Tag Archives: definition

Let’s create a definition of Heirloom plants before Big Ag marketers do

heirloom_seeds1To avoid the term “heirloom” for plants becoming co-opted by marketers or just getting watered down, John Butler of the Heirloom Harvest suggests establishing a clear definition of “heirloom” seeds, plants and cultivars, and policing the term to make sure it remains en pointe. John proposes that although people typically think of heirloom items as old ones, the definition of plants designated as heirloom should be tied not to a timeline, but rather to certain characteristics that remain true of the plant as it moves through generations of cultivation.

… we need a clear definition and to identify where use of the term is straying from that definition … what is an heirloom vegetable and how should we use the term correctly?

…when used in the context of vegetables, the literal meaning of an heirloom cultivar would be “a vegetable cultivar of value passed on from one custodian to the next”. Based on this literal meaning, in order to classify as an heirloom variety … the criteria for a cultivar to classify as an heirloom can be expanded and clarified to:

  • (Has) some intrinsic value.
  • Be open-pollinated or otherwise breed true to type.
  • Not be subject to a patent or plant breeders’ rights.
  • (Will) have its identity and purity maintained over multiple generations of plants and custodians, through careful growing out and seed saving.

The merit of John’s proposal to a static definition of what Heirloom plants are is brought home by Yolanda Verveen’s post about Heirloom seeds. There’s already much confusion about what this term means.

I haven’t yet looked through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables. If you have, please let us know what Chris’ definition is.