Jack and jill seeds

The Tricks of the Trade: Swapping Seeds for Fun and Frugality

How can you get seeds for next to nothing? Be a Jack or Jill of online seed trades.

By Audrey Stallsmith | Updated Feb 5, 2021 11:55 AM

After a spring when seed sellers couldn’t keep up with the surge in orders, gardeners may want to consider an alternative way to acquire seeds for next year, such as a seed swap. Keep in mind, though, that trading isn’t for those who insist on receiving precisely as much as they give.

In a large computer-generated seed exchange involving 50 or so people, for example, newbies often end up with far more packets than they put into the swap, something generous old-timers tolerate for the sake of helping those newcomers get established in the hobby.

Pros and Confusions

Since gardeners harvest many of the seeds they swap, slip-ups are inevitable. Someone may be mistaken about what they gathered, or what they gathered may have crossed with another plant of the same genus but a different species.

On the plus side, swapping can provide access to seeds not available from seed companies, such as those for rare tropicals or family heirlooms. Still, it works best for easy-going gardeners who don’t mind occasional surprises.

Roaring Trades

Although person-to-person swaps used to be highly popular on garden sites, they gradually are giving way to larger trades involving multiple gardeners. Usually all the traders mail their seeds to a host or hostess who redistributes them so that each person receives seeds different than the ones he or she sent.

Trade Secrets

In return, each trader pays for postage and return postage, which generally costs far less than what he or she would have paid for a comparable stash of seeds purchased commercially. In computer-generated large swaps, traders often choose the seeds they want from a posted online list on a first-come, first-served basis. How many dibs a gardener gets partly depends on how many others are choosing their seeds.

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Your Stock in Trade

Rare seeds receive more dibs than common types, so it makes sense to post as many of the former as possible. Those gathered by the gardener should be from open pollinated rather than hybrid plants, as the latter won’t come true from seed. People who don’t have experience harvesting seeds still can participate, since leftover commercial seeds usually are allowed, too, and hybrids aren’t a problem with them.

The Tools of the Trade

The small plastic zip lock bags used to store beads also make good seed packets, as do coin envelopes—especially the glassine type, since fine seeds won’t stick to them as they will to plastic. The packets then should be enclosed in a padded envelope for mailing, to prevent them from getting crushed by mail sorting machinery.

A Round Robin’s Barter

In some round robin trades, the host or hostess will post a list of addresses rather than seeds, so that swappers can mail seeds directly to each other. Usually the participants will post want lists, too. In those cases, it’s a good idea not to make wants too specific. Other traders are more likely to have seeds for “red sunflowers,” rather than a particular cultivar such as ‘Velvet Queen.’

A Very Important Date

In swaps involving dibs on posted seeds, look for the dates when those seeds were harvested or packed and avoid any that are more than a couple years old. Germination may be poor to nonexistent for those.

Still, for very rare seeds, you might want to take your chances anyway. After all, seed trading may not be an exact science, but it is a very rewarding one!

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Jack and jill seeds

There are both male and female Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and nutrition determines which gender a given plant is. For the first year or two, every Jack-in-the-Pulpit bears male flowers. Then the amount of nutrients the plant takes up begins to influence the sex of the plant. Females flowers produce seeds, and it takes a considerable amount of nutrients to do so. Thus, if there’s an abundance of nutrients one summer, a plant is female the following summer; a lack of nutrients produces male Jack-in-the-Pulpits the following year.

While the flowers themselves are very distinct (females are green knobs, males are threadlike and not green), it can be hard to see them, as the spathe (pulpit) wraps around the spadix (Jack) which bears the flowers at its base. You can often guess the sex of a Jack-in-the-Pulpit by the number of leaves it has. In general, female plants produce two leaves, whereas male plants usually have only a single leaf. If nutrients are really lacking, the plant typically produces a single leaf, but no Jack or pulpit. (Photo: female Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the left; male Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the right).

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2020 by Mary Holland . It was filed under Flowering Plants, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, May, Uncategorized and was tagged with Arisaema triphyllum.

7 responses

Thanks for this post, Mary. It answered a LOT of questions I’ve had, but wasn’t quite sure I had. I think I still have more, but can’t reply further right now.

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I find today’s subject extremely interesting. Thank you, Mary. Never knew that.

Since I was very little, I loved Jack-in-the Pulpits, but never knew any of that info! Thank you!

I have been noticing the incredible differences in size – some JITP’s are very small, maybe 6 inches tall, and some, like those in my slightly swampy place on the island are very large – maybe 18 inches tall. I wonder if these are different varieties or species, or whether they just are different sizes because of the conditions where they grow.

Hi Kathie,
Great question. My best guess is they are the same species impacted by the availability of nutrients, etc. but I really don’t know for sure!

Thank you for this! I have these volunteering in several spots in my gardens, and they’ve been multiplying over the years. I noticed there were different colors but didn’t realize that gender was a factor. At the end of the season when the flowers wither I often see their berries, and then the following year there are tiny ones all clustered together where the berries fell, so I’ve been thinking that they must grow bigger as they get older. In my biggest patch I have all sizes of plants, flowering and not, and some of the flowering ones are absolutely huge (18″ tall), right next to tiny babies. I’m so delighted that they are thriving there. (And it’s full sun with dry soil! Who would have guessed!)

How lucky are you, Kathy! I think bears might get mine and that’s why they come and go and turn up in different places.