The Search for Scot’s Heather

While at one time Tewksbury was well known world-wide for our Carnations, Scots Heather (Calluna vulgaris) growing in a meadow off Livingston Street, won a “New Native Plant”, second place medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1861. The petite, low growing heath was found by the young Tewksbury Strachan girls one day. They picked some of the pretty purple-white flowers to adorn their mothers’ kitchen table. Jackson Thornton Dawson, a young 20 year-old horticulturist from Andover, spied the heather on the dinner table, asked where it came from, and then proceeded to dig a plant for the Spring Show of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

While Massachusetts Horticultural Society did not doubt it was Scot’s Heather, a heated discussion on the Flower Committee followed. Was it a native plant to Essex County or was it planted? Soon the Flower Committee was in turmoil. The only solution was to take their cars (railroad cars at the time!) out to Tewksbury to survey the quiet heather meadow for themselves. All seven members tramped down Livingston Street from Tewksbury Junction and started interviewing the residents. “Don’t deceive us!” the Flower Committee badgered the neighbors. Additionally these neighbors were Scottish. The Strachan’s were indignant, and the Livingston’s who came back from Lowell to meet with the Committee were staunch in their testimony that the heather had been growing locally since before the Revolutionary War had started.

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society finally did declare it a “New Native Plant”. Unfortunately for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Flower Committee, Vanity Fair Magazine from New York City got wind of the controversy and created a caricature of the Flower Committeemen bending over in the field of heather in 1862, poking fun at their efforts.

So, is the heather still growing in Tewksbury off Livingston Street? Several recent attempts have not been successful, but it may be discovered yet.