Keeping Heirloom Seeds Alive

The art of searching for, saving, and storing heirloom seeds, including a couple of okra cultivars that were designated All-America Selections winners in 1939.

By Chris Smith
Winter 2018

Photo by Chris Smith

Since its establishment in 1932, All-America Selections (AAS) — a nonprofit plant trialing organization — has only given its annual award of recognition to an okra cultivar seven times. In 1939, two okra cultivars were designated AAS winners: ‘Clemson Spineless’ and ‘White Lightning.’

‘Clemson Spineless’ is popular in India, Africa, the Middle East, America, and elsewhere. This cultivar has withstood the test of time, and if you’ve ever eaten okra purchased from a supermarket or farmers market, there’s a good chance it was ‘Clemson Spineless.’ In 1939, it was released as a refined seed cultivar by Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, but Thomas H. Davis began the process in 1880 by saving seeds based on the spinelessness of the pods. In Lancaster, South Carolina, on the corner of Main and Dunlap Streets, there’s even a plaque that reads “Honoring Thomas H. Davis: Site where his forty year selection, (1880), of okra led to the nationally known variety of ‘Clemson Spineless Okra’ 1939.”

Photo by Rare Seeds

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