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What Are Heirloom Seedlings?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated: May 17, 2024

Heirloom seedlings are baby plants that are grown from seeds that have been classified as heirlooms. In general, this term means that the seed from which the plant was grown was obtained through open pollination, and has not been tampered with or modified. For most seedlings, the lineage of the plant must extend back until at least 50 years or prior to when that plant was first grown commercially. These baby plants are often vastly different from their commercial counterparts, and are considered by many to provide richly-flavored foods or fragrant flowers when fully grown.

Seeds that are taken directly from a plant after open pollination and then used the following year for decades will usually produce heirloom seedlings. These baby plants are considered any that was grown from a seed that has not been modified by man and that was obtained directly from the parent plant over several generations. The vast majority of seeds used in commercial farming, and even home gardening, are mass-produced, genetically-modified, or otherwise tampered with. This is typically done in an effort to create a plant that is disease-resistant or considered stronger than its heirloom counterpart.

Prior to the commercialization of farming, seeds were obtained from existing plants and then used the following season to grow the same type of seedlings. They were typically passed down in a family or among a community. Seedlings that are grown from seeds that have been obtained in this manner at least 50 years prior are usually considered heirlooms. Despite this, even further back than 50 years ago, several different fruit and vegetable seedlings were cultivated in an effort to make the resulting fruit or vegetable last longer or be more disease resistant; for this reason, even a seedling grown from a very old seed strain may not technically be an heirloom seedling.

Many consider heirloom seedlings new plants that produce the best-flavored foods, most fragrant flowers, or most beautiful foliage when fully-grown, although they may not be as easy to grow or as disease resistant as the standard plants used today. Heirloom seedlings can come in any variety of plant, from tomatoes, roses, or even a shrub. They are typically grown by gardeners who are looking to plant seedlings that will produce the most interesting and flavorful fruits and vegetables possible. When it comes to fragrant flowers, heirloom seedlings are often considered prizeworthy due to their unbelievable scent, blooms, and foliage once fully grown. Historical homes often landscape with heirloom seedlings to keep the outside of the home true to the history of the house itself.

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