Tuesday, April 3, 2012

For the Love of Spinach

The pattern has endured throughout garden history…

The boys come along,

They meet up with the girls,

Love is in the air,

Male Spinach seeds releasing pollen

And seeds are formed.

Spinach Seeds being formed near the stalk.

For further questions, go ask your Mom and Dad.

It came as a surprise to me that spinach plants grow up to be either male or female, and do not have both the male and female flowers on the same plant. The term for this is dioecious, meaning two houses. One way you can imagine this is having all the boys in one house (plant), with all the girls in another house (plant). As long as they are in the same area, seed will be formed.

Seed to Seed recommends having a minimum of 4 female plants and 2 male plants to continue the vegetable variety without any detrimental inbreeding. I laughed at this, because you cannot determine which is male or female until the stalks grow. So the basic rule of thumb is the more the better. As spinach requires a large isolation distance to retain varietal purity, small-scale gardeners may find it easiest to save seed from one variety per season.


  1. I will remember this once I do start saving seed...may be this year maybe not...I only plant one variety at a time so this will help...fascinating stuff.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Donna. There is so much to learn when gardening!

  2. There are so many plants like this - it makes it a little harder for us gardeners with little lots who don't have room to grow tons of each plant. (I'm running into this a lot with fruit trees I want to plant.) At least spinach is small and tasty!

    1. Thank you for the reply, Indie.
      I am definitely the type to try things small-scale before working on a large-scale. What kinds of fruit trees are you trying to grow? Hopefully they turn out to be tasty also!

  3. Hi- great post. I'm trying to collect some seeds now, but not sure whether I have any boys in the mix. It's very confusing- I think I see pollen balls, but I also have what look like big bundles of seed developing- on the same plant. I'm wondering if my plants have "sex-switched"? I know it can happen in the absence of males (or so I've read?)- but how often does that happen, I wonder?
    I'd love to know your thoughts.
    PS I think there's a typo/editing glitch above ^ - "monoecious'...think you meant dioecious?
    Thanks again.

    1. Dear Alex,

      Thanks for catching that! Yes- sometimes I make mistakes. I have sometimes seen very strange things when plants are under stress. I have seen tomato leaves change shape and design in the presence of heat and have seen female cucumbers produce a male flower in the absence of males. I have also seen spinach plants make seeds coats that look like puncture vines. In an attempt to survive in stressful situations, nature will do some pretty amazing things.

  4. My spinach looks like the first picture but not like the rest on Google, can you still eat it

    1. Hey there Paddy. Yes you can, but it will definitely become more bitter and the quality will decrease over time.


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