Interest in heirloom
plants has blossomed in recent years, and you may be interested in trying
your hand at growing
heirlooms in your own garden. But first, exactly what is an heirloom plant
and what makes a plant an heirloom? The answer isn’t as simple as you may
think, but the following information should help.
What Makes a Plant an Heirloom?
All heirloom plants are open-pollinated, which means the
seeds that produce the same characteristics as the parent plant from one year
to the next. Hybrids
don’t “grow true to type” when planted by seed. Generally, open-pollinated
plants are pollinated not by people, but by insects or wind.
The term “open-pollinated” can be confusing, however,
and certain other plants are typically propagated vegetatively and not by seed,
but they can still be heirlooms.
There are other characteristics that make a plant an
heirloom, and these characteristics are up for debate. Some experts claim that
heirloom plants must be at least 50 years old, or that they originated before
World War II. Others say the cut-off is 1951 – the year plant breeders
introduced the first hybrid cultivar. Still, others say heirloom varieties date
back to 1920 or l930.
Either way, the seeds of heirloom plants are passed down
from generation to generation. Some may be descendants of plants grown by early
Are Heirlooms Better Than Hybrids?
Are heirlooms better? Maybe, or maybe not. Both heirlooms
and hybrids have distinct benefits. The best choice depends on several factors,
including your preferences and your gardening style.
Many people prefer heirlooms because they usually have a
much better flavor and a more vivid color. Heirlooms may even be more
nutritious. However, heirlooms aren’t as smooth and perfect as hybrids, and you
may notice quirks and imperfections.
If you’re concerned about aesthetics and you prefer a more
uniform appearance, you may like hybrids better. Also, germination of heirloom
seeds may be slow or staggered, which may be a benefit if you prefer that your
crop doesn’t ripen all at once.
If you’re new to gardening, or if you don’t like the idea of
spending a lot of time tending vegetable plants, you may prefer hybrid
varieties, which are more dependable, tend to produce larger crops, and are
bred to be pest- and disease-resistant. On the flip side, heirlooms grown in
your region may be “locally adapted,” making them hardier and better able to
withstand pests and disease that plague plants in your area.
Choose heirlooms if you want to save
the seeds for replanting. By growing heirlooms, you are preserving the
genetic diversity of the plants, as some heirloom plants are threatened by
extinction. Of course, heirlooms aren’t genetically modified, so if you’re
growing an heirloom plant in the garden, you just may be growing a little piece
of history too, especially those that are fairly rare and difficult to come by.
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