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Heirloom flowers are varieties that have been cultivated since at least 1950, and some species date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. They are open pollinators, meaning that they require the help of insects, birds, or wind and rain in order to reproduce. Open pollination results in greater diversity within a species, which can help to create pest and disease-resistant flowers. Heirloom flowers are especially prized for their beauty and fragrance.
Antique flowers is another term for heirlooms, and, in particular, is often used when referring to roses. European and American antique roses differ from their modern counterparts in that they bloom only once per season, rather than continually. China heirloom roses, on the other hand, bloom repeatedly. These roses were imported to Europe in the 19th century, and crossed with native European species to begin the development of our modern varieties.
Many antique roses are more fragrant than modern ones, such as Damask, Gallica, and Centifolia roses. Centifolia roses, also called cabbage roses, are still grown to be used in perfumes. Damask roses were the only variety of European antiques that flowered twice in the same blooming season, and Gallica roses were known for their showy flowers.
Tea roses, which are almost thornless, are one of the early types of roses to be developed from China roses. They were developed in France by crossing two varieties of China rose. Tea varieties typically come in yellow, pink, and white, and grow best in warmer climates.
There are many types of heirloom flowers in addition to roses. For instance, blue, star-shaped borage flowers date back to ancient Rome, where they were eaten and used a an antidepressant. Pink, heart-shaped bleeding heart flowers have also been cultivated for many years, and are native to China.
Many types of antique flowers date back to at least the 17th century. The foxglove was known before 1600, and is still a widely popular garden flower. Virginia spiderwort got its name from the belief that it could cure spider bites, and was used medicinally by Native Americans. Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed on the pods of butterfly weed, which later produces bright orange flowers.
Some heirloom flowers are the predecessors of some of today's popular garden blooms. For example, the viola tricolor, also known as heartsease or Johnny-jump-up, is a purple, white, and yellow heirloom from which modern pansies were developed. Also, petunias were developed from the petunia integrifolia, a bright violet flower originally from Argentina.