Links to resources
on Westhues-Peters
family history

K. Westhues

Heirloom trees,

shrubs, annuals

and perennials

of the

Westhues family

in America

Kenneth Westhues, 2024


Tiger lily

linden tree

Buck brush!

A great way to stay connected with one's ancestors, to remember and honor them, is to cultivate the same plants they did. As generations pass, these plants become family heirlooms, symbols of a lineage extending back through time.

The photo above is of tiger lilies in the garden of my cousin and agemate, Jacquie Clark (<Fritz). So far as anybody knows, these gorgeous perennials, native to North America, were growing across the front of the homeplace when Jacquie's and my grandparents, Wilhelm and Theresia, bought it in 1892, just after their migration to America. Growing up on the homeplace, Jacquie loved seeing the tiger lilies bloom each summer. No surprise that decades later, she asked the current owners of the homeplace, Anthony (<Raymond <Theodore, Sr.) and Pat Westhues, to let her dig up some tubers and transplant them to her and her husband Omer's home in St. Charles MO.

Jacquie is one of many Westhues cousins who have cultivated heirloom plants. Sally Papreck (<Rosemary <Henry) grew up in Jefferson City, not far from the home of her grandparents, Judge Henry and Helen. She remembers Judge warning her to be careful when she played under the huge linden tree beside his home because snakes lived high in the branches and one might drop down at any time. Knowing her grandfather, she guessed this was a tall tale but took no chances, treading lightly near that tree. Years later, living in Columbia and needing to plant a shade tree in her front yard, she remembered her grandparents and chose a linden. She never saw a snake fall out of it.

The purpose of this webpage is to list some of the main heirloom plants of the Westhues family in America: the trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals cultivated on the homeplace (later owned by youngest son Fritz) and at the homes of the other seven children who married (Theodore, W.G., Henry, Ben, Mary, John, and Anna).

In preface, let me say that I myself enjoy growing plants from the farm where I grew up, the farm of my parents, John and Olive, just east of the homeplace. About 1985, Anne and Jonathan and I drove from Ontario to Glasgow to spend Christmas with Mom. I asked Delbert Himmelberg (who owned the farm then, now the owners are Anthony and Pat's son Raymond and his wife Kim) if I could walk down into the woods and dig something up for transplanting bare-root back home in Canada. He said sure. It was fiercely cold. I had a devil of a time picking at the frozen earth to get a young specimen of what I was sure would be a gorgeous native shrub. Back home in Canada, I nursed it along, transplanted it to our garden in spring, and was delighted that it grew. It turned out to be buck brush, a prolific but ugly weed that Dad worked hard every year trying to get rid of.

Pear tree

Lois Brucks (<Fritz) remembers her father saying pear trees were already growing in front of the homeplace when Wilhelm and Theresia bought it in 1892. At least one pear tree is still there, as shown in this lovely close-up of its blossoms taken by Pat Westhues, with the farmhouse in the background. More than any other stone fruit, the pear qualifies as an heirloom tree in the Westhues clan. Indeed, Fritz and Eulalia had a pear tree in front of their home on Third Street in Glasgow after they moved to town in the late 1970s.

Red, maybe quince

Pat and Anthony Westhues have also contributed the recent photo below of red flowers on a bush in front of the homeplace. Because Jacquie remembers the bush from her childhood, it surely counts as an heirloom. I'm not sure what it is. My best guess would be flowering quince, whose blossoms are not unlike those of azalea or rhododendron, but the latter need more acidic soil than is found on the hills around Glasgow. Whether quince or something else, it's a beauty.

Bridalwreath spirea

The Spiraea genus includes dozens of species. Among the most common today are Spirea japonica X bumalda. A hundred years ago, bridalwreath Spirea was hugely popular as a foundation planting. I remember these shrubs planted on the east side of my parents' farmhouse, and on the north side of Fritz and Eulalia's. I have a hunch these shrubs are heirlooms in all branches of the Westhues family. They could sometimes serve even a practical purpose. Jane Schmidt (<Henry) told a spirea story in her autobiography. She and her brother Jack, preteens at the time, were wrestling boisterously in the back seat of their father's car as he drove through Jefferson City. They accidentally kicked open the back door and almost caused a crash. When they got home, their father cut long, slender, supple branches from a bridalwreath spirea in front of the family's home on East High Street, and used these branches to give each child a whipping.

Lilacs, roses, and
Rose of Sharon

Also among old-fashioned shrubs planted by many or most branches of the Westhues family are the common lilac (native of Asia), various kinds of rose (mostly from Europe and Asia), and Rose of Sharon hibiscus (native of eastern Europe). Jeanne Hodges (<Henry(Hank) <W.G.) grew up on her parents’ farm directly across Route V from the farm of her grandparents. The latter had a huge lilac bush in their front yard. Jeanne remembers that her Grandmother Emma Weber Westhues helped her pick lilac blooms to take with her on the bus to St. Mary’s School as a gift for her teacher.

At Anna and Jule Oidtman’s grocery store and home in Jefferson City, a driveway cut into the earth led to the basement garage for the family car. Daughter Jewell Bode remembers the Rose of Sharon bush that overhung the concrete retaining wall along the driveway. For Jewell and the other children, backing the car out of the garage without scraping the retaining wall was a test they had to pass before being allowed to drive. Jewell’s brother Jerome remembers the red roses their mother cared for next to the basement window on the east side of the store.

(yes, really)

My nephew Mike Boschert (<Margie <John) recalls that as a boy 6 or 8 years old, he loved to play in a patch of distinctive weeds 8 or 9 feet tall growing in the feedlot behind his grandparents' horse barn. To him and other grandchildren, this patch of tall weeds was like a forest ideal for playing in. I remember that weed patch myself from earlier decades, but until Mike's email, I had not considered including this weed in a list of heirloom plants. My father had no use for it and did nothing to encourage it. It self-seeded each year, and a new crop sprouted every spring.

The plant was indeed Cannabis sativa, the same species as marijuana, a native of Asia cultivated on hemp plantations in mid-Missouri before the Civil War. Hemp escaped cultivation and has been growing wild there ever since. I doubt that ours was the only Westhues farm where it returned as a weed year after year.

The strain of cannabis Mike Boschert remembers, the strain that grew on my parents' farm, was different from the strains used by pot-smoking youth in the 1960s. Dad's cannabis might have been good for making rope but not for getting high, since it did not contain enough of the psychoactive chemical, THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). I confirmed this by experiments of my own in Dad's smokehouse. Still, as genuine Cannabis sativa, it belongs in this list of heirloom plants of the Westhues family in America.

Pecan trees

Hemp is on the current list not because our ancestors cultivated it but because it was already growing wild in the part of America where our ancestors chose to settle. The same is true of pecan trees. The map at right, adapted from Wikipedia, shows in red the northern native range of pecan trees, which thrive in the moist lowlands along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The Glasgow area, especially the Chariton and Grand River deltas, are just about as far north as pecan trees naturally grow. Had Wilhelm and Theresia settled in Iowa, Nebraska, or Kansas, as many German immigrants did, pecans would not be so central to our heritage.

Lois Brucks says her father Fritz remembered helping his father Wilhelm plant pecan trees on the homeplace. My parents grew pecan trees, too, and so, I suspect, did Theodore and Lena, W. G. and Emma, Ben and Viola, and Mary and Joe Flaspohler. In all these families, I suspect, pecans were something of a delicacy. Like many women in the Glasgow area, my mother Olive often picked out the nut meats from cracked pecans as she watched television. She then used the nut meats in cookies and pies or gave them to her children's families.

Pecans deserve an honored place on the list of Westhues heirloom plants not just because they are native to the Glasgow area but because they taste so good. Missouri pecans are smaller, sweeter, less woody and with a higher oil content, than pecans grown in the southern states that dominate the pecan industry. Nobody who has tasted a pecan pie made with nuts from Missouri can ever be content with pie made with nuts grown farther south. This point applies in particular to people generally prejudiced in favor of the show-me state.

Apple trees

Apple trees are not native to Missouri, but I'm pretty sure they were grown on all the early Westhues farms. There was a small orchard on the homeplace, maybe 20 trees, just north of the house, when I was growing up. On my own parents' farm were two classes of apple tree. Southwest of the house was a lone, solitary Wealthy tree, an exceptionally cold-hardy variety Mom prized for applesauce. Dad's brother Henry had given this tree to my parents as a wedding present in 1922. Then southeast of the house was an orchard of about 100 trees of the Red Delicious variety. My parents had bought these in 1925 for about $1.00 each from Stark Bro's Nursery in Louisiana MO.

It was probably the first spring after the orchard was planted that Mom walked to the far west end of the orchard, turned around to face east, and took a picture of the neatly spaced saplings, with her and Dad's new house in the background, the Arts & Crafts bungalow they had built in 1922. This photo captures nicely the 23-year-old young mother's pleasure and pride in the way of life she and her husband John had embarked upon.

Apple trees in bloom

In 1935, ten years after she and Dad planted the orchard, Mom returned to the same spot where she had taken the first photo. It was spring. I suppose she hoped somehow to hang onto the beauty of so many apple trees in bloom. Notice how they have grown. The upper story of the farmhouse is barely visible at the top of the hill.

In conclusion

Because my mother Olive was so enraptured by flowers of whatever kind, her particular list of beloved plants would be long indeed. It would include

  • the cascading perennial, bleeding heart, which she said always reminded her of Lena, Theodore's wife, because Lena had one that Mom admired;
  • purple pansies and petunias, annuals that Mom grew almost every year – she traceed her love of pansies to the day in 1910 when, as an 8-year-old stepping off the train that had taken her from Missouri to Colorado, she spied a bed of pansies in bloom;
  • jonquils, the daffodil cousin Mom dug a hundred clumps of at the abandoned Hemenway mansion, Boscobel, in Glasgow, and transplanted to the perimeter of our front yard on the farm – as a boy about 10 years old, I helped her with this operation, for which she had gotten permission from Boscobel's then owners, Jack and Elaine Denny; and
  • peonies, mums, iris, tulips, cannas, hydrangeas, and quite a few other flowers Mom grew around our farmhouse, as well as our cherry, damson plum, freestone peach, clingstone peach, apricot and crabapple trees.

Fact is, however, that for descendants of the Westhues family, the emphasis in heirloom gardening is not on the plants so much as on the gardening. All the founding Westhues families, not just the farmers but also Henry's and Anna's in Jefferson City, cultivated flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables as an integral part of domestic life. They are honored by any and all descendants who stick their hands into the earth, get dirt under their fingernails, and bring forth nourishment and beauty from the soil.

Thanks to all the Westhues cousins, most of them named in the paragraphs above, who contributed to this webpage, and thanks to J.Y. Miller for continuing to host the discussion forum wherein those contributions were made.