Loss of seed suppliers

Michael Mace mikemace@att.net
Sat, 18 Sep 2010 10:52:10 PDT


I've now received confirmation that both Northwest Native Seed and JJA Seeds
are going out of business.  Northwest has no seeds left and is gone already,
and JJA is apparently going to do one more list with its remaining stock and
then that'll be it.


If you haven't been collecting bulbs for a while, you won't understand what
a loss this is for the bulb-collecting community.  When I started with this
hobby in the mid-1990s, there were a number of great sources for bulb seeds
from the wild.  Robinett Bulb Farm sold a wide variety of bulb seeds, mostly
from California; while Northwest Native Seed covered California and the
whole Pacific Northwest.  Southwest Native Seed covered the US desert and
Mexico, Flores & Watson offered periodic lists of seeds from Chile, and
there were a couple of good sources for seeds from Europe and Asia.  JJA was
the default worldwide supplier, filling in the gaps between all the other
companies.  It was your best bet to find really rare stuff from obscure
corners of the world.


The result was fantastic diversity -- the seed vendors offered a much larger
array of species, color forms, and varieties than you can get from a company
selling bulbs.  Even for the species commonly available as bulbs, you could
get a packet of seeds that had a lot of genetic variation in it.  It made
the whole hobby of bulb collecting much more interesting, and it focused
attention on the incredible richness of the bulb world below the species


In the last ten years, most of those suppliers have disappeared.  Flores &
Watson stopped sending out lists and sold only through JJA.  Robinett closed
down.  Southwest dropped Mexico.  And now both Northwest and JJA have gone
out of business.


Turnover is normal for small, family-run businesses.  But it feels like
we're seeing the passing of a generation of seed-collectors, and no one is
stepping up to take their place.  I hope that's not the case, but it sure
looks that way now.


We still have a good selection of bulb suppliers, and they're great.  But
they don't have a tenth of the selection that the seed collectors offered.
And the flow of new genes and selections from the wild has just about


So here are the lessons:


--If you want to set up a business selling seeds of bulbs from western North
America, that niche is wide open, and you have customers waiting for you.


--If you collect bulbs, don't take the seed suppliers for granted.  If
there's one you like, try to buy from them regularly.  Don't assume seed
will always be available from them; it won't.


--When you buy seeds, tuck the extras in the freezer (assuming they're not
Amaryllids).  They'll keep for years (some for decades), and if your bulbs
suffer a mouse attack or other disaster, you'll have a backup.  I tucked my
leftover seeds into a drawer, and most of them are no longer viable.  That's
a really bad feeling.


--If you grow something rare, propagate it and share the seeds with the seed
exchanges.  You may end up being the only source for something.


--Be sure to thank your seed suppliers.  They're doing it more for love than
for money.


In that spirit, thank you to Rod and Rachel at Silverhill!  You give us a
fantastic window into the diversity of South African plants.



San Jose, CA



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