In 2016 Seed Savers Exchange, in collaboration with Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, requested over 60 varieties from the USDA to trial at Seed Savers Exchange, Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa. These varieties were collected by Edward H. Davis and John T. Morgan from seed savers across the Southeast, mostly in North and South Carolina. These varieties were identified as rare heirlooms and the intention was to regenerate them and share the seed with seed savers across the country. Only fragments of the full story of these varieties were collected by Edward H. Davis and John T. Morgan. There is remarkable diversity in this unique collection! Most of the seed savers contacted by Davis and Morgan were over the age of 60 and did not have willing recipients to share their seeds with the next generation of seed savers. The core collection of collards forms the basis for our work to educate, promote, share and save these collards.
We are working with a skilled group of seed savers to grow, save and steward these heirloom collard varieties. If you are a seed saver and want to steward one of these varieties then please get in touch for more information.
These collards are inspiring all sorts of creative collard focused projects from academic research to plant breeding to artwork, food and celebration. We invite you to get inspired and stay in touch. We want to share your work.
Beyond the commercial collard, there is substantial variation among heirloom collards that have been grown and perpetuated by numerous farmers and gardeners in the Southeastern states. These collards are often classified or labeled by the seed savers who maintain them with names that describe their general type. The groupings primarily focus on plant habits, leaf characteristics and other observable traits
A few heirlooms are collard-like in their early growth stages but begin to form a leafy structure akin to a small, loose cabbage head as the plants mature. The heads of these heirlooms occur due to very shortened petioles, or even a near lack of petioles, that causes developing leaves to curl into a heading structure.
Several heirlooms grow much taller than typical collards, obtaining a small tree-like structure over a long growing season (or at least taller than an average person!). These collards can also survive multiple seasons in mild climates. Unlike most collard types, these heirlooms have stems that elongate more than normal, leading to their taller nature. For more information on these unique plants, visit projecttreecollard.org.
One of the most common labels seed savers, mostly in the Carolinas, give to their heirlooms is “cabbage collard.” This collard type typically doesn’t form a cabbage-like “head” for much of its life, but may form a loose central head if it is left to grow for an extended season. The leaves are typically large with significant petioles. A large number of cabbage collard heirlooms have a lighter yellow green color.
Some seed savers have maintained collard heirlooms that have highly serrated leaves much different than most collards, and these are often described as “curly-leafed.” The degree of serration can be subtle or particularly pronounced in varieties that more resemble kale than collards.
Some heirlooms exhibit a shiny leaf appearance. Glossy characteristics occur due to gene mutations that control waxes that cover leaves. In general, a “glossy” leaf usually exhibits less wax on its surface than normal leaves, and this results in the glazed appearance.
Color variation can occur in any of the above types that are described. Most color variations range from yellow green to green to blue green. Heirlooms that have a leaf hue that falls outside that spectrum are rarer and more atypical. When these atypical colors (e.g., purple or red) are exhibited, seed savers often incorporate the color into the name of their collard. Colors can also exhibit in the petiole, the leaf veins and the leaf itself.
Below is a portfolio of heirloom collards in the Seed Savers Exchange collection. We hope to continue to profile and add varieties to this list to increase awareness and use of these varieties. You can filter the collection using the categories below.