Sunday, January 11, 2015
Saving seed has come into fashion lately. The abundance of news about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) and seeds with a "suicide gene" has caused a general sense of nervousness. The human race instinctively knows how important these plants we have been so closely linked with for so long are to our continued survival. Many articles on saving seed have been written carefully instructing us all to purchase only open pollinated, preferably heirloom, seeds for saving. While this is good advice, it tends to discount any value hybrids offer.
I think it's important that people understand the difference between hybrid plants and GMO's, as well as their purposes. A GMO is created when genetic material from one species is transferred to another completely unrelated species in a laboratory. This is something that could NEVER happen in nature (think a cow breeding with a tree). The most common purposes of GMO's are resistance to the herbicide glyophosphate (Round-up) and production of a natural insecticide (BT corn). The genetic code for these products (I don't really consider them plants) is privately owned and saving seeds from any of these will get you in legal hot water.
A hybrid is a cross between two varieties of the same species of plant (think black beans crossed with white beans to make grey beans). The result of this cross often has an advantage over both it's parents. Perhaps it's larger, or resistant to drouth or disease. You can save seeds from hybrids and plant them, but some of the resulting plants will revert back to the traits of the original parents. However; if you continue to plant these seeds generation after generation, only selecting those that have the hybrid traits, eventually they will all breed true and a new open pollinated variety has just been created with all the desirable traits of that hybrid.
So if you're dying to try that new, super cool looking, purple cauliflower, don't let the fact that it's a hybrid put you off. Grow it anyway. Save the seed if you want. With a little persistence, you can name the results after your favorite relative.