Seed Snatchin': The Art and Sport of Collecting Seeds
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 29, 2007. Your commetns are welcome, but please note that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
It starts with the realization that if you pick a few of those “dead” marigold blooms by the mailbox and stick them in a drawer, you won’t have to buy a new packet of seeds next spring. Soon, you learn to recognize the fluffy seeds of asters and clematis in your garden. Then you discover where the tiny dark seeds of salvia and rose campion hide on the dried flower stalks in your neighbor’s yard. The next thing you know, you’re eyeing the unusual lantana in front of the local McDonalds, planning to casually snitch a few pods when the seeds are ripe. Congratulations! You have joined the proud tradition of seed snatchin’.
Soon after joining DG, I came across the series of Seed Snatchin’ threads on the Saving Seeds discussion forum (subscribers only). I soon realized that my occasional raids on my neighbor’s zinnias or my best friend’s columbine patch were nothing compared to others' bold efforts. Imagine snatchin’ seeds from in front of the police station in broad daylight, or sneaking into a deserted lot to snag some morning glory pods. Their tales inspired me! Soon, my husband was pretending not to know me as I nonchalantly helped myself to petunia seeds in a restaurant window box. I’d pull the car onto the shoulder and search out chicory or oxeye daisy seeds. I’d briskly strip a handful of dried Salvia calixes or pluck a few dried coneflower heads on my way into an office building. Now my pockets never stay empty long.
For those concerned about the ethics of snatchin’, nothing says snatched seeds have to be harvested without permission. You might get some odd looks, but you’ll find few people who would object to your picking their dead flowers. Deadheading is good for plants, after all! Taking seeds instead of buying a plant at a local nursery doesn’t seem right to me, but many nursery owners will happily share a few extras if you ask. Beds and planters in public areas, on the other hand, seem like fair game. A little common sense will keep you on the side of what’s legal and considerate. If you collect wildflower seeds, please check to be sure you’re not on protected land or collecting endangered species. Leave plenty of seeds for reseeding.
There are several approaches to seed snatchin’. The Bold Front: Clad in coveralls and armed with pruners, go about the business of collecting the seeds. If you act as though pruning and tidying these plants is your job, nobody will think twice about what you’re doing. The Sneaky Sleight of Hand: Pretend to be sniffing a bloom or looking for the pen you dropped, then slip your hand into the plant and come away with a few seeds to stuff into your pocket as you turn away. The Ninja Raid: Under cover of darkness, using only a small keychain light, gather seeds quickly and quietly, and then make your escape without waking your neighbor’s tiny terror of a terrier. Try out a few of these methods, and you’ll soon develop your own signature style.
Collecting seeds wherever you find them requires improvisation. I’ve folded seeds into napkins and gum wrappers. I’ve dropped seeds into empty cola cans and brought them home rattling in my car’s cup holder. I’ve ended up with different seeds in each pocket of my five pocket jeans, foolishly thinking I’ll remember which seed was stashed where when I come in from the garden. (Hah! I do well to remember to empty the pockets before washing the jeans.)
Sometimes, I’m better prepared, with little sandwich baggies, labels, and a Sharpie marker to keep track of my treasures. Freshly snatched seeds aren’t usually quite dry, so I put mine out on plates to dry for a few weeks before removing the chaff and storing them in plastic bags. Some champion seed snatchers develop their own snatchin’ kits for purse or car.
Not all seeds are as easy to find and identify as those of marigolds or peppers. In addition to the Seed Saving forum, you’ll find seed photos and seed collecting tips in a growing number of PlantFiles entries. Some websites such as The Seed Site and the Seed Saving FAQs at wintersown.org also have great information on recognizing and collecting seeds.
Depending on where you live, it might be a little late for seed snatchin’ this year. But keep it in mind, and soon you’ll be taking notes on all the locations with great potential for snatchin’ next summer!
Once you get started, you may find that you’ve collected more seeds than you and your friends and relations can use. That’s a perfect time to increase the variety of your stash by heading over to the Seed Trading discussion forum (subscribers only). Sharing and swapping your seeds opens entire new worlds of gardening opportunities… but that’s another article.
Favorite Quotes from Famous Seed Snatchers:
Weezingreens: “Sometimes the best way to snatch is to just walk up… and look like you’re supposed to be doing it.”
Ginnylynn: “I’m beginning to notice a definite tendency to judge the quality of my surroundings by the level of seed snatchin’ possibilities I can see there.”
Pixydish: “I snatched a handful of it on principle alone, since I really don’t know where I’m going to put it.”
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.