Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape department sustains the rich genetic heritage of plants by saving seed varieties. Ongoing research enables the department to locate plant varieties appropriate to the 18th-century. Once the seed is procured, it is carefully planted and tended with the intent of eventually harvesting and saving more seed for future generations to use.
By growing heirloom plants, we help prevent extinction and promote biodiversity in plants. The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting and preserving heritage seeds from the past, estimates that over 90 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties grown in the United States in 1900 have since been lost.
Fortunately, more and more people are realizing the importance of saving seeds and preserving the cultural and historical heritage of plants. Through the efforts of SSE and other organizations, Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape department has been able to obtain seed from around the world. Recently we have acquired a 14th-century variety of pea from The Henry Doubleday Foundation in England, an 18th-century cockscomb from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Plants, and a London flag leek from the Vavilov Research Center in St. Petersburg, Russia.