Heirloom Plants – Using

Q: I’ve been pondering your recent reply to the person who planted the one hundred year old plum variety. You mentioned that he wouldn’t wear clothes that were a century old, so why plant a plum variety that’s so ancient. I can’t see what the age of the variety has to do with anything. Either it’s suited for our climate or it’s not. I fear that people will think they shouldn’t plant heirloom plants. Perhaps a better answer would have been to explain why ‘Santa Rosa’ plum is unsuitable for Georgia.

A: The use of metaphor can be tricky and I fell flat on my face with that one. ‘Santa Rosa’ plum, Prunus salicina, is very susceptible to stem canker and leaf spot. On the West Coast these diseases are not such a big problem as they are in the Southeast. Southern plant breeders crossed P. salicina with native plums like P. americana to give them resistance to disease under the humidity and heat we find here. That is why I recommended the Auburn varieties for Atlanta.

Indeed, heirloom plants DO have a place in Southern gardens. They carry many desirable traits that have been lost from “improved” varieties. You can learn more about heirloom vegetables from the Southern Seed Legacy Project or the South Carolina Foundation Seed Association.

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