What Are The Differences Between Heirloom, Open-Pollinated And Hybrid Seeds

Question: I see in my seed catalogue that there are heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid seeds. What is the difference and which ones should I buy?

planting seeds with fingers

Answer: This question stumps many new gardeners. 

The main difference is the way in which the parent plants that produce the seeds have been pollinated and how long that variety has been around. 

What Are Open Pollinated Seeds?

Open pollinated seeds have come from plants where the blossoms have been pollinated by nature, either self-pollinated or by bees or other insects or wind. Because pollination can occur between different varieties of the same type of plant, over time new varieties naturally occur. And environmental conditions might influence how the seed evolves over time in a particular area.

What Are Heirloom Seeds?

Heirloom seeds are essentially open-pollinated. However typically these have been around for a long time, usually decades or even centuries! They have been handed down from generation to generation and so usually have the best flavour and are resistant to pests. Otherwise they likely would not have been saved by growers year over year.

What Are Hybrid Seeds?

Hybrid seeds on the other hand are from purposefully cross-bred plants. This is done in a controlled environment where pollen from one variety is moved to another variety’s blossoms. Usually hybrids will have better appearance and are better for transportation and long-term storage. In some cases they’ve also been bred for disease and pest resistance. Most veggies you buy at the grocery store are likely hybrids. 

The one issue with hybrids is that you usually can’t save seeds from a hybrid plant as the resulting second generation plants will go back to one or the other of their parent’s genetics. You may get unexpected results.

What should you buy? Probably a mix. Focus more on the qualities of the varieties. However if you want to save seeds, you’ll need to buy open-pollinated.

Wondering if you should start seeds or buy seedlings? Be sure to check out Seeds Or Seedlings? Which One Is The Better Choice?

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