The definition of an ‘heirloom plant’ can differ, but it is essentially a plant with an unaltered lineage spanning back many decades. The most common definition is any cultivar of plant developed before 1951, the year hybrid cultivars first came into existence. Some growers define heirlooms as lines of plants, grown locally or regionally, that have been passed down consistently through families or groups. Many heirloom vegetables can trace their heritage back for hundreds of years, such as the dry bean ‘Hidatsa’ which was raised by the Hidatsa tribe of North Dakota.
All heirloom plants are open pollinated -– meaning that seed from these varieties can be saved each year by home gardeners and will grow ‘true to type’ from seed each time. In other words, plants grown from seed will look exactly like the parent plant did, having the same plant size, habit, color, and flavor.
Heirloom fruits and vegetables are especially prized for their superior taste. A sun-ripened heirloom tomato, for example, is exquisite.
However, the drawback to growing heirlooms is their lack of disease resistance compared to modern cultivars. Heirlooms can require a little more tender loving care or risk tolerance from the gardener.
Want to try some heirloom plants out? Botanical Interests has a great collection of heirloom seeds, many of which we carry in store here at Rolling Green Nursery. And Baker Creek’s Rare Heirloom Seeds are also sold here. Come on by to try some out this spring!