The term “open-pollination” is not widely known, but it’s gaining recognition as more people are steered towards organic, chemical-free, and un-modified plants and seeds.
Health-conscious gardeners want to know where their organic seeds and plants are coming from. It’s often a comparison of: Open Pollinated vs Hybrid vs Heirloom.
In fact, not a lot of people seem to know that many of the plants we grow, and the ones we eat, are actually F1 hybrids.
Open pollinated plants have been pollinated naturally and will keep producing good seeds from generation to generation.
In this article, I will discuss the differences between open pollinated and hybrid plants, as well as self-pollinated and heirloom varieties.
Open Pollinated Plants
Simply put, open pollinated plants are plants that have been pollinated naturally by bees, wind, insects, humans, and other wildlife.
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, that leads to better biodiversity and plant variety in your garden.
Open pollinated plants are also great for personal seed saving. You can select viable seeds from plants that have done well in your soil and climate for future growing. The offspring plants will be similar to the parent plants with open-pollination.
Some growers will say that open pollinated plants aren’t as reliable and generally weaker than hybrid seeds and plants. That’s not true.
They do need more attention and care, because you’re saving the best seeds for the future, but at least you’re saving seeds, and money. You can’t save hybrid seeds, so you need to purchase them each year.
Open Pollinated vs F1 Hybrid
The most common type of plant available at the moment is the F1 hybrid. Asking about the difference between hybrid and open-pollinated varieties is very common.
An F1 hybrid is a plant that has been selectively bred by cross pollinating two different parent plants, the term means Fillial-1, which literal translation is “first children.” This means that any seeds saved from these plants will not produce the same as the parent plant.
F1 hybrids have been produced by cross-pollinating two parent plants from different inbred lines to produce a plant that has certain desirable traits and characteristics. For example; standardized size and shape, disease resistance, and pest resistance.
Seeds from these hybrid plants will never be like the parent so are not reliable for saving your own seed. However, they do produce uniform and disease resilient plants and crops which is what makes them popular.
Look through any number of seed catalogs and you’ll see that hybrid seed varieties far outnumber open-pollinated seeds.
Hybrid strains are the result of cross-breeding two plant varieties of pure lines. These pure lines can take years to create, and can even be made up of previous cross pollination.
Plants are selected for the desirable features and then artificially pollinated in isolation to enhance these features. They create a “pure line,” which produces the desired characteristics with a high level of uniformity.
The plant food on supermarket shelves are often the result of hybridization. Think about all the different food crops out there, including in your kitchen. Does your food supply include sweet corn, grapefruit, or seedless watermelons?
Fruit is a popular target for hybrid plant breeding, especially when it comes to fruit size. We all love larger fruit, as well as ones with more fruit flavor. But, there are some people who say that heirloom fruit are even more flavorful than hybrid fruits.
Open Pollinated vs Heirloom
The term heirloom refers to open pollinated varieties that are 50 or more years old. They are our horticultural heritage and have often been kept going by single families.
The difference between heirloom and open pollinated is the age difference. The heirloom variety is often passed down family generations, but also passed from gardener to gardener sometimes.
Since there has been a resurgence of interest in open pollinated plants, many of these private gardeners have been sharing their heirloom seeds with others. It also helps to bring back plant species that may have virtually disappeared.
A great example of this is the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean (also known as the Cherokee Black) which has been passed down from generation to generation. It started when the North American Cherokee people were forced from their homelands by European settlers.
This amazing heirloom and open pollinated bean is now widely available across the world and is highly prolific and reliable.
Heirloom plant varieties often come with these amazing stories and are an incredible way of connecting us to our history by tasting the food of our ancestors.
Heirloom fruits and vegetables are often unique in flavor, and it feels as though you can taste the love that has driven people to keep growing these varieties through the years.
Open Pollinated vs Self Pollinated
Self pollinating plants are plants exactly what they claim to be. They are plants which can pollinate themselves, either inside a single flower, or from different flowers on the same plant.
Self-pollinated plants can be called “perfect” flowers because they have both the pistil and stigma in the same flower. The flower opening and a little wind will usually be enough for it to self-pollinate. If not, a little shake will help dislodge the pollen and let it drop onto the stigma.
They are usually open pollinated, as cross pollination does not tend to happen with these plants. You can grow a variety of self-pollinating plants in a small area with no fear that they will cross pollinate.
Open Pollinated vs. GMO
Whereas most of the plants I’ve discussed in this article are produced naturally, GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) plants are altered at the genetic level to resist disease and pests, and result in a specific product.
Where hybrids are bred for certain characteristics, GMOs are designed for it. They have had their DNA manipulated to withstand heavy doses of chemical insecticides and even to kill some common pests.
GMO crops are patented by large organizations and are highly invasive due to their very genetic make-up. Agricultural chemical companies will often use toxic chemicals like glyphosate to achieve their coveted traits.
This has been disastrous for some organic farmers who have found that, through cross-pollination, their crops have started to produce the GMO varieties.
GMO has been marketed as a way to end world hunger. However, the people marketing it could probably end world hunger with their personal wealth alone. But instead they amass more personal wealth through selling GMO crops and accessories with the promise of high yields with low maintenance.
Unfortunately, this drives down the price of produce and undercutting farmers who prefer more eco-friendly methods of farming.
Final Thoughts on Open Pollination Comparisons
As we’ve seen, most of the comparisons don’t have a significant difference. The only real difference is with Hybrid varieties, they are more likely to produce hardy, standardized plants with little to no chance of replicating that result with their offspring.
Open pollinated and heirloom seed varieties can be just as hardy but will perhaps produce a more genetically diverse generation of plants. Self-pollinating plants will also be true to type even if grown in close quarters with other varieties.
If you’d like to save seeds, open pollinated plants will always be the way to go as they will be true to type for generations. You can get started by buying open pollinated seeds on Amazon or other directly from online companies like rareseeds.com and seedsavers.org.
Seed saving is possible with hybrids, but less predictable as the offspring will not be like the parent plant.