Heritage plants (also called heirloom plants) are ones that have been passed down from generation to generation.
These plants can be maintained through cuttings, root division or seed.
Plants that have been maintained from seed are openly pollinated, meaning that nature makes the selections as opposed to scientists. As a result, each plant will have slightly different characteristics. Over time, the plants will alter slightly, adapting to the local environment. But nothing has been done to purposely develop certain aspects of the plant.
Scientists began hybridizing programs to develop plants that grew better in the northern climates. Initially they looked for characteristics such as disease resistance and a shorter growing season. When the market for fresh goods expanded, they then worked toward long shelf life and tougher skins, making shipping easier.
At that point, taste was not high on the list and consumers complained and the programs changed focus.
Plant hybridizing programs are not to be confused with ones where the DNA is altered.
When seeds from heritage plants are collected, dried, saved and planted the next season, one can expect plants with similar characteristics to grow. This is not necessarily true with plants that have been hybridized. Plants from hybridized seeds may or may not look like the parent plants.
Companies that sell heritage plant seeds either grow their own or purchase them from companies that grow the seed organically and use open pollination. Larger companies cater to the masses while smaller ones often have seeds for unique plants that aren’t for sale elsewhere.
The following is a selection of smaller companies that sell heritage or heirloom seeds. Read the catalogues carefully — if it doesn’t state it is a heirloom variety, chances are it is not.
l West Coast Seeds have a selection of heritage vegetables and flowers. They have an online catalogue at http://www.westcoastseeds.com or contact them at 1-888-804-8820.
l Two Wing Farms carry heritage tomato seeds. They have some listed online but have many different varieties that can be found by contacting them directly. It should be noted that this company will be closed until the end of March. Go to http://www.twowingsfarm.com or phone them at 250-478-3794.
l Heritage Harvest Seeds carry a large selection of heritage vegetables, flowers and herb seeds. Go to http://www.heritageharvestseed.com/ or phone them for a catalogue at 204-745-6489.
l Tatiana’s Tomato Base contains 4,754 varsities of tomatoes that she has gathered from around the world. Seed origin and cultural requirements are included. Go to http://tatianastomatobase.com.
l Seeds of Victoria has a number of unique heritage vegetables, herbs and flowers. Go to https://seedsofvictoria.com or phone 250-881-1555.
l Salt Spring Seeds gives a description and origin seeds it sells: flowers, vegetables, grains and herbs. The heritage seeds are not separated from the newer varieties that are openly pollinated. Go to http://www.saltspringseeds.com or phone 250-537-5269.
l The Cottage Gardener carries a large selection heritage and organic seeds. Go to http://cottagegardener.com/ or phone 905-786-2388.
l Prairie Garden seeds grow and collect their own seed. Availability of seed can be affected by last year’s growing season. They have flowers and a large selection of vegetables and grains. Go to http://www.prseeds.ca/ or phone 306-682-1475.
l Solana Seeds sells a variety of heritage vegetables and flower seeds. There is a choice of an English or French online catalogue with unique seed varieties. Seed packets are printed in French. Go to www.solanaseeds.com.
l Brother Nature seed information makes it easy to see which are heritage and which are not. Go to http://www.brothernature.ca or phone 250-661-2255.
l Eternal Seed has a selection of heritage seeds available. Go to http://www.eternalseed.ca or phone 604-487-130
Take time to browse through the websites, reading about all the different heritage seeds that are available. For those who would prefer a printed catalogue, phone numbers are provided. Just be warned that not all companies will have one in print as the cost can be prohibitive.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.