A Noah’s Ark for Plants

by Linda Wiggen Kraft


The story of Noah’s Ark is incomplete.  Yes, all animals needed to be saved from the flood, but what about the plants?  After all, how would animals live without plants both on the boat and on land later? According to some stories, Noah had a wife whose job was to save plants and seeds.  Knowing about Noah’s wife makes the story complete, with important implications not only for Noah’s time but also for our world now.


Saving endangered plants with all their unique genetic material is as important as saving endangered animals.  And just like the animals, the loss of plant species is rampant. Some estimates say 100,000 plant species are threatened. These plants which feed, cloth and shelter life can never be replaced once lost.


Gardening, just like all other parts of life, has changed drastically in the last centuries.  Before the introduction of seeds for sale by seed companies, gardeners saved seeds from their gardens to be planted year after year.  The diversity of different plants varied from region to region.  Gardeners would save seeds from the plants that grew best in their land, selecting ones that had adapted to specific conditions. These plants would produce “pure” or “open pollinated” seed, where the offspring were identical to the parent plant.


Seed companies began producing hybrid seeds that combined genetics from two different “pure” plants.  The seeds from hybrid plants don’t produce identical offspring, instead the offspring are very different, so the need to buy seed every year was established.  Many gardeners quit saving seeds. As these gardeners who knew how to save seeds passed on the threat of the loss of knowledge about saving seeds and these plants themselves was, and is, enormous.


The foresight of knowing the dire consequences of losing plants that have the potential to provide life saving crops in case of plant blight, or provide new ways to improve the world, was felt in two pioneers in the seed saving arena. In 1975 Kent and Diane Ott Whealy started Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa to preserve heirloom open pollinated seeds and set up a catalog where gardeners could share these kinds of seeds with other gardeners. Today there are over13,000 different varieties of seeds offered in the Seed Savers Exchange Member Yearbook.  There is also a Flower and Herb Yearbook.  A printed and online traditional seed catalog offers heirloom vegetable, flowers, herb seeds and other items to help grown heirloom and save seeds.


Seed Savers Exchange is a day’s drive and worth a visit. There are 890 acres at Heritage farm, which maintains thousands of garden heirloom plants in the organically certified Preservation Garden, over 700 historic 19th century apple varieties in the Historic Orchard and a herd of ancient White Park Cattle. Visitors are welcome March 1st to Dec. 23rd.

Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange will be a featured presenter at the Missisouri Botanical Garden’s, Garden Blitz on Saturday March 3rd. She will share inspiring information on Heirloom Edibles and Your Garden.  Don’t miss this pioneer in the seed saving efforts when she speaks here in St. Louis.


To register for Garden Blitz contact the Missouri Botanical Garden (314) 577-5140, email  classes@mobot.org, or visit www.missouribotanicalgarden.org. To see the complete schedule visit:  St. Louis Horticultural Coop Website: www.hortco-op.org.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a mandala artist and garden designer who uses the wisdom of many traditions in her work. Call her at 314-504-4266 or visit her new blog:  www.creativityforthesoul.com/blog.


Spring 2012 St. Louis Garden Blitz: Solve – Grow – Enjoy!

Guest Speakers:

Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”; www.timberpress.com.

Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder Seed Savers Exchange and author of “GATHERING: Memoir of a Seed Saver.” www.seedsavers.org.

Cindy Gilberg, speaking on Plants for Rain Gardens and Moist Soils. www.cindygilberg.com.