One of the more interesting aspects of older cemeteries is the horticultural, or various types of plants that may be found within. The specific types of plants and trees that will be found in a specific cemetery will vary widely from region to region. But in general, the plant life that can be found within older cemeteries can offer a valuable and important history lesson themselves.
While some smaller and more rural graveyards still allow, or even encourage, the involvement of family members in the landscaping around a loved one's grave, many cemeteries today post signs that request that visitors do not plant permanent plants. The reasoning behind this is that assuming the plants survive, over time they can easily become over grown if not cared for on a regular basis The growth of these plants can and will begun to cover up the gravestones, making it difficult for others to find the burials, or possibly causing damage to the stone itself. Some types of plants can spread rapidly and not only cover the gravestone, but the entire area surrounding it. Lilacs in particular can really spread and take over a cemetery.
Cemeteries as a horticultural repository
Cemeteries are not only memorials to the dead; they also have secured a vital function as horticultural repositories. An article in the November 1996 issue of Southern Living discussed the cemetery as a storehouse of plants as opposed to a storehouse of bodies. Many of the plants found in older cemeteries reflect the horticultural tastes of a different era, and sometimes antique varieties of plants that are thought to be either endangered or lost can be found growing in older graveyard. It should also be noted that in many cases cemeteries also functioned in the capacity of "testing grounds" for plants that are now common in our yards and gardens. Before any clean up or landscaping is attempted, you should make sure you aren't disturbing valuable or rare plant life. In some cases, it is a crime to remove live plants from a cemetery.
The use of native plantings is becoming more popular nationwide, with these plantings being used for their historical value, beauty, and hardiness in a given climate. A very comprehensive site for information on native plants across the United States (including Invasive & Noxious plants) can be found at http://plants.usda.gov/.
Developed by Dr. Randy Westbrooks, The Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds has produced a comprehensive fact book, "Invasive plants: changing the landscape of America", intended to raise awareness of the destruction and economic losses caused by invasive plants in the United States. While not specifically geared to cemetery issues, this compilation of facts presents a excellent overview of the problems presented by invasive plants and talks about both individual and collaborative efforts to respond to this threat.
Trees in Cemeteries
The trees that can be found in cemeteries may be some of the oldest and largest types of their kind in the area as they were to some degree protected from being cut down for what ever reason.