A Horticultural Sciences Department Extension Publication on Vegetable and Fruit
Eat your Veggies and Fruits!!!!!
Issue No. 559 July 2010
Saving Seed or The Case of the Decapitated Zinnias
By: Dan Mullins, IFAS Extension Agent IV, Santa Rosa County Extension Office,
Establishing Extension demonstration plots in public places is sometimes risky
business. So it was during the spring of 2010 at the office in Jay, Florida.
The Jay Extension office is located in the heart of the row crop production area of
northern Santa Rosa County. The building is next door to the tax collector's
office. As a result, almost every adult resident of northern Santa Rosa County
who purchases a tag for their vehicle or otherwise pays taxes passes by the
entrance to the Extension office at least once per year.
Such a high traffic area is made to order for an Extension demonstration so
seasonal plantings of vegetables and flowers are constantly on display. This
spring the demonstration consisted of spotted wilt resistant tomato varieties such
as Amelia and Crista, alternated with groups of "State Fair Zinnias" for color and
The goal of the demonstration was to introduce growers to more wilt resistant
tomato varieties and in the case of the Zinnias, to show this flower's potential as
a cut flower crop.
By mid-June the tomatoes were beginning to ripen and some had already gone
missing, as expected. Strangely, some new zinnia flowers were also missing -
not broken off, but neatly cut immediately below each bloom. This left the entire
stem in place, minus the flower (see photo).
Zinnias alternated with tomatoes in a 2010 demonstration planting at the Jay Extension office"
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There are six missing flowers in this photo. Note the neat job of clipping
After careful study and some detective work, it was learned that a local resident
had clipped the flower heads in order to obtain seed. Further investigation
revealed that flower heads of only one color were missing. The perpetrator
therefore believed that by selecting flowers of a particular color, the resulting
seed would produce zinnias of that same color.
Aside from the fact that it's wrong to steal flowers, there are a couple more
associated problems. First, the flowers were removed during their most colorful
stage and at a time that they were being pollinated. The seed were therefore not
yet mature and most will not germinate.
I wish that I could say that the Zinnia variety used is a hybrid and will not come
"true" from seed. This however is not the case. "State Fair" is a tetraploid variety
- in fact the first tetraploid Zinnia ever developed. As a tetraploid it has double
the number of chromosomes that earlier zinnias had, and will produce relatively
"true" from seed. This would not be the case with most of the Zinnia varieties
developed since the early 50s as they are F1 hybrids.
This experience is being used to discourage residents from saving seed of the
newer varieties, which are mostly hybrids. Only "pure lines", often called open
pollinated varieties, produce offspring from seed that are like the parent. This is
assuming that a particular open pollinated vegetable is not allowed to cross
pollinate with another variety.