When buying seeds for your garden, you will find some varieties labeled as hybrids. You will also find some that are labeled as open pollinated. Those are the two main types of seeds you will see in different seed catalogs with each type having its own set of characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.
Hybrid plant varieties occur naturally in nature as bees, the wind, hummingbirds, and other organisms pollinate a variety of different types of plants. For example, a bumble bee may travel from a cherry tomato plant to a beefsteak tomato plant, carrying pollen from one flower to the other. This pollen contains the genetic material that will then be transferred to the seeds of that newly pollinated plant, infusing it with characteristics from both of its parents. The current generation of fruit will not be affected by this new genetic material, so if you planted a cherry tomato seed, that plant will produce cherry tomatoes even if pollen from other tomato varieties are introduced.
Hybrid plants are a natural process in the development of a plant’s genetic material over many hundreds or thousands of years and are good for nature as cross breeding and cross pollination allows for desirable characteristics of both parents to be incorporated into the next generation of plants.
As science progressed, we learned that we could breed for specific characteristics by planting and breeding the seed from plants with desirable traits and characteristics. With each successive generation, certain traits were further cultivated for traits such as resistance to disease, drought tolerance, taste, growth habit, etc. This then led to the development of F1 hybrid plants, which produce uniform plants of the same cultivar with reliable and uniform traits and characteristics. To create F1 hybrid seeds, two suitable parent stock plants are first selected. These parent plants are then self pollinated (inbred) for 8-12 generations to ensure the desirable traits and characteristics are pure. Next, that variety is cross pollinated with another pure parent line to produce F1 seed. Many farmers use F1 hybrid seeds in their fields and greenhouses as they can have a high expectation of good yields, uniform growth, and plant success.
While seeds from F1 hybrid plants can be saved to produce F2 plants, it is generally not recommended. While these F2 plants can be grown out and planted, many of their characteristics will not be the same as the original F1 parent line. For this reason, F2 seeds should not be saved for sowing if uniform plant characteristics want to be retained.
Cover Image by Nicholas B., used under its Creative Commons license.