Know Thy Seeds - Definitions


Many gardeners today are using the word heirloom when they really mean open-pollinated or non-hybrid.  Heirlooms are treasures.  Heirloom seeds are the seeds for open-pollinated varieties with histories, with stories.  At one time, someone, somewhere thought each heirloom was a treasure and passed on its story.  However, not all open-pollinated varieties are treasures.  Sometimes the original reasons have been forgotten.  Sometimes they are being grown in a different climate.

Open- Pollinated

Open-pollinated is the description to look for if you want to save your own seeds.

Open-pollinated seeds come from relatively stable varieties resulting from pollination between genetically similar parents.  By saving seeds from the best open-pollinated plants, mankind has taken advantage of natural genetic recombination and mutation to improve agriculture for the past 10,000 years.  Gardeners can save seeds from open-pollinated varieties and be reasonably sure of growing plants similar to the original parents.  (See Basic Seed Saving for separation distances to prevent cross-pollination.)

On the other hand, seeds saved from hybrid and genetically modified varieties, the opposite of open-pollinated, present a complicated challenge for seed savers.  Only a small percentage will resemble the orginal parents.  Some will be sterile.  Most are patented.  Saving seeds from some is now illegal.

Modern home gardeners have begun to rediscover the advantages of growing open-pollinated varieties.  Because they have been saved by gardeners and small farmers, the characteristics most desired by gardeners like regional adapatability, local disease and insect resistance, fresh-picked flavor, nutrition and longer harvesting periods are the ones that survived.

Open-pollinated seeds often cost less and offer gardeners a predictable path to save their own seeds.  When gardeners improve a variety from year to year  by selecting seeds from the varieties that do best in their own gardens, they gain the ability to take the best of their garden into the future and improve it year after year.


Hybrids are varieties resulting from natural or artificial pollination between genetically distinct parents.

Parents used to produce hybrids are usually inbred first for specific characteristics.  The "F" in F1 hybrid stands for filial or offspring.  F1 means the first generation offspring after cross-pollination.  Seeds saved from F1 hybrids are labeled F2.  F2 generations can be sterile or produce only a small percentage of plants resembling the F1 parents.  It is possible to save the seeds from hybrids.  However, the process of stabilizing a set of desired characteristics is complicated and may take up to eight generations.  Most modern hybrids are patented.  Selling seeds saved from patented hybrids is illegal.

Hybrids can offer home gardeners and small market farmers solutions and choices they just can't find in open-pollinated varieties.  Whereas open-pollinated varieties have been selected for fresh-picked flavor and adaptability to local conditions, hybrid research has focused on uniformity, shipping, appearance and specific disease resistance.  Growing a few individual hybrids offers little or no immediate threat to a home gardener or small market farmer. 

Hybrid buyers do forgo the opportunity to easily save their own seeds.  They have to buy seeds every year.  They cannot select from the plants that do best in their garden and take this advantage into the future.  With their purchase of hybrid seed, gardeners and small market farmers are often supporting the same giant companies that manufacture the chemicals they question and the genetic engineering they fear.  And most importantly, hybrid seed buyers miss the opportunity to help save our precious genetic heritage so threatened by mono-crop hybrid agriculture.


We at Seed Trust do not advocate or use biocides (pesticides or herbicides).  

In the beginning, the call for seeds to be grown organically was welcome.  After the adoption of the National Organic Program new seed companies arose and marched together behind the banner of organic on a crusade against modern chemical agriculture.  A new green rush was on.  All of this was well and good to a point.  We want, we need an agriculture that uses no biocides.  However, the vast majority of the world's seeds are not yet certified organic.  We also need diversity.  The sustainable strength of our agricultural ecosystem will depend on its diversity.  We need to find, grow and test as many different varieties as we can before they disappear.  If we collectively stop buying seeds now because they are not organic, we risk losing the diversity we so desperately need.

Every year we receive calls asking if our seeds are grown organically.  The answer is “as many as possible”.   Some important varieties we offer are not yet available organically. Many wildflower and grass seed fall outside the normal organic regulatory structure.  More and more, small growers avoid the cost and red tape of a certified organic program.  They still adhere to the guidelines.  Often times they go beyond.

  • We are dedicated to supplying the highest quality seed available.

  • All the seeds we grow ourselves or we gather are organic.

  • Whenever possible, we purchase non-organic seeds from growers who are making the transition to organic agriculture.

  • We constantly encourage growers who still supply non-organically grown seeds to consider switching to organic agriculture.

  • All our seeds are untreated.

  • Untreated seeds are commonly accepted and planted on certified, organic gardens and farms.


Start your discussion about landscapes with the word native.  Don't end with it.

The word "native" in relation to landscapes has swept into our lives with such force and allegiance we began to see it as a new religous order, "The Church of the Native."  Its worshippers ask one question and one question only when starting a new landscape project.  "Is it native?"  After asking this, they should consider the following:

The definition of "native" is imprecise. If one studies the latest taxonomy, official arguments abound as to the origins of many of the plants now found in Western landscapes.  Every plant is native to somewhere.  The argument comes in defining how close to its native habitat a plant has to be to be native.

Natives take a long time to bloom. Gardeners are often disappointed in efforts to create a dream native landscapes because of the amount of time necessary to establish one.  Unfortunately, some of the native perennials adapted to the Mountain West take more than one year to germinate.  Most take between two and four years to begin blooming.

Native seeds and plants are often not available. A wide range of native plants and seeds in all categories are now being sold by a growing number of companies. However, certain individual species have never been brought into commercial production.  Supplies are dependent upon seed gathered in the wild.  Some commercial varieties are being produced by only one or two organizations and are often in short supply.  Before deciding upon a specific list of native plants for your project, check for seed availability.

The lilac factor. Even native plant purists cringe when told to send their lilacs back to Europe.  Lilacs are not native to North America.  They represent the many non-native plants now bringing beauty and utility to our lives and landscapes.  Certainly, no one wants to introduce new weeds which cause damage to our local environments.  We certainly advocate using plants that require no water, no maintenance and no chemicals.  However, this is no reason to limit plant choice to native.  The gap between native and destructive plants is large and complicated and deserves careful discussion in each landscape, each bio-region.

Minimize problems by avoiding non-native pioneer species. Weed problems caused by non-natives are most likely minimized by avoiding the introduction of pioneering species, especially annuals.  A little research can certainly alert someone of the most suspect plants for each region.  Most states compile official lists of noxious weeds and restrict or ban their import. 

This century will be remembered as a time of landscaping naturally. Through ecologically sensitive seed saving and quality seed production, we offer you the best opportunity ever to capture the magic of the wild in your home garden. Join us in the endless adventure of planting natives. Feel free to experiment. Try your woodland, meadow or mountain favorites. Select by color, height and time of blossoming.  Seeds Trust wildflowers are beautiful as well as adaptable to many regions especially the Mountain West.  Many are drought tolerant and easy to grow in all elevations.

Seeds Trust offers easy access to bulk wildflower seeds and ornamental grass seeds perfect for what we call the “new reasonable landscape.”  We now have 25 years experience helping thousands of homeowners create landscapes which minimize the use of water, chemicals and maintenance.  Let us help you.


What is a wildflower?

As natural gardening sweeps across the country, myths about growing wildflowers are beginning to flourish. In the past few years, we have received hundreds of letters from people who believe that since wildflowers grow spontaneously in nature, they will flourish without maintenance in gardens where nothing else will grow.

To understand why this myth is false, gardeners need to look back to the history of flower gardening and ask some questions. At one time all flowers were wildflowers. Long ago some of the wild varieties made the transition to domestic gardens and parks. Over the years, selections were made, resulting in the beautiful, large, uniform flowers found in today's seed catalogs. The important question for new wildflower gardeners is, “Why were some flowers chosen through the centuries to be domesticated while others were left to remain wild?” In other words, “What is a wildflower?”

Today's wildflowers are often either those varieties that grow too easily, quickly taking over as uncontrollable weeds or those varieties that are difficult to grow and have resisted efforts over the centuries to be grown outside their natural environment.

While it is impossible to group all wildflowers into these two categories, the exercise begins to point out some of the major problems gardeners face when planting wildflowers for the first time.

Wildflowers Can Be Weeds

Gardeners must learn to avoid weedy varieties such as morning glory and yarrow which can overtake yards and lawns as well as flower gardens. Check the labels of out-of-state cans of wildflower seeds promising instant and long-lasting success.  Flowers not “weedy” in one area may be noxious in another. 

On the other hand, noxious wildflowers in one area may be fine in another. Even though ox-eye daisy seed sales are unlawful in the state of Washington and bachelor's buttons cause problems in northern Idaho, both can be used in wildflower gardens above 6,000 ft. In fact, we now sell a number of naturally aggressive wildflowers including African daisy and California poppy because sub-zero, mountain winters prevent otherwise uncontrollable invasions. Look to local experience for the best information.  Most states compile official lists of noxious weeds and restrict or ban their import. We welcome your feedback about plants you know to be destructive and/or restricted in your local area.

Difficult Wildflowers

Many of the West's most popular, native wildflowers are classified as difficult to domesticate unless helpful “tricks” are learned. For example, lupine seeds can be put in boiling water to coax early germination. Indian paintbrush is a partial parasite to surrounding native plants and may take 18-24 months to germinate. Many other natives need to be cold-treated (stratified) before germination takes place. Seek advice for regional varieties by asking local, experienced gardeners, nurseries and regional seed companies.