My 4th great-grandfather Isaac's FALLIS Pioneer Cemetery near Bellbrook, Greene County, Ohio FOLLIS Families
in the United States of America
by descendant Stanley J. Follis
Home Cemeteries

Plants Found in Old Cemeteries

Many old cemeteries have remnants and often expansive carpets of plantings of old cultivated flowers. Some thrive with today's regular mowing as long as herbicides are not used. Cemeteries today minimize maintenance costs by discouraging, prohibiting and even removing plantings placed by relatives of the deceased. Overgrown shrubs from years ago overgrown tombstones and show why they do not want such plantings. I know from personal experience how cemetery ownership changes lead to changes in planting policy and destruction or removal of formerly acceptable plantings. Some old cemeteries such as Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio, where several distant FALLIS relatives are buried, give tours to view their 400 acres of maintained plant collections. I visited Spring Grove Cemetery in 1993 with my Purdue Horticulture class before I was in interested in genealogy. Spring Grove Cemetery even has weddings!

Japanese yew over Sarah Trowbridge tombstone Peony in front of Daniel Zumbrun tombstone Yucca covers Phillip tombstone
Yew covers tombstone Peony covers tombstone Yucca covers tombstone

Many early cemetery plantings include native Adam's Needle or Yucca filimentosa with its sword-like leaves over grows many tombstones as it slowly increases in size with 5 foot spikes of white flowers ruining many tombstone photographs when names and dates are obscured. I am reluctant to remove such plantings even when I cannot get a good photograph. It helps emphasize the age of the burial plot. Occassionally the Asian Tiger lilies Lilium tigrinum have created large colonies although they do poorly in the shade of over grown trees and do not survive regular mowing.

Reindeer lychen in Delaware County, Indiana cemetery Reindeer lychen in Delaware County, Indiana cemetery Ragwort blooming in Concord Cemetery
Reindeer Lichen in grass Creeping phlox in grass Roundleaf Ragwort

In wooded cemeteries when they compete successfully with mown turf are found interesting capets of creeping sedum in dry woods and reindeer lichens and mosses in damp shady areas. Open sunny areas often have Chinese Peony, creeping stonecrop Sedum ternatum, live-forevers Sedum telphium, expansive carpets of moss-pink or creeping phlox Phlox subulata , Vinca minor known as periwinkle and sometimes Dianthus spieces known as pinks a hardy relative of carnations. Native wildflowers such as violets, Roundleaf Ragwort Senecio obovatus and naturalized European Ox-eye or cultivated Shasta Daisies Chrysanthemum leucantheumum are sometimes allowed to bloom for weeks in spring before summer turf mowing. Even weeds like dandelions and creeping charlie or ground ivy Glechoma hederacea can be attractive when in bloom.

Dianthus in LaGrange County Cemetery Shasta Daisy in Oak Grove Cemetery Creeping charlie blooming in Christian Chapel Cemetery
Dianthus in grass Naturalized Shasta Daisy Creeping Charlie dandelions

Orange flowered Chinese daylily Hemerocalis fulva is widespread across the eastern United States to the point of being an invasive non-native plant in spite of being a "self-sterile" triploid normally not producing seeds. It has slowly spread over time through transplants and distribution of it roots by farmer's plows and animal diggings. I can remember as a kid seeing a local farm with "ditch lily" growing in the ditch for nearly a mile. When new homes were built the builder replanted the daylily along the privacy fence, although later owners sprayed them with RoundUp and now only bare dirt is along the fence. Most of the remnants have been mowed out of existence. What a shame as I suspect those day lilies had probably grown for nearly a hundred years or more to have been spread that far. The day lilies below are on a steep hill in the part of cemetery where burial's ended 100 years ago, although new burial's are being made where a church or parking was located. A photo below is interesting as I was able to find German irises growing next to a German language tombstone from 1818 near Circleville, Ohio.

Japanese Honeysuckle in Virgina Creeper and Poison Ivy Chinese Daylily German Iris German tombstone with raspberries
Japanese Honeysuckle
in Poison Ivy
and Virginia Creeper
Chinese Day Lily German Iris

What Can You Plant In A Cemetery?

I have been asked what plants would be good to plant in cemeteries. As the photos above show, unless the cemetery allows plantings, which more and more modern cemeteries do not and are always subject to new owners with new rules, without an endowment for maintenance your pretty plantings of some new exotic flower today could become someone's maintenance nightmare of the future. Many garden plants have been found to invade natural areas and become expensive pests. The government spends millions trying to stop plant, animal and insect invaders introduced from outside the United States. Well meaning family could plant a future pest problem. If you must plant live flowers on someone's grave make sure you check with the cemetery owner or association first. Annual plants would rarely be a problem, but if you use bulbs, perennials, shrubs or trees then it depends on that specific plant and its history. You may well find that even with permission your plants could be mowed over the next visit of the lawn mower crew. Many cemeteries spray herbicides around each tombstone killing all plants and may cause long term damage to certain types of old tombstones. For good or bad, most plantings in cemeteries should be avoided if for no more reason than not wasting your time. I had permission to plant hostas and a dogwood tree near my father's grave. When the cemetery was sold to new owners a few years later the policies changed and only the tree remains. Many old shrubs and most perennials like hostas on other cemetery plots disappeared with each repeat visit. Most maintenance crews work for their convenience not the plot owners. Often community correction people are used and may only work one visit. Hostas can't stand up to "weed whackers" and riding lawn mower tires. Tombstones moved off their concrete bases show the tombstones sometimes can't stand up to modern maintenance methods either. In wooded cemeteries, piles of leaves are often left two feet high by cleanup crews and if left over the winter can suffocate grass and other plants. The future is always subject to the whims of future caretakers and unknown changes. So you plant flowers at your own risk.

To see wildflowers found in the FALLIS Pioneer Cemetery.

More plant information is found on my garden web site.