentioned above, for Yerba Santa seeds, the recommendation is to heat the seeds in an oven for 5 minutes at 190°F.
If the temperature recommended for heat treatment is between 180°- 200°F, it is possible that a hot water treatment of the same temperature and for the same duration would give comparable results.
Using Hot Water for Fire Adapted Species
In general, when using hot water for fire adapted species, bring water to a boil, take the water off the flame, immerse the seed in the hot (not boiling) water, and let the seeds soak overnight.
More specifically, seeds should be placed in about six times their volume of water that is between 180°- 200°F. They should be left to cool and soak in the water for 12 to 24 hours, after which they are ready for sowing. The seeds should be sown promptly.
Although many species germinate readily after hot water treatment, we haven’t found this method successful for Yerba Santa seeds. Perhaps they need to be boiled for a short time for this method to work, instead of just placed in hot water, but we found a method that works for us — direct heat using a propane torch as described above — so we stopped experimenting with hot water treatment for Yerba Santa. We do use hot water treatments regularly for other species, however, with great success!
Small batches of larger sized seeds can be scarified by hand, using a file or knife to make a nick or slice in the seed coat, or by using a rock tumbler to allow for the penetration of oxygen and water through the tough seed coat. Some care must be taken to avoid injuring the interior radicle of the seed. Smaller seeds can be rubbed between sandpaper. Yerba Santa has smaller seeds, so the best way to scarify the seed would be with sandpaper.
2021 New Year’s Resolution: Experiment with Heat Treatment!
Whether you’re germinating Yerba Santa seed or seed of other fire adapted species, the treatments mentioned above will help you start experimenting. Make a New Year’s resolution to try one type of treatment for a fire adapted species in 2021! Seed treatments are like food recipes, there can be many different methods to achieve similar results, and experimentation is the key! And like food recipes, once you get the hang of a new trick, it becomes second nature.
Many of the plants we know and love in the West are not only adapted to wildfire, but they need periodic wildfire to reproduce and/or thrive. Whether their seed germination is stimulated by wildfire, prescribed fire, Indigenous burning, or seed germination methods such as those described in this blog post, understanding how fire adapted plant species reproduce is an important part of understanding native plant communities and conservation.
In 2016 Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds collected seven pounds of native seed under contract for a private land native seeding project on a ridge below Mt. Ashland near Ashland, OR. The site had recently been disturbed during hardscaping upgrades, creating the perfect opportunity to seed natives. All of the seed was hand collected in the Siskiyou Mountains, with a good portion collected right on the property in areas where intact habitat and abundant seed was available.
In the fall of 2016, seed from 58 species of native wildflowers and grasses were hydroseeded. Four years have passed since the project began, resulting in a vibrant and showy display of native wildflowers, and a drastic increase in pollinator species diversity, including a brand-new, large colony of digger bees that decided to move in next to the project this summer in order to take advantage of the abundant pollen and nectar resources. Over four years regular weeding and light watering has aided the seedling establishment and helped keep the area primarily native plants.
We created this video to document the success of the project and highlight how naturescaping with native plants can bring not only beauty to your property, but also an increase in native species diversity that provides important habitat for pollinators and wildlife.
Successful native seed projects benefit from at least a few years of monitoring, maintenance, nurturing and upkeep. The level of summer maintenance needed will vary depending on the location and site conditions of each individual project.
Some sites have much heavier competition from non-native or invasive species that can outcompete the native plants being grown from seed. Other sites may need some supplemental summer irrigation to help the native plants establish while they are young.
Monitoring the native seed project site through the summer can help identify any issues that may need to be addressed. Long-term monitoring and tending of the area will lead to a higher percentage of native plants, which will provide better habitat for pollinators and wildlife, as well as native edible and medicinal plants for people.
Using the example of one of our native seed projects at a private fishing retreat on the Klamath River, this blog post will discuss weeding, irrigation and monitoring for a successful native seed project. The project site was prepped and seeded in early fall 2018. The seed mix included 57 species of wildflowers and native grasses native to the local area.
Weeding invasive yellow star thistle and dyer’s woad out of a two-year-old KSNS native seed project site along the Klamath River in northern California.
Summer maintenance includes weeding to help knock back non-native and invasive plant species in order to give the native species a better chance to establish and grow. Keeping down the encroachment of non-native and invasive species within your seed project area is an important part of the long-term maintenance of the project; however, different projects may need to work harder to eliminate non-native species than others, depending on the desired outcomes, and available time to weed yourself and/or money to hire someone to weed for you.
Although you may not completely eliminate non-native and invasive species altogether, it is important to keep in mind that native plants, in general, support three times as many species of butterflies and moths as introduced plants, and overall, native plants support more native wildlife and birds as well. The higher percentage of native plants you can achieve in your native seed project area, the more optimal habitat for native pollinators and wildlife you will create, as well as the potential for an increase in native edible and medicinal plants for people.
Identification of small seedlings can be tricky sometimes. When weeding non-native and invasive plants out of a native seed project it is imperative that there is correct identification of the seedlings so native plants aren’t inadvertently ‘weeded’ out of the project area. Additionally, careful weeding is important, so that root disturbance to the nearby native plants is minimized while pulling out non-native and invasive plants.
The use of supplemental summer irrigation can help native plants grown from seed establish during the first year or two after seeding. Especially during drought years, like this year in the Klamath-Siskiyou region, young plants may succumb to drought stress and die. In nature this is just a part of natural cycles, but when a lot of time, labor and money has gone into a native seed project, the success of the project is important. Water is not available for every project site; however, if it is available, a little water can go a long way toward ensuring project success.
For projects that are using locally collected seed from drought tolerant species, regular irrigation is not necessary. In fact, some drought tolerant native plants can die from too much irrigation. You just need enough to help the drought tolerant plants establish.
In the Klamath-Siskiyou region on really dry, sun-baked sites, a deep water every 2-3 weeks may be helpful from late spring to late summer for the first 1-2 years, but for higher elevation sites, moister sites, or projects in part-shade, a deep water once a month may be all that’s needed to help the plants establish better.
Idaho gumweed (Grindelia nana) blooming during the summer of 2020 in our Klamath River project seeded in the fall of 2018. Idaho gumweed germinated readily and bloomed in the second summer.
Monitoring a native seed project is a visual assessment that tracks some the following aspects:
which species germinated well in the seed project area;
which species failed to germinate;
which annual species were able to flower and go to seed;
which perennial species put on growth or began to bloom;
what non-native or invasive species grew in the project area;
how many species in your seed mix did or didn’t survive the first year;
what insects, pollinators or wildlife used the plants in the project area;
Monitoring can just be a casual evaluation, or you can document the information in a file or spreadsheet for the future and implement more quantitative and detailed, long-term monitoring projects involving plots, transects and photo points. No matter how formal or informal your monitoring method, you can use the information gained to benefit your site or future project areas.
Learning, watching your plants grow, and observing their use by wildlife are the most rewarding parts of a native seed project. These rewards can be better appreciated if you monitor your site. Any form of monitoring, no matter how casual or formal, will help you learn from your project, refine your techniques and become a better land steward.
Annual ballhead gilia, and perennials, Indian paintbrush and barestem buckwheat blooming in the second summer of the project.
Elegant tarweed (Madia elegans) is an annual wildflower that blooms late in the summer, providing beneficial floral resources for pollinators at a crucial time. It has long been valued as a native food crop. Tarweed germinated some the first year of the project, but germinated even more and bloomed profusely in the second year.
Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) is a ‘workhorse species.’ It germinates readily, is drought tolerant and deer resistant. It also reseeds itself. Oregon sunshine bloomed in the second summer of the native seed project.
Whether you’re maintaining or ‘wild tending’ a large or small native seed project area, a little bit of work can make a big difference in successfully growing native plants from seed! Enjoy the results!
Due to a growing demand for native plant project consultation during the COVID-19 situation, Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds (KSNS) is now offering virtual consultations through Zoom or Facetime in order to accommodate social distancing options. Contact us for more information about our virtual consultations or to set up an appointment. We are still providing outside, on-site consultations as well, with social distancing measures in place. KSNS can provide consultation services for native planting projects and native seeding projects.
Listen to an interview with Suzie Savoie of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds in a new episode of the PolliNation Podcast – a pollinator health podcast. Interviewed by OSU’s Pollinator Health Extension Specialist, Andony Melathopoulos, also of the Oregon Bee Project, Suzie discusses growing native plants for the benefit of pollinators.
You can listen to the PolliNation Podcast or read the transcript by clicking on the link below.
“Southern Oregon has some of the most amazing pollinator species, in large part because of the unique native plant communities. In this episode we learn about the best spring blooming plants for pollinators and how to grow them.” -PolliNation Podcast
The photo gallery above features some of the native plant species mentioned in the PolliNation Podcast interview.
Following up on California Native Plant Week, yesterday marked the beginning of Oregon Native Plant Appreciation Week. These back to back weeks help celebrate the incredible native plants of California and Oregon, including the spectacular diversity in the Klamath-Siskiyou region.
Yesterday was the beginning of Oregon Native Plant Appreciation Week (April 26 – May 2)! This year’s Oregon Native Plant Appreciation Week poster includes myco-heterotrophic plants that are partly or entirely non-photosynthetic and obtain energy and nutrients from fungi. The Klamath-Siskiyou region is home to all three plants featured on the poster. Although you can’t easily grow myco-heterotrophic plants, there are many native plants that can be grown from seed.
Need some sunflowers to brighten up your day during COVID-19 stay at home orders? Want to grow a native yellow sunflower similar to the Desert sunflower featured on the California Native Plant Week poster? Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds offers seed for Bolander’s sunflower (annual), Deltoid balsamroot (perennial) and Narrowleaf mule’s ears (perennial) and Idaho gumweed (perennial). The Bolander’s sunflower can still be grown from seed this spring since it is an annual, but the balsamroot, mule’s ears and Idaho gumweed all have seeds that need to overwinter to achieve the cold-moist stratification requirements necessary for springtime seed germination.
Under stay at home orders there are still many ways to celebrate Native Plant Week:
Learn a new plant on a hike
Share wildflower photos on social media
Teach a child about the importance of native plants
Create art of or with native plants
Plant native plants for the benefit of native plant conservation, pollinators and wildlife!
Today, April 22, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! Caring for the environment and growing native plants for the benefit of birds, pollinators, and wildlife is a good way to honor Earth Day.
With the arrival of spring we are enjoying the amazing botanical diversity and wildflowers of the Klamath-Siskiyou region. This is an exciting time of year as native seeds that we have direct sown outside in the fall and winter have germinated and are starting to grow more quickly with the unusually sunny spring conditions we have been having. In celebration of Earth Day, and the height of the spring bloom it’s a good time to revisit a previous planting project to check on its process and the excellent habitat it is providing.
The photos above show a wildflower meadow restoration project in the fall of 2018 and then again just this spring near a home in the Siskiyou Mountains at around 2,000′ elevation. The area was originally seeded with only native bunchgrasses about 15 years ago, and over the last few years wildflower seeds from Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds have been sown within the native bunchgrasses to increase species richness and diversity. The wildflower seeds have been sown in the fall after maintenance burning with a propane torch and after fire season has ended. Burning back the thatch in the fall clears the area and prepares it for additional seed sowing to continually add appropriate species to the site, and increase some that are slower to establish.
Effective site preparation in the fall pays off in the spring as seeds germinate in areas that were well prepared for native seeding. Site preparation is key to successful seed germination. Read more about site preparation techniques in our November 30, 2018 blog post Site Prep Techniques for Native Seeding.
Spring is a good time start thinking of site preparation for fall seeding. Many project areas have intense weed competition that needs to be addressed before fall seeding can occur. We will be following up this blog post with one addressing springtime site preparation techniques.
Pacific hound’s tongue provides great habitat! Left photo: Hound’s tongue woolly bear or wild forget-me-not moth (Gnophaela latipennis) caterpillar on Pacific hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande) in spring 2020. Right photo: Hound’s tongue woolly bear or wild forget-me-not moth (Gnophaela latipennis) adult foraging on showy milkweed in the summer.
Now that the project area has matured it is supporting amazing biodiversity of both flora and fauna. The inclusion of abundant Pacific hounds’ tongue (Cynoglossum grande) attracts the Hound’s tongue woolly bear or wild forget-me-not moth, that uses the species as a larval host plant. Bumble bee queens of various species come out of hibernation happy to forage on Pacific hound’s tongue flowers. Early blooming species are critical for maintaining the lifecycle of many pollinators.
Below is a slide show of the seed project area in the fall of 2018 and then again in spring 2020. The area is on the edge of woodland and mixed conifer forest so there is abundant leaf litter and thatch. After propane torch burning in the fall the area is seeded with additional native seeds to annually increase species richness and diversity into the area. As an alternative to using a propane torch you can also rake an area free from leaf litter and thatch and seed into the opened area.
We hope you are enjoying your own native seed projects this Earth Day. Enjoy watching the seedlings grow and the wildflowers thrive, buzzing with pollinators and other wildlife. Grow Native — Grow Wild!
In this blog post we will discuss different species of lomatium, the benefit of lomatium for pollinators, how to grow lomatium, and the medicinal benefits of lomatium.
California lomatium (Lomatium californicum)
Lomatium is not typically grown in gardens or on a large scale for medicine or seed production, but there are many native plant enthusiasts, herbalists, habitat restoration practitioners, pollinator advocates and businesses that are trying to change that. It is a slow growing plant that can take several years to mature and set seed, or grow large enough to harvest plant material for medicinal use. Once established, however, growing lomatium is very rewarding. Although not showy in the traditional garden esthetic point of view, lomatium does have tremendous garden value because it is a larval host plant for butterfly species such as the anise swallowtail butterfly, and it is highly attractive to many pollinating and beneficial insects.
Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on Lomatium utriculatum (top left and center) Lomatium triternatum (top right) and Lomatium californicum (left).
Although we have commercial seed collection permits to collect seed on both BLM and Forest Service land, a large percentage of the lomatium seed we sell is grown on our own land. For 17 years we have been growing a wide variety of lomatium species on our 24 acres of land in the Siskiyou Mountains. Various species of lomatium already naturally grow on our land and we have used wild tending techniques (seeding, forest thinning, strategic fire use to invigorate lomatium stands, etc.), that have drastically increased the amount of lomatium on our land that we use for seed increase and seed sales, as well as for personal medicinal use. In order to keep as much of our land in its natural state as possible we prefer to grow native seeds using wild tending techniques rather than agricultural methods, however, we do grow lomatium in some previously tilled and gardened areas of our land, close to our home and structures, where we are restoring previous agricultural areas into meadow systems for native seed increase.
There are many good sources of information about lomatium species both in books and online. For brief, yet dense information we recommend the USDA-NRCS Plant Guides that are available for some lomatium species that cover the ecology and growing requirements.
The USDA-NRCS Plant Guide for Lomatium dissectum is a great source of information. It covers plant identification, habitat requirements, ecology, wildlife and pollinator use, propagation, growing conditions, as well as ethnobotanical use.
A few quotes from the Lomatium dissectum Plant Guide:
“Fernleaf biscuitroot, known as Toza by the Numic speaking tribes of the Great Basin, was commonly used for food, medicine, and ceremonial purposes (Meilleur et al., 1990). It is one of the most widely used plant species in native North American culture (Moerman, 1998).”
“Fernleaf biscuitroot is still popular as a natural herbal medicine, and has been shown to possess antiviral and antibiotic properties (McCutcheon et al., 1992; 1995).”
“In Pullman, Washington, best results were obtained when seed was sown into containers in the fall that were left outside to overwinter. Germination begins in March and growth continues for 3 to 4 months until the plants go dormant in late July or August. Containerized plants should be left outside in a lath house for an additional winter before transplanting the following spring. Flowering and seed production typically begins 3 years after transplanting (Skinner, 2004).”
Growing Lomatium from Seed
Like many native plants, the seed of most lomatium species that grow in the Klamath-Siskiyou region require 60-90 days cold-moist stratification in order to trigger springtime seed germination.
For personal use, the seed can be sown outside in late fall in seed trays and other nursery containers and allowed to overwinter outside with full exposure to winter conditions. The seedlings will typically germinate in March. If started in shallow seed starting trays the seedlings will need to be upsized into deeper containers for growing out over the summer.
Lomatium seeds can also be direct seeded outside in late fall. Weed and prepare a well-drained, unirrigated garden bed to sow the seeds in the garden setting. For direct seeding on land outside the garden setting, either rake the area to clear it of duff and thatch, or follow our Site Preparation Techniques for Native Seeding.
For many years Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has been growing lomatium from seed in our nursery and through direct seeding methods. Below are some photos from our nursery and our land.
Lomatium dissectum and Lomatium californicum grown from direct seeding
For further reading, this enjoyable blog post below is a good account of growing lomatium species in a medicinal herb garden in Seattle. The experience the author shares is valuable not only for growing lomatium, but for growing native plants from seed in general.
“When I start seeds of any of the six Lomatium species that I grow, I sow them in flats, water them sparingly and commit them to the refrigerator, encased in a plastic bag (otherwise the soil will completely dry out) for 90-120 days, then remove the bags and put them out in an unheated cold frame to face the oscillating temperatures of late winter to early spring. Usually they will have already begun to germinate in the refrigerator. It has worked for me; that’s all I can say. Once they’re up and have some true leaves I transplant to tubes so their taproots have room to grow and they get plenty of drainage, or, if I have room, I plant the seeds directly into tubes, definitely the best option.”
“This is the species [Lomatium dissectum] usually found in herbal tinctures. Though it is considered a powerful antiviral, antibacterial medicine plant, there has been surprisingly little published on it by medical researchers in the USA. If Lomatium were from Eurasia, I suspect much more medical testing/clinical trials would have been done on it by now.”
Growing Lomatium on a Large Scale
Lomatium is beginning to be grown more on a larger scale for medicinal plant material and seed increase fields for habitat restoration and commercial seed production.
The American Society for Horticultural Science has published a paper with detailed research about growing Fernleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) for commercial seed production.
Although most people don’t grow lomatium at this scale, it is helpful information even for backyard gardeners. The more lomatium can be grown from seed, the less pressure there is on wild populations from overharvesting for medicinal use.
Below is a select list of resources that address the ethnobotanical and modern use of lomatium for medicinal use.
We recommend the book, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, by the great herbalist, Michael Moore. There is a section on Lomatium dissectum in Moore’s book where he says that lomatium’s “main value is for respiratory virus infections,” but we also wanted to share the following quotes:
“Lomatium has been used for centuries as a medicine by Native Americans who live in the Great Basin; it was used by many Mormon settlers in Utah and Nevada, and it was known by Oregon pioneers. They all used it for lung problems, bad fevers and pneumonia, and there are many references to its value for persistent winter fevers.”
“Lomatium definitely helps simple head colds and shortens the duration of overt influenza viral infections.” (Moore, p. 170)
Coronavirus Scare: 5 Tips to Help Ward Off and Manage a Viral Illness With Herbs
“Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) root is a potent and effective antiviral that is warming and drying in part due to a resinous property. However, this is the kind of herb one might reserve for the instance of a novel or exceptional viral infection because it is not abundant. Its range is limited, and the root is the part used. It is on the United Plant Savers’ “At-Risk” list of wild herbs under exceptional harvesting pressure (United Plant Savers, 2018). If a household were affected by a novel virus and advised to do care at home under medical supervision, and this herb was in ones’ home apothecary, this would be the time to pull it out. Typically, it has been prepared as a tincture, and used in small amounts regularly, ½ ml several times throughout the day while affected (Buhner, 2013). Small amounts of herbal tea infusion would have a similar effect but the taste is quite strong!”
“Medicinal use: Lomatium is useful in acute and chronic viral, bacterial, fungal infections and other inflammatory disorders of the respiratory system. It is most effective in treating infections when it is given as early as possible and in small frequent doses.”
Lomatium dissectum Inhibits Secretion of CXCL10, a Chemokine Associated with Poor Prognosis in Highly Pathogenic Influenza A Infection
“Conclusion: The observation that L. dissectum extract inhibits CXCL10 secretion provides a plausible mechanism for the efficacy of L. dissectum in influenza treatment reported in ethnobotanical studies and case reports. L. dissectum may reduce morbidity and mortality associated with influenza and merits further research.”
“But the plant has had two strong advocates: the great naturopathic doctor, John Bastyr; and the great herbalist, Michael Moore. It’s because of these two men, I believe, that the knowledge of Lomatium is still alive today. Most everyone who uses Lomatium now can trace their knowledge back to either Moore or Bastyr, either directly, or indirectly, through one of their thousands of students.”
Cultivation and Irrigation of Fernleaf Biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) for Seed Production
“Lomatium dissectum was used by Native American populations as food, medicine, and a piscicide. Specific uses described in historic, ethnobotanical records cannot be verifiably linked to L. dissectum as a result of the morphological similarities, especially in leaf morphology, among some Lomatium spp. and revisions of taxonomic classifications after the ethnobotanical studies (Ebeling, 1986; Jones, 1941; Meilleur et al., 1990). More than half of the Lomatium spp. are relatively rare with geographically restricted ranges (Soltis et al., 1997) making proper identification by a generally trained ethnobotanist less likely and perpetuating possible cases of folk underdifferentiation, the use of one folk name for two closely associated Linnaean species (Hunn and Brown, 2011). Of the 70 to 80 Lomatium species from western North America, only 20 occur in the ethnobotanical literature (Moerman, 2012).”
Pestle lomatium seed (Lomatium nudicaule)
Common lomatium seed (Lomatium utriculatum)
Fernleaf biscuitroot seed (Lomatium dissectum)
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seedshas six species of lomatium seed available for purchase. Our inventory is limited, please limit your purchase of Lomatium dissectum to five packets or less per order during the coronavirus pandemic in order to make the seed as widely available as possible.
Growing native bulbs from seed is a labor of love. Although it can take a little longer to reach flowering stage, growing native bulbs from seed is a very rewarding process that leaves a lasting legacy. With the long-term vision of native flowering bulbs in your garden, on your land, or in your restoration project in mind, and with some patience, you too can grow native bulbs like camas. Growing native bulbs from locally adapted seed helps continue the genetic diversity that is so important to native plant conservation.
Native Camas Species
The Klamath-Siskiyou region has two species of native camas: common camas (Camassia quamash) and large camas (Camassia leichtlinii). They are spring-flowering bulbous perennial wildflowers that are beautiful enough for the most high-end ornamental garden, yet are adaptable and ecologically important enough to be included in habitat restoration projects within their ranges. Camas prefers moist conditions winter through late spring, but it can dry out in the late summer months when the bulbs go dormant. In the wild, camas is typically found growing in vernally moist meadows, grasslands, or upland prairies, and on moist slopes or along seeps, springs, rivers, streams and gulches. Camas is tolerant of a wide variety of soil types, including serpentine and clay, as long as there is adequate moisture in the spring. Camas provides valuable, early-season nectar and pollen for a variety of native pollinators, especially overwintering bumble bee queens coming out of hibernation. Camas was a staple food for many Native American tribes. The bulbs were harvested in the fall and either pit roasted or boiled and eaten, or dried and pounded into a flour.
The tips we will provide for growing camas can be used to grow any native bulb species, camas is just one of the most familiar and recognizable species of native bulbs in the region, making it a good species to highlight. Native bulb species are geophytes. A geophyte is any plant with some form of underground storage organ: bulb, tuber, corm, thick rhizome, etc. In the wild geophytes are dispersed by seed, vegetative propagation, and subterranean mammals. Geophytes are an important part of the food web, as they are eaten by small mammals, which in turn feed raptors and larger animals.
Seed Stratification Requirements
Whether you will be growing camas in a nursery or direct sowing on your land or in a restoration project, camas seed will germinate best when sown outside in fall through early winter, typically October through early January. The seeds need 60-90 days of cold-moist stratification or “winterization” in order to break down the seed coat and trigger springtime seed germination. The freeze-thaw cycle, rain, snow, and general winter conditions contribute to successful spring germination. If sown too late and the seeds don’t achieve the required cold-stratification in the first year of sowing, the seeds will remain dormant until the following spring after exposure to an additional winter season. These seed germination requirements work well in the Klamath-Siskiyou region, but may vary in other regions within the range where camas grows. You may also mimic natural cold-moist stratification artificially using the refrigeration method, by placing camas seed in moist seed sprouting paper or paper towels in a ziplock bag or small container as shown in the diagram. For more detailed information about seed germination, please see our Seed Germination and Propogation Guide on our website.
Growing Camas from Seed in Containers
Seed Flats, Gallon Pots, Seed Trays, etc.
Camas seed can be started in a wide variety of container size and shape. Seeds can be evenly spread and lightly covered with sifted soil, vermiculite or other grit in a seed flat or gallon pot, and once the seed germinates in the spring the seedlings can be plucked out and transplanted into larger containers or directly transplanted in the ground. The seed flat or gallon pot can also be grown out through the summer and the bulbs can be transplanted in the fall when they are dormant, or grown out even longer and transplanted the following spring when new growth emerges around the beginning of March.
Seeds can also be sown into seed trays with various sizes and depths of cells, tubes, Ellepots, or even common pony pack trays. Seedlings can then be transplanted into larger containers or directly transplanted into the ground.
Camas seeds can be started in many different types of container or seed tray.
Camas grown in a gallon pot for one year are plucked out and transplanted the following spring.
Camas seedlings transplanted from seed pots directly into the garden (left), into band pots (center), and then later upsized into gallon pots (right).
Direct Sow Camas Seed
Camas can be grown from direct seeding in the garden or as part of a land management or habitat restoration project. In a prepared bed in the garden direct sow camas seed in the fall to early winter, just lightly covering the seed with soil, and allow the seeded area to remain unmulched through the winter.
Site preparation, direct sowing, and springtime camas seedlings emerging in a small area prepared with propane torch burning the previous fall.
Site preparation is key to successful camas seed germination when direct sowing for a land management or habitat restoration project. Read more about Site Preparation Techniques for Native Seeding on our website. Burning or raking the area you want to seed so it is free of thick thatch or competition will prepare the area for seeding. This allows the seed to have direct contact with the soil, which helps seeds germinate and grow through moisture retention and mycorrhizal associations.
Whether you are direct seeding in your garden, on your land, or in a small restoration project, make sure you mark, label or document the area that you sowed the seed so you don’t forget the exact location, and watch for seed germination in the spring as temperatures start to warm up. Camas seedlings look like blades of grass for the first couple years as the leaves feed bulb growth underground. The seedlings and mature plants will go dormant in the early summer.
Growing camas from seed may take some time, but the rewards down the road are many. Camas has such an important ecological and cultural role in the Klamath-Siskiyou region and beyond, however, much of the area camas once inhabited is now destroyed by human development, farming, or other historic impacts. Bringing camas back to its native habitat, or at least growing it in your garden for the benefit of pollinators, helps camas maintain its ecological and living legacy. Enjoy the blooms!
Enjoy camas for pollinator habitat and beauty in your urban landscaping or on your rural land!
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has camas seed available. Check out our online shopping cart today!