Oklahoma is derived from the Choctaw Indian words "okla" meaning people and "humma" meaning red. Oklahoma is my home. Tinctoria is Latin, meaning to dye or color things; this is my work.

29 April 2010

Seed to Skein 2010 Dye Garden Project, Part II

“Nature does nothing uselessly”

Helianthus spp.,
Hopi Dye Sunflower, 2010.

Part II: Seed Germination

Spring thrives on future potential and the promise of renewal. Seeing established trees and shrubs wake up from dormancy, perennials push out from under the surface of the ground, flowers burst all over the place and seeds germinate...there is nothing more hopeful than this.

Often while I am working in my garden I find myself anticipating the following years, observing the garden change and mature; everything grows, everything dies. Deeply influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution many gardens ago, I like to spread plants around, daffodils in the orchard with herbs and other perennials, annual and volunteer flowers scattered throughout every garden bed, mixing foods and flowers; paying attention to what grows well in my garden and in my dirt with my cycle of day to day living. This year I am working garden ground that is new to me. The dirt is clay loam, high in nutrients but it feels different in my hands. I am getting to know this garden ground.

New Garden Ground, 2010

With the benefit of a greenhouse or a heated seed starting frame I have been growing a wide variety of plants from seed for several years. One advantage to starting these dye plant seeds in pots is that I am able to clearly identify the dye plant seed when it germinates. At times when I have direct sewn seeds in the ground I have lost the seedlings because I was unable to distinguish them from weed germination. I find it important to be able to identify newly germinated plants and working within the confines of pots helps with this training.

This collection of dye plant germination photos are mostly within a couple days or a week of germination. Some seedlings are more developed; these photos are within a couple weeks of germination.

Reseda luteola germination, 2010.

Reseda luteola, 2010.

The germination process is mysterious. Life is pushing open, breaking the shell. Generally, there are two cotyledons encased within the hard shell of the seed. These are the food storage that supports the seed as it emerges. As the seed absorbs moisture the outer shell softens, eventually causing the cotyledons to swell, pushing open its encasement. The radial pokes out first, being pulled downwards by gravity. When the plumule emerges it pushes upwards. Think of yin and yang, black and white, opposite forces at work. Soon the radial makes rootlets (I love this word) and the leaves form on the plumule, the above ground part. Now the plant is independent of its food source. This process requires oxygen and moisture. Notice in some of the germination photos that the seed is still bound to the new leaf?
I love observing this process; it is life unfolding before our eyes!

Polygonum tinctorium germination, 2010.

Polygonum tinctorium,
Since Part 1 of the Seed to Skein 2010 Dye Garden Project there have been some discoveries to report. Reseda luteola, known as Weld, is the species needed for dyeing yellow. Reseda odorata is available in many plant catalogs as an ornamental, but it is not a dye plant. I had both kinds of seeds. The Reseda photo in Part 1 is Reseda odorata; Reseda luteola seeds look different but I planted all of them before I discovered my error; hence I do not have a picture of the difference. Cosmos bipinnatus is not a dye plant either. I have planted out these Cosmos simply for flower pleasure. Not all plants in a species will yield color. Yet, there are some, like Zinnias for example, where any of the species can be used. This is a really good example why Latin names are so critical. 

Alcea rosa, Nigra Hollyhock, 2010.

Admittedly, I planted old tansy and coreopsis seed and neither germinated. Coreopsis grandiflora is already a volunteer in our garden so I will utilizing it as part of the Seed to Skein 2010 Dye Garden Project. Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, on the other hand has been difficult to locate. I have finally come across a company that will begin taking orders again next week so I am still going to try to grow it from seed. Included in this seed order will be two more dye plants: Queen Ann’s Lace, Daucus carota, and Yellow Bedstraw, Galium verum. I did however successfully germinate Calendula officinalis, or Calendula, from old seed because I had found a reference to Calendula as a dye plant in Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour.

Calendula officinalis, 2010.

Dahlia, mixed hybrid, 2010.

To Date Revised SEED to SKEIN 2010 Dye Garden Project Plant List
(latin name, common name, dye colors, establishment, plant hardiness zone):

Alcea rosea, Hollyhock cultivars, yellow and pink, biennial, zone 5.
Calendula officinalis, Calendula or Pot Marigold, pale yellow to olive, annual, all zones. 
Coreopsis lanceolata, Coreopsis, yellow and tan, perennial, zone 5.
Dahlia, Dahlia hybrids mixed colors, yellow and orange, tender perennial grown as an annual, all zones.
Helianthus, Hopi Black Dye Sunflower strain, grays, annual, all zones.
Isatis tinctoria, Woad, blue, biennial, zone 3.
Polygonum tinctorium, Japanese Indigo, blue, annual, all zones.
Reseda luteola, Weld or Mignonette, yellow, biennial, zone 3.
Rubia tinctoria, Madder, red and orange, perennial, zone 4. 
Tagetes patula, French Marigold, yellow, annual, all zones.

Tagetes, French Marigolds, 2010.

Isatis tinctoria,
Direct seed, 2010.

Heirloom Seeds web site:

Johns, Hugh. The Principles of Gardening: The Classic Guide to the Gardener’s Art. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1979.


  1. I know these posts are hld, but I am commenting anyway! Tansy is a noxious weed where I live (Alberta, Canada) but I have managed to find several stands of it and could get seeds for you if you haven't found a good source yet. Now would probably be a good time for me to find some, since we are well into fall.

  2. I am so pleased you are commenting on "old" blogs. I am fascinated by what so readily grows in an area to the point of being noxious and what we care and tend to with dedication to coax a plant to want to like a location. Tansy does grow well in Oklahoma and I did manage to transplant a couple plants. Harvest your tansy, make a dye bath and let me know how it turns out.