Why you shouldn't save hybrid seed

Why you shouldn't save hybrid seed

Chances are the seeds were a cross, a hybrid bred from two quite different Open Pollinated (OP) varieties to get the best characteristics from each. The seed that was sown to grow your initial pumpkin would be known as a First Generation (F1) cross while the seed you saved was a Second Generation (F2) cross. First cousin once removed….

The F1 cross would have been bred to give that plant characteristics like disease resistance, better quality fruit, uniform ripening and perhaps a longer shelf life.

The F2 cross, with no careful breeding however, could have done all sorts of things, it could have:
  • grown like one of its parent lines
  • grown into something different to them entirely
  • grown true to type to the plant it was harvested from
  • been sterile and not germinated at all.

Commercial growers will often prefer to use hybrid seed varieties as they give them confidence that the plants they grow will have added benefits: enhanced yields, visual appeal, disease resistance, uniform fruit, early or late maturity and a host of other favourable qualities. However, on the down side, you can’t save the seed with the confidence that it will reproduce the plant it’s been harvested from.

In contrast, an OP variety is seed that is the result of a cross, either deliberate or accidental, within a variety genetically the same, not just sharing the same botanical name. For example, Brussels Sprouts and Kale are both classified as the species Brassica oleracea. However, if you successfully crossed them, you’d end up with a hybrid that is somewhere between the two...

Do Open Pollinated plants have advantages that hybrids don’t? Yes, they do!
An OP plant will often mature over a longer period giving you an extended harvest window rather than maturing all at once, ideal for a home gardener not wanting pick all their green beans at once. It will have many inherent qualities of flavour, disease resistance, vigour and, of course, you can save the seed from it.
OP seed is more economical to produce than hybrid seed and provides the genetic base from which hybrids can be bred.

What about GMOs? Aren’t all hybrids GMOs? No, they're not.
A Genetically Modified Organism, as it relates to plants, is where a hybrid is bred between two species that are not in the same Genera (genus).
Crossing a Mustard (Brassica juncea) with a Pak Choi (Brassica chinensis) is entirely acceptable because they’re in the same genus, both acceptable species on New Zealand’s BioSecurity Index.
However, take a step sideways, a hybrid cross between a Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and a Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), even though they are both in the Cucurbit family (and kind of similar in lots of ways), wouldn’t be acceptable under NZ regulations as they’re not of the same Genera.

Currently, it’s illegal to import, sell or knowingly trade in seed that has been genetically modified, outside of the breeding guidelines that MPI provide unless you have a special permit and quarantine facilities to grow it in isolation and only for research purposes.

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