Heirloom Plants

Heirloom tomatoes

Q: I’ve read a lot recently about heirloom vegetables and would like to try growing some this year. Can you explain a little about heirlooms?

A:  Heirloom plants are a great way of passing along family history or community culture. Heirloom plants are genetically unique, open pollinated, and produce seed resulting in plants that “come true” to type, meaning offspring will be more or less the same as the parent plant, unlike hybridized varieties. This is an advantage for home gardeners because seed from favorite vegetables can be saved from year to year.

Heirloom vegetables are frequently colorful and flavorful and often have unusual, funny names. They may differ greatly in size, shape, and color, unlike the uniform veggies produced by hybrid plants. Lettuce, beans, and tomatoes are some of the easiest heirlooms to grow because these plants are self-pollinating.

Great heirloom vegetables include Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, Kentucky Wonder pole bean, as well as ‘Black Krim’, ‘Lemon Drop’, and ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes. For lists of heirloom plants and sources, please contact Plant Information Service. Be sure to attend the annual Seed Swap at the Chicago Botanic Garden on Sunday, February 24 for more heirloom seed information Seed Swap.