The Rare ‘Norwegian Pencil’ Bean Finds Its Way Home

 The beautiful ‘Norwegian Pencil’ bean had passed along to a family in Minnesota, who then brought it to the Pacific Northwest, where they saved its cherished seed over multiple generations before sharing it with Seed Savers Exchange.

The beautiful ‘Norwegian Pencil’ bean had passed along to a family in Minnesota, who then brought it to the Pacific Northwest, where they saved its cherished seed over multiple generations before sharing it with Seed Savers Exchange.

Åsmund Asdal—a Norwegian agronomist who serves as coordinator of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault— has most definitely seen his fair share of exquisite rare seeds.

Still, he could not help but admire the ‘Norwegian Pencil’ bean when Lee Buttala, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange, prepared to pour a handful of the variety into a tall glass cylinder as part of a ceremony that took place last February to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the seed vault’s opening in the Arctic Circle. (SSE is the only nongovernmental organization that backs up seed in Svalbard.)

“As Åsmund was looking at the seeds, a look came over his face that I recognized well from seed swaps I have attended across the United States,” says Buttala. “He knew these seeds and, perhaps, something of their history.”

Indeed he did. Asdal proceeded to tell Buttala that the variety was once common in Norway, or at least within his own family; that his family had cooked the beans for generations; and that he remembered the seed’s unique markings from the family meals of his childhood. He further told him that while he had some seeds, they were no longer viable and capable of germinating.

Soon Buttala was pouring a portion of the beans that had been destined for the glass cylinder into Asdal’s hands: “I knew Åsmund would care for them and ensure that they moved into the future by growing them and sharing them with those he loves,” he says.

 Åsmund Asdal helps transport seeds for storage in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. (Photo: Nordgen)

Åsmund Asdal helps transport seeds for storage in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. (Photo: Nordgen)

This spring Asdal sowed the seeds in a garden in his native Norway; it is his hope that the plants, once grown, will provide enough seeds for further cultivation. Asdal also contacted KVANN, the Norwegian Seed Savers, to let the organization know he had obtained the variety and will share some of its seeds with the organization should he have enough of a yield. (Yes, KVANN is excited.)

Preserving and sharing rare seeds to ensure they can be enjoyed by future generations is at the heart of the work Seed Savers Exchange has done since it was established in 1975. Please donate today to help us continue this work to preserve rare, heirloom, and open-pollinated varieties like the cherished 'Norwegian Pencil' bean.