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Heirloom Garden Plants and Seeds 

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Of all the plants and seeds on the planet, Heirlooms are the most prized. Heirloom seeds and plants are rare, unique, or uncommon ones, that date back several decades and even hundreds of years. It may be an old-fashioned rose, a prized flower from George Washington's garden, or a favorite tomato variety that your family has passed down through generations.

The roots of heirloom plant terminology goes back to the 1930s, before the arrival of hybrid plant varieties or GMO seeds.

Heirloom Plant Definition

To qualify as an "Heirloom plant", the plant variety must be traceable back to the 1930s or before. The seeds of the heirloom were perhaps handed down from generation to generation of gardeners. It can be a flower, a vegetable or an herb. In reality, the seeds of the plant may not be literally "handed down". It's okay for seed companies to carry them. In fact, many of these "handed down" varieties are sold by seed companies. To qualify as an heirloom, it must have existed prior to the arrival of Hybrids in the 1930s.

What qualifies a plant as an heirloom? There is no universal agreement on the definition. Here are common traits of heirloom plants:

  1. The age of the plant lineage. It can be traced back many decades. It has been around before 1930, when Hybrids arrived on the scene. (Before GMO seeds, too.)

  2. Family or generational linkage. A plant that has been grown in a family for generations, often called a family gem.

  3. Historical value. For example, a plant variety grown in George Washington's garden, would certainly be considered an heirloom.

  4. The seeds, bulbs or roots must be not come from a hybrid plant. Everyone agrees on this.

  5. An heirloom seed must not be genetically altered. Everyone also agrees on this point as well. See GMO vs. Non-GMO


Do Heirloom seeds and plants need to be organic? While we encourage organic heirloom gardening in general, there is no actual requirement that heirlooms need to be organically grown.

Can a seed company grow and sell an heirloom seed? Sure! And, most seed companies do. They just need to meet the above qualifications.

What are the most popular Heirlooms: Tomatoes and roses are by far the most popular heirlooms. And, there are many varieties to choose from. That makes us gardeners very, very fortunate.

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