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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published August 11 2013

As I recall: The 'Flower Woman of North Dakota'

We planted our first raspberry canes this year, so we’ve been checking out all kinds of reference books and websites to find out how to tend them.

We were surprised to come across an entry for raspberry in the “QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,” by Robert Handrickson:

“Known to the Romans as the ‘Red Berry of Mount Ida,’ hence the name from the English rasp, ‘to scrape roughly,’ in reference to the thorned canes bearing the berries. … Called a brambleberry or hind berry and considered a nuisance in England, it was not until about 1830 that the delicate, delicious fruit began to be developed in America. The Fannie Heath variety is a tribute to a determined pioneer woman who immigrated to North Dakota in 1881. This young bride had been told that she could never grow anything on the barren alkaline soil surrounding her house, but 40 years later, her homestead was an Eden of flowers, fruits and vegetables. After her death in 1931, the black raspberry she developed was named in her honor.”

Fannie Mahood Heath was born on March 5, 1864, in Wykoff, Minn., the daughter of John and Elizabeth Bouldin Mahood. In 1881, Fannie moved to Grand Forks, Dakota Territory, and married Frank Arnold Heath that year.

Heath, who was born at Niagara, Ontario, in 1853, had gone to Grand Forks in 1877 and homesteaded on land in Brenna Township, Grand Forks County. There they made their home and raised two daughters, Pearl and Zaidee.

Because of the difficulty of growing trees and flowers on the land, Heath became interested in horticulture.

Her first efforts to cultivate the alkaline prairie soil met with failure, but gradually with the application of compost, manure and a vinegar application she devised, she managed to change the composition of the soil. She also gathered native plants to her garden.

As the years passed, she began corresponding with botanists and horticulturists at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University), throughout the country and even in England. She eventually became vice president and then president of the National Horticultural Society, which later joined the American Horticultural Society.

She traded seeds with people throughout the country, and because the same plants can have different names in other parts of the country, Heath taught herself the Latin names of all of the plants in her garden.

She wrote for a number of magazines and for North Dakota Extension Service publications. As she became known, thousands of people came to visit her gardens.

Heath became known as the, “Flower Woman of North Dakota,” and for a good reason. A story in the Grand Forks Herald in 1931 gives details of her garden.

Rare blooms from far Manchuria, Japan, Australia and the tropics were among the more than a thousand varieties that glorify the once barren sod where the Heaths settled half a century back.

The flower garden covered more than an acre and surrounds the home on all sides.

Native North Dakota flowers numbering 264 varieties could be found in the Heath garden. Fifty-one of the 52 kinds of shrubs that grew in this state were there.

Lemon tints of the Asiatic globe flower also could be glimpsed in the garden and another species growing there was the plagiospermum senensis, a shrub of exceptional beauty from Manchia and other Chinese shrubs.

At a horticultural meeting Heath attended, one of the speakers said that black raspberries could not be grown in North Dakota. Heath intervened and told him she had been raising them on her farm for 35 years. Thus the Fannie Heath Black Raspberry.

Heath died Sept. 29, 1931, not long after she and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Source: The Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University