Part-time library associate Sue Johnson has been sharing her loofah plant seeds with friends for decades, perpetuating a plant her mom grew in the 1960s.

With the opening next Saturday of the Pima County Public Library's seed library, her plant could show up all over town.

She is one of several gardeners, companies and organizations that have donated to the collection, which houses seeds from more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables and ornamentals.

The seeds are either open-pollinated or heirlooms, says librarian Justine Hernandez, who is in charge of the collection.

"There are no hybrids, so they will breed true," says Hernandez.

Seeds from hybrids often sprout plants of the originals that created the hybrid, not the variety from which the seed came.

The collection is housed at five branch libraries:

•Flowing Wells, 1730 W. Wetmore Road.

• Himmel Park, 1035 N. Treat Ave.

• Joel D. Valdez Main, 101 N. Stone Ave.

• Quincie Douglas, 1585 E. 36th St.

• Salazar-Ajo, 33 Plaza, Ajo.

County residents with library cards can "borrow" a packet of 10 to 15 seeds.

Each packet is labeled as containing seeds that are easy to grow or that require medium or advanced gardening knowledge.

These "borrowers" plant the seeds, grow the plants, then voluntarily collect and return seeds from those plants to replenish the collection.

Gardeners can get planting and care information as printed material at the libraries or online at

The seeds eventually can be reserved online like the library's other collections.

The library also plans to conduct gardening and seed-collecting workshops for residents.

"Our goal is that the seeds go out and we are supporting them in their efforts," says Hernandez.

The system received a $5,000 grant from the Arizona State Library to launch the collection, which Hernandez insists is an appropriate activity.

"The library is about providing resources for self-edification," she says. Recognizing that Tucson has a vibrant gardening community, including farmers markets and community gardens, "helped inform our decision to go ahead with this."

For Johnson, the collection is a way to share local seed stock.

"It's kind of neat getting (seeds) from Tucson and knowing it works here," she says.

Another library

Native Seeds/SEARCH also has a seed library, at its retail store, 3061 N. Campbell Ave.

Its collection works on the same principle as the library's, although organizers ask that "borrowers" return twice as many seeds as they take.

Several dozen varieties of seeds are available based on what donors have contributed, including native and non-native species.

"The idea," says deputy director Belle Starr, "is to encourage seed-saving locally to enhance our own genetic resources."

If you go

Seed Library Opening

• What: Talks and activities on gardening and collecting.

• When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.

• Admission: Free.

• Information: 791-4010.

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at