Saving seed

Collecting and Sowing Wildflower Seeds

Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

An easy way to supply new plants to your garden is to grow them from seed. Many plants are starting to make seed pods, capsules, or other types of interesting seed structures. By using native wildflower seeds that are locally adapted to your local soil and climate, you’ll have a better chance of success. Native species are often not available at your local nursery, so growing your own may be the best way to supply your garden. Native plants can be great pollinator attractants.

Red Currant, fall color (Ribes triste).

 In Alaska, our native Wild Currant (Ribes triste) shrub has flowers, fruit and an amazing Fall color, but is rarely seen offered for sale locally.

Seed Development

After flowering, most plants develop seeds that ripen with a few weeks to a few months. Keep an eye on plants and look for the seed structures to turn brown and small holes developing for easy dispersal, as with Iris, Columbine and Poppies.

Harvesting in the Wild

If harvesting in the wild, never take all the seeds of a plant. One Columbine seed capsule will contain all the seeds you need. The rest are for reproduction and possibly food for animals. Be respectful of public and private property when collecting seeds.

Sowing Seeds

Many seeds will easily fall out of their covering, but some coverings may need to be crushed and the chaff planted along with the seeds.

Seed head entries at the Alaska State Fair.

Most seeds that you are gathering now would generally do best sown fresh in flats or pots of soil, labeled and left outdoors for the Winter. This imitates Nature’s method. Not all seeds need this stratification but it will not hurt to expose seeds to normal outdoor weather. Do not cover seeds, as most wild seeds need light to germinate, but simply press them into moistened soil. I sometimes cover with a light sprinkling of sand to keep seeds in place. Make sure these flats or pots get a good snow cover and resume watering in the spring. Make sure to label your seeds with the name and date planted.

You can propagate favorite garden perennials this way too but save your annual seeds for Spring planting. Marigold seeds are easy to harvest and dry.


A great resource is Wildflowers for Northern Gardeners by Patricia Holloway and Virginia Gauss.

The native plant brochure by Pat Hollloway is linked on the AKNPS (Alaska Native Plant Society) website here.

Consider also joining your local garden clubs. Here in Anchorage we have the Alaska Native Plant Society, the Wildflower Garden Club and the Alaska Rock Garden Society. Plan to at least attend a meeting. And watch for plant sales and seed exchanges.

On the Web, try American Meadows for information and wildflower seeds.

And here is my own article on seed pods.

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

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