Packets of Free Seeds: Innocuous or Insidious?


Free Seeds

DC’s “Seeds of State”

Free Seeds were distributed in celebration of Earth Day 2017 by the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) at 17 Metro stations in locations throughout the city’s eight wards.  This year’s packets offered two species: red Eastern Columbine and white Calico Aster flowers. Each packet bares the stars and bars of the DC flag and contains enough seeds to cover a 6×6 foot area.

Lack of Labeling

DC’s “Seeds of State” packets lack important information: while included are planting instructions; what is missing are the botanical names (instead both are identified by common names), optimal growing conditions (full sun, part shade, etc.) and type of plant (annual, perennial, biennial, etc.).

Both are perennial, so the person planting these for a bit of “this year’s color and no regrets next year” is out of luck.

Eastern Columbine

Plant Characteristics
Duration: Perennial; Habit: Herb; Root Type: Tap; Leaf Retention: Semi-evergreen; Size Notes: Normally 20 to 30 inches.; Leaf: Green to blue-green.; Flower: Flowers 2 inches long.; Fruit: Tan; Size Class: 1-3 ft.

Bloom Color: Red, Pink, Yellow
Bloom Time: Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Growing Conditions
Water Use: Low, Medium; Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade; Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist; Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2), Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2); Drought Tolerance: High; Cold Tolerant: yes; Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Sandy, well-drained soils. Medium Loam, Sandy Loam, Sandy, Limestone-based. Not too rich.
Conditions Comments: Red columbine likes moisture but must be in well drained soil. Rich garden soil encourages rank vegetative growth and weak stems and shortens the plants lifespan, while plants in thin, sandy soils maintain a tight, compact habit and can live for many years. It is evergreen unless the temperature exceeds 110 degrees F or -10 degrees F, which will cause the leaves to go dormant until the temperature returns to a more tolerable level. Do not plant in continuous full sun, as growth will be stunted and leaves may burn.
Use Ornamental: Valued as a shade-loving perennial with attractive foliage and eye-catching blooms. Also does well as a saucerless pot plant.
Use Wildlife: Blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and hawk moths. Seeds consumed by finches and buntings.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes; Interesting Foliage: yes; Attracts: Birds, Butterflies, Hummingbirds; Nectar Source: yes;
Deer Resistant: Moderate

Calico Aster

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum var. lateriflorum (Calico aster)

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum var. lateriflorum (Calico aster)

Plant Characteristics
Duration: Perennial; Habit: Herb; Leaf: Green

Bloom Information
Bloom Color: White; Bloom Time: Aug, Sep, Oct

Native Habitat: Forest Edge,Prairie/Meadow/Field
Growing Conditions
Water Use: Medium; Light Requirement: Sun; Soil Moisture: Moist; CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Conspicuous Flowers: yes; Attracts: Butterflies;
Larval Host: Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
Value to Beneficial Insects
Special Value to Native Bees
Supports Conservation Biological Control

Plants in Conflict

While the Eastern Red Columbine likes part to full shade, the Calico Aster likes full sun.  Where the Calico Aster likes moist soil, the Eastern Red Columbine can tolerate dry conditions.

Free Seeds: Conclusion

While free seeds are generally good, this particular packet appears to sow confusion and possibly perennial problems.  While the combined bloom period (Feb – Oct) allows for many pollinators to enjoy these flowers, the gardener may be less enthusiastic. Or, a possibly insidious message: “We’re the State and your garden isn’t yours”?

Ramona Winkelbauer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply