Gardeners love heirloom plants. Heirlooms are among the most popular and sought-after seeds and plants. Avid and dedicated gardeners truly appreciate their value. Heirloom seeds are very special, producing old-fashioned, and sometimes uncommon flowers, vegetables, and herbs. They may have come from Grandpa or Grandma’s garden. Or, they may be an “old-fashioned” favorite. The roots of the term go back to the 1930s, before the arrival of hybrid plant varieties.
Did You Know? Some heirlooms originated in George Washington’s garden!
The literal definition of an heirloom seed is any variety handed down from generation to generation of gardeners. It can be a flower, a vegetable, or an herb. In reality, the seed may not be literally “handed down”. It’s okay for seed companies to carry them. Many of these “handed down” varieties are sold by seed companies. To qualify as an heirloom seed, it must have existed before the arrival of Hybrids in the 1930s.
What qualifies a seed as an heirloom seed? There is no universal agreement on the definition. Here are traits commonly used to define an heirloom:
The age of the seed lineage. It can be traced back many decades. It is a seed that has been around before 1930 when Hybrids arrived on the scene. (Before GMO seeds, too.)
Family or generational linkage. A seed that has been grown in a family for generations is often called a family gem.
Historical value. For example, a plant variety grown in George Washington’s garden would certainly be considered an heirloom.
The seed must be nonhybrid. It does not derive from a hybrid. Everyone agrees on this.
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 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.
Did you Know? Some companies claim to offer “organic seeds, garden supplies and produce. But, if they do not have the USDA Certified Organic label (see example below), they are not truly organic.