Submitted to: Vegetable Association Yearbook (North Carolina Vegetable Growers Association)
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/21/2008
Publication Date: 12/1/2008
Citation: Farnham, M.W. 2008. Exploring the Coastal Plain of the Carolinas in Search of Heirloom Collard. Vegetable Association Yearbook (North Carolina Vegetable Growers Association). p42.
Technical Abstract: A commonly grown vegetable in the coastal plain region of North and South Carolina is collard, a leafy green type of Brassica oleracea L. (Acephala Group) closely related to common heading cabbage. Although it is widely grown commercially and as a garden crop in the Southeast, collard is not indigenous to this region. When Europeans arrived in the Americas, no wild forms of B. oleracea were present. However, cabbage or nonheading cole crops similar to modern collards were brought to this hemisphere early in colonial times. Since then, collard fields and collard “patches” have been a common sight throughout the Carolinas. Historically, the traditional collard patch was planted with unique varieties perpetuated by individual seed savers. Collectively, the regional diversity for this crop was probably high for well over a century. Genetic erosion of this collard germplasm pool has been severe in recent decades as commercial hybrids have become widely grown. Although a significant number of collard landraces or heirloom varieties are still being perpetuated, the surviving germplasm is now in the hands of an aging population of seed savers. From 2003 to 2006, my colleagues and I explored the coastal plain region of North and South Carolina in search of collard gardens containing traditional landraces. The exploration trips were conducted mid-winter to early spring. When a plot was found, the owner was sought out, information about the variety being grown was recorded, and when it was clear the variety was not obtained from commercial sources, seed was collected. About 90 samples of collard were obtained from seed savers during the course of this domestic exploration. Observations of morphological differences made in grow-outs of these landraces indicate that significant diversity exists in this group that has now been deposited into the U.S. plant introduction collection of vegetable Brassicas.