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Perennial Kale Breeding Project

Oregon-based plant breeder Chris Homanics is working to develop diverse perennial kale lines that taste great, resist a variety of diseases and pests, and stand up to extreme weather in diverse growing conditions throughout the country.

Your assistance will help advance these important genetics much faster. Plant genetics and farming in general must be rooted in the community and commons, and as such must remain collaborative. In this spirit, the seed was released under the OSSI pledge. (See for more information.)

In this project we will work collaboratively to improve open-pollinated perennial kale (Brassica oleracea ramosa) for a wide variety of climates and conditions as well as general pest and disease resistance. This population was created by working with a uniquely diverse collection of plants amassed over the last decade. Volunteers are being recruited in order to better identify unique and important plants to include in future crosses. 

After freely sharing seeds with a group of EFN volunteer growers two years ago — and unfortunately not receiving reports back from most volunteers — this time I am asking volunteers to literally "buy in" to this project by spending $5.00 (plus shipping) to receive seeds and participate in the project. Seeds can be bought easily through this page on the EFN seed store website. If you don't have a credit card or refuse to buy anything online, please contact me directly.

GENETICS OF PERENNIAL KALE - A little backstory on the genetics of Brassica oleracea ramosa: This subspecies name, ramosa, means “bushing” in Portuguese. Most seldom flower. Only a handful of examples of this subspecies exist anymore. Over the next few years, I hope to import the remaining 20 or so to rescue the best from obscurity. They are often believed to be representatives of early cultivated forms selected from wild Brassica oleracea still found throughout Europe. Genetically they are truly distinct from all other studied Brassica oleracea. Several recessive traits appear to be involved in what makes a plant perennial. Possibly three or more recessive genes are at play. This may explain why our B. oleracea crop types seem to have mostly lost perenniality especially with post-Victorian era varieties. Also, there may be some perennial genetics distinctive to just bush kales. The project seeks to recover fertility back into this perennial phenotype, maintaining this perennial-ness, while focusing on flavor and disease resistance. A collaborative growout of this genepool across diverse environments in the US will advance these goals.

BACKGROUND STORY - The history of this material began with the work of my friend Graham Jenkins-Belohorska in Wales, UK. During the early 2000’s and onward, a small group of us had been communicating about perennial kales, both Brassica napus and Brassica oleracea. Graham had the good fortune of acquiring two related but very different perennial Brassica oleracea ramosa selections, both historic European varieties, ‘Purple Tree Collards’ (PTC) and ‘Daubenton.’ Daubenton was once a forage kale, grown by seed in the Victorian era and earlier. PTC is likely older and its history is obscured in the past. There are a handful of Daubenton plants remaining in Europe and most have not been reported to flower, so it was exciting when he found a form that was known to flower. If you have not seen these two kales, they are unlike any other in several ways. First, they are both very prone to branching and very shy of flowering. Both grow their branches long enough to flop down over time, sometimes advantageously rooting where they touch the ground. PTC is deeply purple and much taller while Daubenton is stout with small yellowish green leaves. To the surprise of our small group, Graham reported in 2011 that his PTC had begun flowering along with his Daubenton. In his plot was a cadre of his favorite Brassicas: ‘Redbor’ kale, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, ‘Lacinato’ kale, ‘Walking Stick Tree Kale’, variegated ornamental cabbage, and kohlrabi. He carefully performed hand-pollinations between the two perennial kales and back and forth between the perennials and everything else. In the Spring of 2012, I received a bit of seed from that cross which became the nucleus for this project. From this seed, I grew out approximately 400 plants. Only around 80 survived a particularly cold Pacific NW winter. The majority were heavily bushing and often had the floppy stems of their parent plants. But now they exhibited all sorts of leaf shapes and colors – from ruffled lacinato-like plants, to bushing kales with small leaves akin to Daubenton, to variegated types of various colors, and extremely tall plants reminiscent of Walking Stick Tree Kale, and many more! I then went on to include several more perennial kales I had collected from the West Coast and also the rare and delicately textured Danish Kale called Spis Bladene. Some of the perennials included a naturalized kale patch on the Puget Sound, a collard originally collected from the Umpqua River in Southern Oregon, and a selection of a collard in the Eugene area which is probably related to a green-collard from the Bay Area. Now, after thousands and thousands of plants, several rounds of selection has guided the population toward disease and pest resistance, drought hardiness, cold hardiness, vigor, and of course perenniality.

[Note from EFN organizers: As of now, this is the only EFN project asking volunteers to pay to participate. While the cost is pretty nominal, we didn't come to this decision lightly — since we strongly believe in the free sharing of resources — and, in full transparency, it was our decision (albeit taken in consultation with Chris). We asked Chris to direct volunteers to purchase their seeds through our website for a few reasons: 1) We hope that by having volunteer growers "buy in" to the project, they will be more committed and communicative than last time around; 2) We spent over $125 to get these seeds tested for black leg fungus, a pest responsible for a mandatory quarantine of all Brassica seeds from the Pacific Northwest; and 3) Of course we also want more people to visit our seed store website. We are a non-profit cooperative, and having been doing this work without paying ourselves for over four years now, we think it's only fair to ask volunteers to share in at least a bit of the costs — especially to participate in such a fun, exciting and popular project. Thank you for your understanding.]

Researcher background
Please see my bio page.
Are you seeking volunteer growers or other types of volunteers?
Yes, seeking volunteer growers
How many volunteers do you need?
What will you ask volunteers to do?
You will be required to send an email to Chris that you have fully read and understand the agreement and that you agree to follow all the rules. If you are unsure about committing to all these rules, please do not request seeds.

This is a multi-year project and you are required to remain in contact for the duration of the project. Communication throughout the season from both of us is important for success with this project. Ideally three updates per year are required: once during establishment of the plants in the field, about whether you were successful or not; next, an update in September; in the second year and beyond, an update in winter about survival, usually in January or February in colder areas.

You, The Grower, are to grow out at least 40 plants, but the more the merrier. This is a large enough sample size for useful data about your growing conditions. Use the methods and procedures that you typically use to grow kale, whether that is direct seeding or planting in trays to transplant. Of course, choose a plot with adequate fertility and a mostly full sun spot.

Depending on your results you may be requested to send back woody cuttings of some of the best plants so that a composite of the best plants from throughout the country can be created. Participants will eventually receive divisions of the most promising plants to trial in their unique environment. For this to be a success, it is necessary that you agree to take photographs and share them in a timely manner. If the plants produce seed, you will be asked to return 75% of all mature seed for evaluation and use in subsequent years. You may be asked to keep separate seed from certain plants that are especially resilient, in other cases it may be fine that seed from all plants is bulked. Please thresh the seed so that it is at least free of debris and insects (it’s easy to do and I’m happy to explain the process).

Keeping a few field notes is necessary for the project. However you feel comfortable accurately recording the data is fine by me. Things such as plants resistance to diseases or pests, plants that thrived in drought, or survived the worst winter had to throw at it. I can assist with this. Also, which plants appear to be the best overall or the ones that are the most novel or attractive in appearance.

During the year, you are encouraged to harvest from the plants, cook and eat them, to evaluate them for their fiber content (i.e. how chewy raw or cooked the leaves are) and any bitterness/sweetness your taster detects. Remembering summer heat and drought makes kale more bitter, note which plants taste the best during that time. Cold will cause your plants to sweeten and loose much of their bitters. Remember insect predation and soil fertility issues (like a lack of Calcium) will also affect flavor.

Your findings and regular reports will help the selection process next Spring, when I will work with you to select only the best, most resilient plants to go to seed. I like to use colored landscape flags to signify different traits to remember later. These characteristics are almost as important as the perennial trait which won’t be known until the plants flower at least one cycle. Lastly, some plants will flower in a following year or possibly not at all.

Let's work together to mine the true gems and create something truly spectacular.
Is this a multi-year project?
Can volunteers expect to be able to keep some germplasm (seeds, bulbs, cuttings, spores, etc) at the close of the project?
Yes, of course
Anything else?
I look forward to working with you on this project!
Researcher Location

United States

Project Updates

Selecting for summer survival in Florida

project update by
Tuesday, September 5, 2023 - 02:21

I'm trying to select for varieties of Brassica oleracea with the right genetics to be perennial here in North Florida, which is mostly about ability to survive our steamy summers.

In fall 2022 and spring 2023, I planted over 100 plants from the HKPK grex in full sun locations in my garden. Of those 100+ plants, three are still alive now in early September '23. Those three plants are all in close proximity, indicating there might be something special about the soil in that area, because it's unlikely the three genetically best plants for summer survival just happened to be planted all within a couple feet of each other. Those three are the plants in the photo, looking haggard but alive at summer's end.

I also put about 25 HKPK plants in the ground in a morning sun, afternoon shade location, and ten of those plants are still hanging on.

I also planted seedlings grown from the "Mixed tree collard" seed batch from Project Tree Collard in winter/spring 2022-23. Twenty were in full sun - all died over summer. Fifteen were in the part shade location, and of those, 12 are still alive, and some of them actually look relatively healthy.

Additionally, in spring 2023 in part shade I put ten plants of chomolia, a perennial kale/collard from Zimbabwe, and four are still alive. (I would've expected better summer survival from chomolia, but most were just small plants going into summer, and in July an animal damaged many of those plants, adding to their summer stress.)

Anyone else trying to grow perennial Brassica oleracea in Florida or similar climates in the Southeast with extremely steamy summers? I'd love to share experiences and plant material.

Flowering in 6a

project update by
Monday, April 17, 2023 - 05:38

I have 6 plants in my garden in central Ohio (6a). They went through the winter barely covered with only some wind-burnt leaves and are now flowering. Along with the flower stalks, they are producing those smaller leaves that biennial kale tends to make when it starts flowering.

Can anyone tell me what I might expect after flowering? If they are truly perennial, will they likely go back to producing bigger leaves after setting seeds?

Weirdo in 7a/6b

project update by
Wednesday, April 12, 2023 - 12:44

I'm just starting out, I've got a few flats of 6-week-old seedlings on the light cart and have just started round two on the mats. I have about 50 plants so far.
I'm 7a/6b because I'm in 7a right now but these are going into the ground in 6b asap.
I noticed this seedling has three cotyledons, weirdo, so I'm gonna single it out and name it Larry.

Overwintered successfully in zone 7!

project update by
Saturday, April 1, 2023 - 11:03

To be honest, I'd actually forgotten for a while that I'd planted some of the perennial kale along with regular variety of kale (labels were destroyed so I treated them all the same). I just noticed that while the curly-leafed regular kale also overwintered successfully, it is already in the process of flowering, while there's no flower stalk in sight yet for the perennial kale! I only have ~12 plants but they're pretty uniform in appearance, and the leaves are surprisingly tender for their size - they're huge! Just wanted to provide this update while I was thinking of it! I'm in northern Virginia, right on the border of zones 7a and 7b.

Gone to seed

project update by
Tuesday, March 7, 2023 - 07:58

Just a fun update from our spot in 8a Georgia. We currently have about a dozen of these in the ground, with various planting dates. One of our April '22 planted ones is in flower now (along with a mix of different collards...some of which date to September '21). As I did not do any isolation, and the distance between the collards and kales is short, I will assume some crossing. Might end up with something neat!

Gone to seed

project update by
Tuesday, March 7, 2023 - 07:53

Just a fun update from our spot in 8a Georgia. We currently have about a dozen of these in the ground, with various planting dates. One of our April '22 planted ones is in flower now (along with a mix of different collards...some of which date to September '21). As I did not do any isolation, and the distance between the collards and kales is short, I will assume some crossing. Might end up with something neat!


project update by
Sunday, January 1, 2023 - 03:58

I grew from seed last year and this is my first over wintering. I kept 12 healthy plants to overwinter. I can see deer are nibbling the plants a bit, but the ground is nicely insulated with mulch so hoping to see a return next spring. (5A)


project update by
Sunday, January 1, 2023 - 03:52

I grew from seed last year and this is my first over wintering. I kept about 12 nice strong plants to overwinter. I can see deer are nibbling the plant tops a bit, but the ground is nicely insulated with some deep mulch so hoping to see a return next spring. (5A)

Perennial Kale

project update by
Saturday, December 31, 2022 - 03:50

I’m in zone 5 in NY. I started my plants last year and kept about 8 of them based on growth habits and the leaves. I’m so excited that they are still going strong. We’ve had 3 snow storms and they still look great. No issues with cabbage moths which was unexpected. I planted them in multiple locations, including 2 in a tall raised bed.

Update year 2 zone 6a

project update by
Saturday, July 9, 2022 - 05:50

I'm in year 2 of growing this kale. I have 2 unique seed grown plants in a 1ft tall raised bed. Both returned in zone 6a central ohio however our lows over the past winter were more zone 7 like but these plants aren't insulated by being in ground so that's impressive. One plant is tall and almost tree-like (tho not as tall this year when going to seed but is still an impressive plant) while the other is low and bushy with some purple stalks. Both are vigorous producers and I've propagated the tall variety clonally and it appears to be growing well unground in our clay soil.

Today I collected a significant amount of seed from the tree form variety and will continue over the coming days as the pods continue to dry.

Both varieties are excellent in taste with hints of broccoli but at the end of the season the veins tend to get very fibrous if you are eating older leaves. One delicious benefit of this plant in the second year is that the small leaves on seed stalks are also tender, delicious, and bite size

More than happy to pass along seed. I will upload pics soon

Hi nourishingrootsfarm

project update by
Wednesday, March 9, 2022 - 06:11

I have received a message from nourishingrootsfarm regarding the shipping of clones for kale; I would be very happy if I can receive those.
My address is 9715 Keele St. Maple, On, L6A-3Y5
Hope the seeds were shipped to the same address.
I will try both
If you would be able to send any specific instructions/requirements I would appreciate it as well.
TY all

Chris, this comment is for you. I have Good stock to return to you.

project update by
Wednesday, March 9, 2022 - 05:48


I am in year 4 or 5 of selecting for positive attributes. Out of a 350 count sample size I am down to 4. The main thing I have selected for is the ability to create stolons. This seemed important since a semi-woody species will eventually have the main stem rot out.

Anyways I want to get you some of this germplasm. I had Kyle Chamberlain include some of the seed in a package he mailed to you but I want to make sure you get clones.

Please advise.

Hello from new member

project update by
Tuesday, March 8, 2022 - 03:56

Hi, I just joined, interested in growing the perennial kale. Instructions say to send Chris an email, but the organizer 'trixtrax' page has no information, I'm not sure if this site was recently updated or what, but I cannot view any information that is not on the project page. I have requested seeds through the store. Thanks!

Accidental perennials

project update by
Saturday, December 11, 2021 - 10:05

Hello from zone 5a. I’ve been growing/collecting 3-4 lovely(SPICEY) kale varieties on my site for about 10 years. I have largely let them propagate themselves and have recently started experimenting with cloning and aquaculture. I am looking forward to participating with this project! Cheers.

Accidental perennials

project update by
Saturday, December 11, 2021 - 09:58

Hello from zone 5a. I’ve been growing/collecting 3-4 lovely(SPICEY) kale varieties on my site for about 10 years. I have largely let them propagate themselves and have recently started experimenting with cloning and indoor aquaculture. I am looking forward to participating with this project! Cheers.

Difficult climate for kale

project update by
Monday, November 22, 2021 - 06:00

I have bought the seed and joined this project because I live in an exceptionally difficult climate for overwintering kale, but love kale. I’m in zone 7 but out in the western high desert where we have very little rainfall, very hot days much of the summer and fall, blow dryer-like winds in late winter and early spring, and no snow cover. Every “perennial” kale I have bought has died. But a patch of Redbor overwintered last winter and grew strongly all through the 2021 growing season, providing three cuttings. I will try to keep this patch going through the coming winter and also grow the seed from EFN in hopes of getting material for crosses that might survive our climate at least for 3 or 4 years. I’ll report back next year.

Checking in...

project update by
Saturday, December 14, 2019 - 05:59

I just wanted to touch base and see what type of follow up information I can offer to this project. I've grown out the perennial kale grex and have selected down from 50 plants I initially grew out to about 10 that look really promising and have proven for the last year and 8 months to be perennial, pest-resistant, delicious, and hearty. I grow some additional perennial brassicas in my garden including Merritt collards, dino tree kale, green tree collards, and nine-star broccoli. I collected some seed this season (mostly from my Merritt collards and a couple of the grex plants), as I thought it may produce some interesting crosses, as the dino tree kale, many of the grex plants, the Merritt collard, and the nine-star broccoli were all blooming at the same time.

I'd be very interested in growing out any promising cuttings or the next generation of seed evolution. Let me know how I can be of service. I'm very passionate about this project!