California, land of my birth, does that make me native? My maternal great-grandmother moved out west from Oklahoma seeking a better life and fleeing her Indian identity, a classic case of bioinvasion? My father rambled here from the east coast, an obvious exotic... But is not "native" a relative term? What scientific merit does it truly hold? We use such terms with care, for are we not all "native" to this fecund planet? Nature does not conform to such transitory simian notions of how she should behave, or comply with our abstract ideas of geographical boundaries. California's diverse terrain boasts 6,000+ "native" species. She has flung open her golden arms to lovingly embrace a just-as-impressive number of so called exotics, some long lost lovers like Ginkgo returning after millions of years in the hands of peripatetic primates. I spent my childhood wandering the central California landscapes, in perpetual romance with the land. In my youthful eyes the biologically rich groves of introduced Eucalyptus were just as sacred as the native oak forests. I've spent the last 2 decades exploring northern California, and many native seeds have found their way home to our gardens. We offer here a small smattering of superlative species that we've collected wild or have been growing on our land here in western Sonoma County. All deserve wider cultivation. For California Ephedra, Sedum & Yucca, look at the Succulents webpage.
We encourage everyone, especially those who live in the state, to experiment with growing a few of California's plants, in particular the rare species. Try cultivating the lily family (Allium, Brodiaea, Calochortus, Erythronium, Lilium, Triteleia, etc.) not only for their incomparable blossoms, but also for food. Plant some Perideridea and Claytonia in your vegetable garden for Spring greens, chia for the nutritious seed. Vaccinium and Gaultheria in the perennial garden or food forest for the delicious berries. Monardella and Satureja for tea, Angelica, Grindelia, Salvia, etc. for medicine. A large portion of California’s ecosystems were the result of at least ten thousand years of interaction between the land and peoples who relied directly on the local flora for food, medicine, and shelter. From the formerly mighty oak to the humble tarweed, all were once kin of man. Though this has irrevocably changed, true sustainable conservation can only come from each of us rediscovering and maintaining a meaningful relation to the ecosystems and their inhabitants around us. Scapegoating so called "exotic" plants as the cause of ecosystem loss cannot hide the fact that the true blame lies with each of us and our alienation from the land that numbs our hearts into complicity with the continual destruction of habitat for urban sprawl, strip malls, industrial agriculture, the hungry ghost of "progress".... unarguably the primary cause of biodiversity loss and extinction. We can never truly restore the indigenous landscapes the Spanish first encountered here or all the vistas that inspired John Muir's splendorous paper scratching, but we can plant the seeds of something new that integrates and honors California's botanical inheritance and all the strange, fabulous species that have found a new home in this golden and green land.
To assure we are distributing the highest level of genetic diversity, all of the plants we offer are grown from seed unless noted otherwise
Unless noted otherwise, seed packets contain 15-40+ seeds (with very tiny seed like Gaultheria, Nicotiana, etc the seed count is in the hundreds).
In the mid 1980s, at the impressionable age of 12, I was fortunate to be introduced to the vibrant ecological tapestry of Andean Peru during a family Summer trip. Since 1996 I have returned repeatedly to marvel at the unparalleled floristic diversity and explore the rugged mountains of central and southern Peru and adjacent Bolivia, studying the ethnobotany of the region, paying tribute to the land and people, and beginning a long term study of Trichocereus distribution and taxonomy (in conjunction with DNA studies being carried out by Dr. Martin Terry). The Andes are currently one of the most species rich plant-regions in the world, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of its forest remains. With this always in mind, responsible conservation minded collections of seed were made- preservation through distribution and propagation. We have a limited quantity of fascinating species still available along with plants grown from the seed. Purchases will help support future expeditions and the continual study of Andean plant life and ethnobotanical knowledge. See our Rare Plant List for additional offerings. We have general recommendations for germination and cultivation. Many of these plants are new to cultivation and their needs may prove contrary to our suggestions. Please keep track of the collection numbers and your germination results and let us know! This way you can help contribute to the study and conservation of the remarkable plants of these regions.
Jewels of the Earth
In addition to potatoes, there is a shocking rainbow diversity of brightly colored tubers cultivated in the Andes where they have been a staple of rural communities for millennia. Largely ignored by the rest of the world, these "jewels of the earth" deserve to be widely grown. An alarming loss of heirloom cultivars has been observed in recent decades as land is given over to modern crops, such as carrots, that are associated with affluent culture. This makes preservation through integrating these enchanting and delicious tubers into our gardens all the more timely. Studies have shown all of these crops to be nutritious and high in antioxidants. Cultivation of some of these is still experimental, so let us know how they grow for you. We have live plants available April/May to November, bare root tubers available December through March/April, USA only.
Inquire for additional cultivars. Tubers are available USA only.
During late December through April every 3 tubers ordered count as 1 plant for shipping costs, we begin replanting the tubers in late April, so check that month for bare tuber availability. Regular plant shipping costs apply the rest of the year.
Cultivation of Andean Tubers
General information for all: Plant tubers 2-6" deep. They all are tolerant of a wide range of soils, but definitely grow best in a relatively rich, well draining soil. We use 25% pumice stone, 10-15% sand and the rest compost/garden loam. Gophers are particularly fond of all these plants, so we grow these in half wine barrels or raised beds with wire mesh on the bottom. In the colder climates, several inches of mulch will help assure tuber survival through heavy frosts. In climates below Z7, the tubers can be overwintered in moist coir or sand in a cool place, then replanted at the start of the growing season. Though tolerant of a little shade, all do best in a sunny location.
Canna: This is the least cold hardy them all, but can still tolerate Z8a or even 7b if very well mulched. Achira is also much more tolerant of extreme heat and wet or even soggy soil. The rhizomes are best harvested after the tops of the plant have died back from frost or a dry period. Make sure to replant a few of the nippled growing tips of the rhizome for continued harvests.
Oxalis: One of the most adaptable of the tuber crops. Some varietals seem more tolerant of high Summer temperatures than others. Since tuber production does not begin until after the Autumn Equinox when the daylength shortens and the days cool, the largest tubers are produced if you can keep the tops protected from hard frost (they are tolerant of light frost) and growing as long as possible (this goes for Tropaeolum and Ullucus as well.) If you do not live in an area with a long mild Autumn season, you have a couple options. One method is to stake some hoops over the plants with frost protectant fabric or even greenhouse plastic. One other trick is to cover them with shade cloth a few weeks prior to the Equinox to simulate shortened daylight and encourage early tuber forming. We are finding that well before the shortened daylength it is good to mound extra soil around the stems, as you would potoatoes, to encourage additional tuber formation. The tubers can be harvested after the tops of the plant finally die back. In general, the more cold the tubers are exposed to the sweeter they become, so a late harvest is usually preferable. Traditionally the tubers are exposed to sun and cold for several days after harvest to break down any oxalic acids and increase sweetness. Exposure to light also enriches the vivid colors. Tubers can be left in the ground for next years plants, or stored tubers can be replanted in the Spring. Like potatoes, the tubers can be cut into pieces for propagation.
Smallanthus: One of the most adaptable to warmer climates, some clones have even proven themselves in the tropics. It's important to differentiate what's the propagative tuber and what's the edible storage tubers. The propagative tuber (what you'd receive from us) is knobby, eventually clustering, often cream colored, brown, or even purple when exposed to light. It looks very much like its close relative the sunchoke (jerusalem artichoke). The edible storage tubers grow off the other tubers and are long (to 10"+), smooth, usually brown or white, and shaped like yams. New plants cannot be propagated from these. The propagative tuber clusters can eventually grow quite large (we've had them basketball size), and these can be broken up to further propagate the plant. Some clones are very sweet harvested any time of the year, while others are a bit sour until exposed to repeated frosts.
Tropaeolum: Best given something for the vines to climb on. In general, mashua dislikes heat, preferring a long cool and moist season. Most varieties are daylength sensitive for tuber production, after the Autumn Equinox they should be cultured similar to Oxalis (see entry above). The 'Ken Aslet' variety has been grown as an ornamental for some time and is not particularly sensitive to daylength for tuber forming, though greatest tuber formation is still Autumn. Vegetative growth is tolerant of mild frost, but dies back to the tubers after heavy frost. Flowers are formed late in the season, but can be encouraged earlier by holding back water.
Ullucus: A little more challenging than the others, but well worth any effort. Most varieties resent too much heat. They also seem to be sensitive to being transplanted into overly rich "hot" soil, often rotting. The best treatment is gradually applying small amounts of compost/fertilizer as a mulch throughout the growing season. Even more than oca, they only produce their lovely tubers well after the Autumn Equinox, sending out small stolons that slowly grow into tubers. See the Oxalis entry above for additional growing info. Unlike oca, the bright tuber colors quickly turn green when exposed to light, though unlike true potatoes, they are still safe to eat.