Readers share stories of treasured family plants passed down for generations.
In the 1940s, my father’s elementary school teacher gave him some Easter lily cacti (Echinopsis ancistrophora). How she came across a plant from Brazil in rural Nebraska during the Great Depression is anyone’s guess! I officially inherited them from my father upon his death, although I had been caring for them for years by then. The original plants are long gone, so what I have today are their clones — this species sets “pups” that you can pull off the mother plant and use to start new plants. When it blooms, it has a beautiful, pale pink flower that opens at night and smells like Easter lilies. The flowers only last a few hours.
From my father, I also have a calamondin orange tree (x Citrofortunella microcarpa), which was a prize given away in the late 1960s by the Dixie Cup company for collecting box tops. My father carefully saved those box tops while my mother was pregnant with me — the tree and I both came into the family at about the same time. The fruit of this tree is exceptionally sour, so it’s mostly decorative. It hasn’t bloomed in years, but because it’s 50 years old now, that’s not really surprising. When it did bloom, it was the best floral scent in the world!
The cacti are beautiful indoors or out, and the fruit of the orange tree can be eaten — if you’re brave. The fruits can be used for making a pretty good marmalade; sugar cuts the sourness and makes the oranges palatable. These plants have journeyed along with us. The cacti — after their forever-to-remain-mysterious travels from Brazil — grew in Nebraska until my father married a Kansas girl and moved to the Texas Gulf Coast, where they were joined by the orange tree, my sister, and me. We all moved to Boulder, Colorado, where we spent the next 46 years. Last year, we packed up everything except my sister and moved to southern Colorado.
My grandmother had a large, healthy circle of variegated hostas (Hosta spp.) planted around a cement bird bath in the backyard of her childhood home (she was born about 1910). They were originally planted by my great aunt. That ring of hostas was there as far back as I can remember, and I always loved it.
After Grandma passed, the home was sold and torn down, and the hostas destroyed. Luckily, I had removed some a few months earlier — they’re part of our family history and are heirloom plants that can’t be replaced. I’m so thankful I saved some.
My mother also had cuttings from the same line that was in Grandma’s garden. Mom passed away a couple of years ago, and now, here in the Pacific Northwest, I take care of her garden. When I have my own home, I’ll divide and plant her hostas, and I’ll bring some of Grandma’s plants from New York. I plan to collect as many heirloom Hosta cultivars as possible — plants from others’ gardens, not from a store. Hostas make me smile. Every year they spring up and grow down like a fountain of leaves.
I gave a tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium) to my mom for Mother’s Day more than 30 years ago. I planted it for her, and it flourished. My mom loved tiger lilies, and she would remark how pretty her lily was every year when it bloomed. Sadly, my mom died 29 years ago, just two months before my son was born.
When we knew her home was to be sold, the tiger lily plant was the one thing I wanted to bring with me. I replanted it in front of my co-op in Queens, New York. Again, it flourished, and I was able to keep dividing it until there was a beautiful row of lilies lining the front of my home. Later, I moved to Ohio. Since my daughter still lived in the New York home, I left the lilies for her — I knew she loved them. On a visit to Ohio, she surprised me with a small split from one of the plants so I could have a bit of my mom here. Again, the plant flourished into rows, split after split.
Three years ago, we made one more home move, and I took some of the lilies again. So, 29 years after taking the original plant, it has grown into many beautiful, flourishing plants, and some of it is still at each place I’ve lived. It feels as if my mom is here with me.
When we bought an older home in a small Washington town 41 years ago, the previous owners told us that a start for their yellow rosebush came by covered wagon with their family ancestors. We took a start with us when we moved to another small Washington town 39 years ago. We later sold that house to our son, who recently sold it to our daughter. Our daughter still has the yellow rosebush, and our son took a start to his new house. I have one now on the farm that we bought when we sold the house to our son. The rosebush is a very persistent, hardy plant. Besides surviving all the moves, our son mowed it down to the ground once, and it came back! I’ve since made it clear to my family that whatever landscaping they do has to be done carefully around the yellow rosebush. It’s in bloom in all these places and is now part of our family history.
My aunt inherited a delicate and beautiful fern when her mother (my grandmother) died in 1945. I was 3 at the time. My aunt passed away in 2002, and I inherited the fern. I’m 75 years old now, and it’s still growing strong. The plant may outlive me as well! It’s even possible this fern came from my great-grandmother, as she lived in the same house as my grandmother, but I can only confirm that I remember it as a 3-year-old.
I have shared pieces of it with very special friends who I knew would look after the plants. Consequently, the original plant is a little smaller these days than it was in earlier photos. I inherited a love of plants and have filled my house with them. I know all of their names, but this special fern remains unidentified. I would be so grateful if someone could tell me her name!
— Heirloom Gardener staff
We are so pleased to receive these touching stories from our readers about plants that remind them of loved ones, old homes, family recipes, and more. Please send your story and high-resolution photos, if available, to Letters@HeirloomGardener.com for a chance to be included in a future issue. We pay $25 for each story we publish and $25 for each photo we use.
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