Abelmoschus esculentus & A. caillei
Origin: North Carolina
Improvement status: Breeding population
Seeds per packet: ~50
Germination tested 11/2022: 88%
Life cycle: Annual
Wow, are we ever excited about these seeds right here! Brainchild of our friend and co-conspirator Chris Smith — author of the James Beard Award-winning The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration — 'Ultracross' Okra is perhaps the most diverse okra composite cross ever made, but it is doubtless the most diverse okra population ever made available in one seed packet. We're eager to watch as the diversity of this population allows growers like you to develop new okra varieties and even expand the potential range of this beloved African crop.
In 2021, Chris and The Utopian Seed Project planted 100 cultivars of Abelmoschus spp. within a 100ft x 25ft block in Leicester, North Carolina at Franny's Farm. 83 of those cultivars were Abelmoschus esculentus (Common Okra), including some EFN 'Kandahar Pendi', and there were also 2 flowering Abelmoschus caillei (West African Okra), including the 'Moody Family' okra they got from us. However, the chances of in-field interspecies crossing (A. esculentus x A. caillei) are pretty low.
Okra has a perfect flower that easily self pollinates, but the hibiscus-like blossom is also big and beautiful and okra patches can be filled with bees and wasps and a whole host of other pollinators (there is even an east coast native "okra bee", Ptilothrix bombiformis — technically it's a Rose-Mallow Bee, but they're equally happy on rose-mallow's cousin okra!). All this means that okra will readily outcross, with promiscuity reported between 10% and 30%, though in a closely planted, heavily insected field, outcrossing could be even higher. But regardless of the level of outcrossing, this mix of seeds represents massive genetic and varietal diversity.
Potential genetics represented in the mix include (trigger warning: there is a 'Hitlers' okra on this list, which is actually said to descend from okra seeds found by American soldiers on plants growing in Hitler's greenhouse): 007; Alabama Red; Aunt Hettie's Red; Bear Creek Okra; Beardi; Big Red; Blondy; Bowling Red; Bradford Family Okra; Brandy Red; Bull Dog; Burgundy (aka Red Burgundy); Cajun Jewel; Candle Fire; Catawba Freesman - African Okra; Chatham Red Okra; Cherokee Long Pod; Choppee; Claude Lingerfelt Okra; Clemson Spineless; Dwarf Heirloom; Essoumtem Okra; French Quarter Pink; French Quarter Red; Granddaddy's Okra; Hill Country Red - Brian Harris; Hire Okra; Hitlers Okra; Hodnett Special Okra; Heavy Hitter; Hoopers Okra; Jimmy T's; Jing Orange; Kandahar Pendi; Kibbler Family Okra; Kon; Lahague; Langston Longhorn; Little Egypt; Louisiana Green Velvet; Louisiana 16" Long Pod; Moody Family Okra (A. caillei); Motherland Okra (A. caillei); Mr Bill Big Okra; No.76; Okinawa pink; Old Black Man's Okra; ORS 2833; ORS 2835; ORS 2844; ORS 2850; ORS 2851; ORS 2853; ORS 2854; ORS 2856; ORS 2860; ORS 2875; ORS 2896; ORS 2898; Puerto Rico Evergreen; Puerto Rico Evergreen Tall; Pusa Makhmali; Pusa Sawani; Quiabo #1; Quiabo #2; Quiabo #3; Rains Okra; Red Okra - Random; Red Okra 14; Red Okra 47; Red Okra 98; Red Pod 52; Red Velvet; Red Wonder; Salmon (F3); Shows Okra; Silver Queen; South Asian Okra; Stewart's Zeebest; Stubby Okra; Whidby White (?); Whidby White Improved; White Satin; Yalova Akkoy (aka Sultani); Yuma Red Okra.
Color: Within this mix you'll find the whole range of okra pod colors, from the palest greens (basically white) through to the dark reds and most things in-between, including a good mix of green pods with red blushing.
Pod Shape: You'll find all the pod shapes represented in various combinations including, short, stubby, long, thin, chunky, deeply ridged, totally rounded, curly, and superlong.
Plant Height: Expect anything from 1-2 foot dwarf plants up to the 12+ foot giants.
Countries of Origin: Many of these varieties are considered USA heirlooms, but there are also many Asian-origin okras in the mix as well as varieties that came directly from various African countries. 'Quiabo' is of Brazilian origin.
We intend this mix of okra to be planted and enjoyed by a wide range of people. Maybe you're an adventurous home gardener with limited space and really want to have every seed you plant could produce something different. Or maybe you're a Northern grower who struggles to get a good okra crop. Or maybe you're an aspiring plant breeder looking to explore the possibilities of this amazingly diverse African crop. Whatever the case, this mix represents a unique chance to plant out a large quantity of different genetics and save seeds from the healthiest survivors. Along the same lines, you could select all the reds into a diverse red okra population, or maybe you have a friend who loves stuffing okra, so you select for all the short fat pods, or you want the least spiny leaves for a green leaf production (a delicious and nutritious vegetable in its own right), or the best-tasting edible oil from the seeds! The sky's the limit!
We encourage you to select and save seeds based on your own needs and wants — but even just saving seeds from the best plants will begin the process of regional adaptation, and preserving diversity will support the long-term climate resilience of this crop. Please let us know what happens with these seeds once they're in your care. It's worth noting that you're likely to find even more variation in the second year if you save seeds this year (this year's seed is the F1 generation, but the real fun starts in F2!). We really can't wait to see what wonderful okras emerge from this immense achievement — which, it bears mentioning, may never be made again, so get your seeds today!
Note: By purchasing these seeds, you agree to never attempt to patent or otherwise restrict the use of these seeds or their descendants.