Seventeenth and eighteenth-century America had established nurseries—George Fenwick’s in Connecticut in the 1640s, John Bartram’s in Philadelphia (approximately 1729) and Robert Prince’s on Long Island (1737)—that traded plants to and from Europe. The owners were accomplished botanists and plant collectors.
When you think of an “heirloom plant”, you may be imagining a plant that has changed little in over a hundred years—something our great- great-grandparents would have farmed and eaten. However, the definition of an heirloom plant is a bit more fluid than that, and not only includes edibles but also plants such as flowers, herbs, bulbs, and shrubs. In fact, there is no singular consensus on how many years a plant has to have remained unchanged to be considered an heirloom. Some groups use cut-off dates—meaning dates after which the plant has not changed. For instance, 1940 is the cut-off date used by the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virigina.
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The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. Headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives in Washington, D.C., BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to digitize the natural history literature held in their collections and make it freely available for open access as part of a global “biodiversity community.”
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