Maybe the title should have been Rediscover since both of these flowers are well known and will be found in many of our gardens. They are New World natives that have spread throughout the world and in the process developed many varieties. Marilyn Barlow who founded Select Seeds is celebrating thirty years of championing these flowers. Marilyn was recently interviewed by Margaret Roach and this is part of the transcript which I found on her A Way To Garden website.
As I mentioned in the intro, both marigolds and zinnias are New World natives?but they have a lot of history since. Which shall we start with and highlight some of their history?zinnias? From their origins south of the border, give us a little timeline.
A. The original zinnia was a dusty lilac color, and it wasn?t very show at all. In fact it wasn?t considered a good garden flower. Then my Victorian-era dictionary of gardening mentions Zinnia pauciflora, which means ?few-flowered,? and it was yellow and mentioned around 1753. So it started out as not very attractive, with not many flowers, and small flowers?but once it went to California, and Bodger Seeds got hold of it, then it really sort of blossomed.
Q. So that was much later; we?re starting with a plant that was native in Latin America, yes?
A. Mexico, yes.
Q. So it was native there and then was it by early plant explorers brought back to Europe? How did it find its way to gardening?
A. It was introduced from Mexico in 1796, so it came to the United States after the Revolutionary War. And the double one was introduced around 1862 from the West Indies, and there were other species. Zinnia haageana was introduced from Central America in 1863.
Q. So lots of genetics coming from different spots at different times, and eventually all getting into the breeding that you were talking about before.
A. Right, and California [where Bodger Seeds was located] was the center of the zinnia-breeding efforts.
Q. Bodger Seeds is a famous longtime breeder, and this is one of the things they focused on; I see.
A. They were centered in El Monte, and they introduced the dahlia-flowered zinnia, which is so common today and available in so many different colors.
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