Domestication of Common Silverweed (A. anserina)

Hello, nice to be on this forum - I’m enthusiastic about talking to fellow plant breeding fans about my Argentina anserina syn. Potentilla anserina (Common Silverweed) domestication efforts.

I am attempting to domesticate Argentina anserina syn. Potentilla anserina (Common Silverweed, or just Silverweed) using two methods: landracing and intergeneric hybridisation.

Common Silverweed has a denser starch and nutrient content than potatoes. They propagate themselves via stolons, basically like strawberries, and wherever they root into the ground, there will inevitably be a long pencil thin storage root. This is the edible part. Silverweed also propagates itself via seeding, and this mechanism should not be underestimated as I’ve had this happen in my own garden after just one year of breeding. From my observations, Silverweed will grow nearly anywhere, but prefers ground that has a certain degree of moistness. You will see mention of Silverweed preferring seasides, but my experience is that it prefers to be near any body of water. Locally, I have seen it grow near reservoirs, canals and seasides. If you bring up the plant distribution on iNaturalist, you will accordingly find very little presence in certain regions that are known to be arid, like most of Australia, or large parts of the Mediterranean. In the US, there is a “sister” plant called Argentina pacifica or Pacific silverweed which is famous for being harvested by the First People’s of America. For more information about A. anserina, see the late Gordon Hillman’s excellent entry on the matter.

Wild A. anserina is extremely nutrient and carbohydrate dense - but there’s one sticking point. It’s hard to harvest and hard to clean. The storage roots reach deep and you’ll be hard pressed to not snap them midway if you’re harvesting in the wild. I grew mine in pots last year and was able to side step this issue, but some sources mention growing silverweed in loose, loamy raised beds. Once you’ve got hold of the storage roots, which will have lots of stubborn, hair-like roots attached to them, you’ll have to clean it. It’s hard work because the hair-like roots cling to soil and stone very strongly. I assume that these secondary roots are responsible for any nutrient gathering and the storage root we’re interested in is the result of their hard work. One nice benefit of these storage roots is that the specimens travel well. I’ve had tiny fragments of storage root regenerate. The secondary hair-like roots burn easily when it comes to cooking too (they also stick in your teeth), which makes preparation and consumption of Silverweed so burdensome that it’s got an - undeserved! - reputation for being a famine food.

So I hope I’ve led you to the conclusion that Common Silverweed deserves to be domesticated. And when I say “domestication”, I mean in much the same way as the humble carrot was domesticated from the wild carrot: fattening the storage root and reducing the hair-like roots. Silverweed has something going for it that the carrot does not though, which is the self propagation. What some view as the “weedy” property of Silverweed can be harnessed to great good - just picture a bed of self propagating Silverweed; minimal effort, maximum gain, pulling up wheelbarrow loads of carrot-thick Silverweed come autumn-time.

My main aims are to create a landrace of Silverweed with rich genetic diversity, and simultaneously attempt an intergeneric hybrid of Silverweed with some other Potentilla species, for an even richer gene pool. From there, I hope to domesticate Silverweed using the typical methods of inbreeding and backcrossing until we arrive at the thickest possible root, hopefully preserving the vigour of the wild ancestor.

I hope to have other people join me in the domestication efforts too, but I will attempt to create this rich seed bank first.

In any case, I look forward to discussions about this and other plant breeding projects with you guys.


As an aside, a lot of this post is cribbed from one of my substack posts. I’ll keep an up to date list of silverweed related posts at the bottom of this post:

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This is excellent.
I’m a gardener and rewilding landscaper in the PNW. I’ve had an interest in potentilla pacifica for some time and have some plants on the way. I’ll take a look at your substack and see what I can do. There’s a massive patch i’ll be visiting in Seattle and may be able to harvest a bunker crop of seeds.
Let me know if you or anyone else wants some.

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Hello Trent, A. pacifica seeds would be most welcome! We can swap seeds if you would like, I can send you some A. anserina seeds and we can see what the crosses will produce.

Thank you so much for your subscription to my substack, it really means a lot to me and does massively encourage my writing.

Looking forward to future collaboration and discussion!

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In my latest substack post, I talk about real life cuisine involving A. anserina. It’s a bit of a tangent, but then cooking our crops in delicious recipes is surely a big part of why we do it, and there certainly seems to be a dearth of recipes for Silverweed!

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Amongst the Silverweeds (Argentina sp.), there are more than 70, but really only two are talked about for consumption - Common Silverweed and Pacific Silverweed (A. anserina and A. pacifica). The burning question (for this group) is:

Which other species in this genus have edible roots? Maybe lurking here is one that has nice fat roots, ready to go and all it takes is for someone to travel there and collect a sample.

Here, I talk about my top five favourite Silverweeds - hoping I can inspire you on your own plant breeding journey!

Hi Thulahn. I like your thinking. Creating a new crop. I’ve got two ordinary potentilla varieties growing close by. One you identified as potentilla reptans, the other i ‘identified’ as potentilla erecta. It’s a higher one.
Both have popped up in my quite big experimental biodiverse permaculture garden as well.
This year the reptans variety colonised two square metres in my beds. I grow quite some bigger plants on the border of the garden to keep out the grasses, especially quackgrass. I’ve noticed the reptans calms it down! So i’m going to grow it as a groundcover in that corner of the garden. Makes it easier to harvest as well.
Because i like what you do and would like to contribute, i’ve taken the seeds of the ‘erecta’ and seeded them in the middle of it. Who knows if it will cross?!? Later in the season i’ll move some ‘erecta’ in. That will give me a chance of looking at it’s roots as well.
I know this is it. I’m moving every potentilla in i can get my hands on.

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This is a great idea, and one I’m contemplating myself because I don’t have much time. Planting as many potentilla and Argentina species in close proximity and letting the pollinators have at it. One thing it does require is being intimately familiar with the original species, so you can recognise any crosses as they come up.

For myself, I have p. erecta, p. nepalensis, p. crantzii, a. anserina, a. egedii - I could let these grow altogether.

Let me know how your experiments get on!

I’ll be honest your project is terrifying as a possible source of future mega-weeds, but I’m still excited to send you some pacific silverweed seeds If I can get my hands on them.

I’ll be headed up to seattle labor day weekend (sep1-4 for the UK folks), and there’s a huge patch on display at UW. There just have to be some there.

That would be really great if you could do that. Send me a private message and we can coordinate.

In terms of mega weeds, at least we can live in (edible) infamy.

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Latest progress report on Silverweed Domestication Project: Silverweed Breeding Progress Report #6 - by A. Potentilla

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On a practical note, do you own a Hori-Hori knive/garden trovel? They can attach to your belt. Strong and pointed, can be used as a crowbar on smaller stones.
Carry it at all times, will persuade angered home owners to converse on a friendly note with you after they caught you digging up roots on their property. Just kidding.

A trench shovel would be handy too, i’ve got one with a 5 inchish blade and much longer than a normal shovel. To dig squarish holes to be filled with whatever silverweed soil likes but with smaller rocks to encourage inspection of the root. To make it less hellish to dig up

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I’ve been meaning to get a Hori-Hori, I just keep forgetting.

RE: the small stones idea, it’s nice but I want to make sure I select for big roots in normal ground. Having said that, I could get the biggest roots in prepared ground and go from there.

Here is a progress report on the F2 generation - my observations etc: Silverweed Breeding Progress Report #7 - by A. Potentilla

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A quick Silverweed breeding update, planting out in the allotment Silverweed Progress Report #8 - by A. Potentilla

I discuss vigour of clonally propagated plants.

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