Know Your Seeds- Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO

Author: John Mauger   Date Posted: 20 April 2017 

What’s in a seed? A seed contains the blueprint or instructions to produce a new plant. Traditionally all seeds were open-pollinated. That is; the pollen from the anther (male part of the flower) entered the stigma and traveled to the ovary (female part of the flower). Fertilisation occurred and seeds were formed with or without fruit.

There are many forms of fertilisation but this is the basic concept.

Over time we have seen desirable features in plants; its flowers or fruit, hardiness or appearance and have sought to improve them to create more desirability. Different types of seed have been developed for many given plants. In this article we are seeking to explain what these differences are and what they mean to you.

 

Open-Pollinated Seed

These are the traditional seeds produced by plants. They will produce plants that are basically identical to their parent plant. The seeds will form mainly from pollen from the plant itself. If seed is saved over generations it is often referred to as ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’ seed. The huge range of these seeds in tomatoes, for example, is because people have selected variations in these tomatoes that they want to keep and develop. This may be size, flavour, colour, hardiness, ripening time, growing time, etc. So the traditional Grosse Lisse tomato is genetically the same plant as the Roma tomato but both have been selected or developed over time for their desirable features. Open pollinated seed can be saved and will produce plants true to type (the same as its parent).

All of the seeds on this website are Open-Pollinated.  Additionally many are also considered heirloom. 

 

Hybrid Seed

Hybrid seed is seed from cross pollination of two plants from the same genus and species. It is very common. These hybrids may produce seed that will grow true to type or may have to be reproduced vegetatively. The desirable characteristics of one plant may be introduced to another with different features to hopefully produce a new plant combining the desired features of both parents. Seeds from the crossing will be grown on and any that produce unwanted features will be discarded. The apple ‘Pink Lady’ was developed from a crossing of ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Lady William’. Lady William is a very firm late apple that stores well and Golden Delicious is an earlier sweeter apple that does not store so well. Doubtless there were many new plants grown from the cross pollination and Pink Lady was the selected result. The botanical name for both of these varieties or cultivars is Malus pumila (originally M. domestica).

So the original wild apple (M. pumila) was grown and selected over some hundreds of years for desirable features and then completely different looking apples have been cross-pollinated to produce a new variety.

F1 hybrid seed is the result of controlled pollination of two plants or breeding stock with desirable characteristics. This is a form of ‘inbreeding’ and displays the desirable features of both parents. A good analogy to understand this concept can be seen in humans. Two unrelated individuals from the same Genus and Species (H. sapiens) produce offspring that will have characteristics from both parents.

Many seeds are available as F1 Hybrids. They will have the best features of both plants. Seed is more expensive as this crossing must be repeated for every batch of seed. Tomatoes and sweet corn are two common ones. If we were to plant seed saved from a F1 hybrid we will get an assortment of new plants. Most will probably be inferior but you could chance a good one. If you had the passion and the time you could grow and select seed from this good seedling over a number of years, dropping out the poor ones and end up with a new variety that will germinate true to type. For home gardeners this is hardly worth the effort.

None of the seeds on this website are hybrid.

 

GM seed (genetically modified seed)

GM or GMO seeds are grown from plants that have had their DNA engineered or modified to introduce a new trait into a plant that currently doesn’t exist.

Examples could be - resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage or resistance to chemicals such as herbicides.

Some common examples of GM crops grown around the world include: sweet corn, soy beans, cotton, potatoes, squash and canola.

  • Potatoes are subject to attack by potato moth if not properly managed. A gene from bacteria has been inserted in GM potato seeds so that potato moth larvae eating the potato crop will die.
  • Canola has had herbicide resistant genes inserted into it to enable farmers to control weeds by spraying with Glyphosate rather than by cultivation.
  • The gene for blue does not exist in roses although there are a number of lavender coloured varieties. Plant engineers are working to create the classic blue rose by inserting the gene for blue flowers from another unrelated plant to achieve this result.

None of the seeds on this website are GMO.

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