Open Pollination Information: What Are Open Pollinated Plants

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

The process of planning an annual vegetable garden is,without doubt, one of the most exciting times of the year for growers. Whetherplanting in containers, using the square foot method, or planning a large-scalemarket garden, choosing which types and varieties of vegetables to grow isextremely important to the success of the garden.

While many hybrid cultivars offer growers vegetablevarieties that perform well under a wide range of conditions, many may preferopen-pollinated varieties. What does open pollinated mean when it comes toselecting seeds for the home garden? Read on to learn more.

Open Pollination Information

What are open pollinated plants? As the name would imply,open pollinated plants are produced by seeds that have resulted from naturalpollination of the parent plant. These pollination methods includeself-pollination as well as pollination achieved by birds, insects, and othernatural means.

After pollination occurs, the seeds are allowed to matureand are then collected. One very important aspect of open pollinated seeds isthat they grow true-to-type. This means that the plant produced from thecollected seeds will be very similar to and display the same characteristics asthe parent plant.

However, it should be noted that there are some exceptionsto this. Some plants, such as pumpkins and brassicas, may crosspollinate when several varieties are grown within the same garden.

Is Open Pollination Better?

The choice to grow open pollinated seeds really depends uponthe needs of the grower. While commercial growers may choose hybrid seeds whichhave been specifically bred for certain characteristics, many home gardenerschoose open pollinated seeds for a variety of reasons.

When buying open pollinated seeds, home gardeners can feelmore confident that they are less likely to introduce geneticallymodified seed (GMO) into the vegetable garden. While crosscontamination of seed is possible with certain crops, many online retailers nowoffer certified non-GMO seeds.

In addition to buying more confidently, many open pollinatedheirlooms are available. These specific varieties of plants are those whichhave been cultivated and saved for at least the past fifty years. Many growersprefer heirloomseeds for their productivity and reliability. Like other openpollinated seeds, heirloom seeds can be saved by the gardener each season andplanted during the next growing season. Many heirloom seeds have been grown forgenerations within the same families.

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Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated vs. Heirloom

As we think about purchasing plants for our Georgia community gardens, especially tomatoes, there are choices to be made. Is a hybrid the best choice? What exactly is a hybrid? What about heirlooms?

Today we are going to think back to our high school genetics class and discuss a bit about plant breeding. Pollen is located on the anther part of the stamen (male part). It is transferred by insect, wind, human hands, or other means to the stigma part of the flower (female part). This is pollination. There the pollen grows down the style to the ovary. That is fertilization. Any of that sound familiar?

A hybrid vegetable is created when a plant breeder deliberately controls pollination by cross-pollinating two different varieties of a plant. The parent plants are chosen for characteristics like fruit size, plant vigor, or disease resistance. The hope is that the resulting offspring will have the positive characteristics.

The parent designated as the female has the pollen-bearing anthers removed from the flowers. Pollen from a carefully chosen partner is moved to the female plant’s stigma by human hands. The chosen pollen is the only pollen that female receives. This is all very time consuming and carefully monitored. Scientifically it looks like this:

Parent 1 (P1) + Parent 2 (P2) —-> Hybrid (F1)

The resulting hybrid (hopefully) has wonderful characteristics like disease resistance, early maturing fruit, larger fruit, or whatever the plant breeder was trying to achieve. Before a hybrid is available to the consumer, it has gone through many field tests and trials. All this is why hybrids are more expensive plants.

One negative to hybrids is that you can’t save the seed. Seeds grown from hybrid plants do not provide plant types true-to-type. You need to purchase new hybrids year after year. Big Boy and Early Girl are examples of hybrid tomatoes. Millionaire and Early Midnight are popular hybrid eggplants.

Open pollinated vegetables are pollinated in the field by wind or natural pollinators to self or cross-pollinate. Plants that cross-pollinate need to be isolated from other varieties to produce seed that is true-to-type. Crops like tomatoes and beans tend to self-pollinate so saving useful seed is not difficult. Arkansas Traveler, Abraham Lincoln, and Cherokee Purple are popular open pollinated tomato varieties. Black Beauty is a popular open pollinated eggplant variety.

Heirlooms are generally open pollinated plant varieties that are over 50 years old. Traditionally the seed has been carefully saved and handed down from gardener to gardener. These are the plants most treasured.

So whether you choose hybrids, open pollinated plants, heirlooms, or a combination of these…

Becky Griffin helps school and community gardeners succeed! This includes organizing school garden teacher training with county agents, assisting schools with STE(A)M goals, and creating resources on starting and sustaining successful gardens.

Hybrid Tomatoes

Tomato hybridization is a controlled pollination in which two different varieties are combined by humans - pollen is transferred often using small air pumps in controlled, enclosed environment like greenhouses or similar.

Hybridization can occur naturally, of course, but hybrid tomatoes are deliberately produced in order to achieve desired properties.

Hybridized plants tend to grow better and produce more fruits than their parents. However, such plants are not genetically stable and second generation of such tomatoes will be less vigorous and will produce less fruits of questionable quality.

Hybrid seeds must be purchased every year. Even such plants can be become stable, open-pollinated tomatoes in several generations by careful selection. However, why bother stabilizing them, with all those great heirloom tomatoes around?

If you grow heirloom tomatoes for seeds, be sure to keep them away from other tomato varieties, regardless if other varieties are heirloom or hybrid tomatoes.

MaximumYield explains Open-Pollinated Seed

Plants reproduce in a number of different ways. Open-pollinated seeds are seeds from a plant that reproduces through what is known as open pollination. This is what most of us think of when we imagine flowers being pollinated. A good example would be a vegetable plant pollinated by bees. As the bee moves from flower to flower, it mixes pollen from one flower into the others, thereby pollinating them and ensuring that they will fruit.

Open-pollinated seeds require an external force to pollinate them. In most instances, this is accomplished by insects, but there are other ways it can occur. Some plants are wind pollinated, while others are pollinated by the gardener or farmer.

It’s also important to note that open-pollinated seeds will breed “true”. That is, a seed from one plant will reproduce the same type of plant. This is in direct contrast to hybrids, which, if they seed at all and are not sterile, will not breed true. Seeds from a hybrid plant will produce one of the two parent plants used to create the hybrid in the first place.

Most heirloom plants are open pollinated, but some are self pollinated. However, open pollinated plants are not automatically heirloom plants.

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