What is a Legacy Plant?

Legacy: ‘something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past’  -online Merriam-Webster

Christmas Cactus.JPGWhen I was little we often visited the family farm. The house sat on the corner of land just at the edge of a very small town in southern Iowa. The town was on one side of the highway and the farm sat on the other. The front door faced the town and the “formal garden” and flowering bushes. The back side of the house led to the barns, the cow pasture, feed lots, corn fields and a chicken coop. A nice mix of town life and farm life all in one yard.

The formal garden or rock garden was well designed and bloomed through out the growing season. Historically in this family of farmers plants were mainly outside. You grew plants that flowered, often used to decorate the church on Sundays or special occasions and plants to eat, including soybeans and corn. The idea of house plants seemed strange in that there was little time for tending to things that didn’t help the family or praise the Lord.

There was however one plant that sat in the pallor on a small wooden stand in front of lace curtains. This was a Christmas cactus. I can remember it being there from when I was little girl until the house no longer had anyone living there.

This plant was moved out under the bushes each summer and returned to its spot each fall as the weather cooled. It also was a plant that many of us, as we grew older, were given a small slip to grow ourselves. I am pretty sure all my aunts had a cactus growing in their homes. My mother had one that grew quite large. I am guessing that most of my cousins also have one in their home. ( I just sent out a note to ask them.)

No one thought to make this a legacy plant. We just liked the plant and then later wanted a plant that reminded us of the farm. Time has made this cactus a legacy plant. One that we continue to pass along the family line. A plant that grows old with us. A plant that reminds us of family. A plant that brings us together for stories of our past.

There are many plants in my garden that remind me of the family gardens – the peonies, the roses, the iris but these are reminders. They were growing in my garden when I moved in or I planted them from a newly purchased plant. They are not from the original stock growing at the farm so I think of them as reminders but not a legacy plant.

The cactus that now grows in my house is about 47 years old. I received this plant when I went to college. It was taken from a plant that must have been at least that old in my mother’s house. Her plant came from Grandpa’s plant that again had to be 47 years old or older. Each plant slip is new, young with shiny green leaves and blooms in the winter but its roots go back to the family cactus. It’s genetic material has been carried forward.

This cactus is a plant that loves to be root bound. In its natural (tropical) home of Brazil it cacuts close up.JPGgrows on other plants (an epiphyte).  It does not have a large root system except if you leave it in a pot for 47 years. This plant does not like to be disturbed and flowers best when it is root bound. It loves to rest in the fall (a dark cool place is wonderful for it) and then to be brought out to bloom in early winter.

That said my current plant does not go into the basement closet, or out under a bush in the summer. It has become an old grandmother too large and a bit fragile to be moving from place to place. It does however continue to bloom and grow. I have little slips from this plant growing all over the house. When a branch breaks I just stick it in a pot that has some open soil and let it grow. I worry that one day this dear old plant will lose its vigor and fade away on me so I keep lots of little one going just in case.



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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5 Responses to What is a Legacy Plant?

  1. rachelfalker says:

    I’ve never heard of a legacy plant. That is a cute idea!

  2. I love this post! I can relate to it so much. Last week I went back to NYS to visit my parents. Two of my mom’s prize possessions are an african violet and a christmas cactus from my grandmother! I love the term you gave it – a legacy plant! Fits it perfectly!

  3. Ramona says:

    Love reading about this legacy plant and thinking about how old it really is. No wonder you keep new slips growing all over the house!

  4. I love this!! We got a jade plant from an older couple moving out of their house, and the story was this plant was approximately 70 years old! So we’ve been taking good care of it, but when a piece falls off, it goes into some dirt and it gets given away. I’ll be we’ve given out 15 different plants. I love that idea of the legacy plant and how it’s move out beyond the main plant!

    Thank you for sharing this “slip” of life with us! 🙂

  5. So wonderful. I wish I still had some of my mother’s plants she gave to me from starts. Wonderful wonderful.

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