Open Pollination: What Are Open Pollinated Plants


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Did you know that most of the plants we see today could be said to have been genetically modified as a result of hybrid plant breeding?

Even if it’s not on a cellular level, they have been bred to produce certain desired characteristics. For example, in the 17th century orange carrots were seen as a novelty, whereas today heirloom purple and white carrots are more unusual. 

Hybridization of plants is a subject that is most often limited to GMO vs. organic, but the subject goes much deeper than that. There’s also the natural propagation of open pollination. 

In this article, I am going to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of open pollinated plants and seeds. It’s something to definitely consider because of its seed saving benefits for the long run. 

What is an Open Pollinated Plant? 

Wondering what is meant by an open pollinated plant?

Open pollinated plants are the result of a natural pollination method, where the flow of pollen is natural. They have been pollinated naturally by insects, wind, birds, wildlife, or human hands. 

The truth is that many of the plants we grow, and the ones we eat, are actually genetic hybrids.  A hybrid plant is that has been bred by selective cross pollination.

Hybrid plants are sometimes sterile, but if they do produce seeds, the offspring will not be the same as the parent varieties

Because the pollination is not controlled and the male parent plants are unknown, there is the possibility that they can produce different genetic traits. 

However, open pollinated plant are thought to be better for biodiversity, and for personal seed saving as you can select seeds from plants that have done well in your soil and climate. 

There is a myth that open pollinated plants are “weaker” and more unreliable than hybrids, however this is simply not true. 

They do need more care and attention to choose the best seeds to save, so perhaps are not the best for large scale farming that relies on machines rather than man-hours.

What is an Open Pollinated Seed?

An open pollinated seed is one that has come from a plant that has been allowed to be pollinated naturally. These seeds will produce plant types true to the parent plant.

Plant genetics are nearly identical from the parent to the offspring. 

In the past year, there has been a surge of interest in open pollinate seeds, perhaps due to a pushback against pesticide and GMO companies. 

These type of seeds are almost impossible to find in shops and garden centers and seems to be exclusively sold by online companies such as rareseeds.com and seedsavers.org.

You can also find open pollinated seeds on Amazon occasionally, but they often sell out fast. 

This is probably because many companies would prefer you to keep buying hybrid seeds from them, rather than sell you a product that will last you a lifetime. If you keep plants from these seeds properly isolated then they will produce plants that are true to type indefinitely. 

Open Pollination Benefits

There are many benefits of open pollination.  The biggest being that you can save your own seed indefinitely. 

By saving seeds from successful plants you are ensuring that you will continue to have successful crops in the future, as your seeds will be suited for your soil and growing methods. 

Open pollination is also good for biodiversity as they carry a wide genetic diversity, resulting in variation within plant populations. 

Open pollinated seeds often have a larger variety than hybrids. The open pollinated varieties of plants will adapt to the local environment and allow them to grow stronger. 

These seeds are often lovingly grown, selected and preserved for many generations and continuing to grow them preserves our horticultural heritage.

Is Open Pollination Better Than Hybrid? 

This is highly a contested issue. I will compare Open Pollinated to hybrid, F1, organic, heirloom, and self pollinated in more depth in another article, so here I will focus on the main differences between open pollinated vs. hybrid. 

The most common type of seed and plant available at the moment is the F1 hybrid.  This means that they have been produced by cross-pollinating two parent plants from different inbred lines to produce a Filial 1 plant. 

The parents are selected for their disease resistance, growing habits, heat tolerance, bigger flowers, or other characteristics that the plant breeder is looking for.

Seeds from these plants will never be like the parent, in fact, they can grow stronger and have higher yields than the parents, because of the “hybrid vigor” phenomenon.

But that also means the seeds won’t be like the parents, so there’s no saving seeds. You need to buy hybrid seeds every time you want to grow more. That means more expensive plants. 

The case for hybrids is simple.  It is much easier to breed disease resistant plants by selective pollination than by open pollination. Hybrid seeds take less manpower to make and hybrid plants will produce more uniform plants and crops.

This is why the large-scale commercial grower will often go to hybrid seeds as they rely on selling their produce to grocery stores. 

However, they rely on chemical sprays for pollination and are not reliable for saving the seed. They rely on specific growing conditions to be able to same type of plant each time. 

Also, huge acres of fields can mean unwanted cross pollination can happen more easily, than in a small private greenhouse or allotment. 

Open pollinated plants are more appealing to private gardeners as they can closely monitor their plants. They can grow a variety of different plants in a small plot that won’t run the risk of cross pollinating.

If you’re willing to take the time to grow open pollinated plants, you will be rewarded with great tasting produce and unique plants, as well as preserving a diverse range of plant varieties.  

Final Thoughts on Open Pollination

Open pollination is a choice that depends entirely on your situation.  If you are a commercial farmer that needs to have large crops harvested at once, then hybrid seeds will be better for the standardization of produce. 

Also, if you are a commercial seed seller the hybrid varieties are certainly easier to produce. 

However, if you are an avid gardener who enjoys growing, I would definitely recommend seeking out open pollinated varieties. 

You can experiment with different types to find varieties that suit your growing conditions, as well as setting up seed swaps in your local area. 

Chances are that if a plant does well in your neighbor’s garden, it will do well in yours. There is a great satisfaction from seed saving and refining your varieties, and it will also save you money.

You can buy one packet of open pollinated seeds and be able to grow that plant every year successfully through saving seed. 

There is a movement to encourage bio-diversity and step away from the chemical-reliant factory farming that is currently a global behemoth.

There are a few people making a lot of money from high-tech farming, but if more people start growing open pollinated plants for themselves, perhaps we can learn to live with nature again.