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Hybrids, fertility and breeding 'true'

Kurt W

Joined: Jun 21, 2009
Posts: 77
Location: Northport, Wash.
Thought I would throw a little info on hybrids out here.
It appears that some hybrids actually are fertile, please see:


quote from the above article:
"Morus classification is even further complicated by widespread hybridisation, wherein the hybrids are fertile."
(These are mulberries, by the way)

I seem to remember there were more I had found, if I find the info I used to have on them I will post them here.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5847
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
Most hybrids are fertile.  However, the spawned plant will most likely not be like the parent.
Alison Thomas

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
Echoing what John said. 

I saved seed from F1 hybrid squashes and pumpkins the year before last.  Sowed them last year just to see what came up.  About 50% germinated and went on to produce decent plants.  The pumpkins however produced NO fruit.  The squashes produced a mix, some like the parent but many not so, small fruits but still tasty.

Last year I saved some melon seeds. So far, similar story - 50% germination.

Tomatoes pop up everywhere and they were from F1 hybrids.

But I've saved seed from many F1 hybrid flowers and got 0% germination.

Hybridisation does take place naturally when bees etc visit many flowers BUT in a natural situation it doesn't generally lead to heavy inbreeding which is what happens when they're producing F1 hybrid seed. 

The guys who produce F1 hybrid seed are in the main doing it for the commercial grower so that the crop ripens all at the same time for harvest, or has uniform shape etc etc mostly because the produce is going to supermarkets where consumers (so they say) demand that all their apples/carrots/leeks look the same with no 'unatural' twisty, lumpy bits. Flavour seems to be VERY secondary.

I have now stopped buying F1 hybrid seed as, now that I know, I am primarily against the exploitation of the third world on seed circles.  As a happy accident I get crops that are more suited for our needs - crops that year on year will adapt to my soil and situation as they have a broad genetic base.  The 'Company' that I get mine from (two people working off their kitchen worktop) made me laugh when they gave a list of the 'wonderful benefits' claimed on the backs of some seed packets and their translations....

Good for freezing - ripens all at once so you get a glut
Straight long shanks - bred for the packing machine
Leafless peas so easy to find the peas - much smaller yield (there's no leaves to feed the plant!!!) but miles easier to harvest with a combine.
Salkeela Bee

Joined: Dec 02, 2010
Posts: 101
Alison... I'm guessing you might use ?

My favourite seed supplier.  Fantastic website too - even if you are just window shopping. 
Alison Thomas

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
Yep you guessed it.  I'm a seed saver for them too 
Salkeela Bee

Joined: Dec 02, 2010
Posts: 101

I love their Toms especially - Galina (all time fav.) and Rose de Berne.  I'm trying their two orange varieties for the first time this year too.  I did save Tom seeds for them one year following all instructions and sent it in, but I'm not sure they used it in the catalogue..... I enjoyed the free seed, but didn't follow it through the next year.

No matter, this year I'm growing their Yacon for the first time.  I did grow Oca but found it small and a bit fiddly and I was the only one who liked eating it.  Hopefully Yacon will be more popular!

Oh and their peas... and beans..... ... I could go on and on.... 
Jonathan Byron

Joined: Apr 16, 2011
Posts: 225
John Polk wrote:
Most hybrids are fertile.  However, the spawned plant will most likely not be like the parent.

That's the big issue, but it is not huge problem for permaculture as it is for commercial vegetable growers. The monoculture farmers want row after row of uniform plants that respond to fertilizer the same way, that ripen at the same time, where the produce is identical in size/shape/color. In a personal or community food forest, who cares about those things?? For personal/local producers, it may be better to have things that can be harvested over a period of months instead of in a narrow window.  The big commercial grower wants to pick it all, send it to market, and dismiss the migrant workers.

And if a person saves the best seed from a non-uniform population, over the years they can create a variety that is locally adapted and genetically stable.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5847
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
Many of the hybrids are also developed for disease resistance.  While none of us want to lose 10% of our crop, that is a significant number to a commercial grower with 200 acres of tomatoes.  The commercial growers also know that the average consumer has forgotten what a real vegetable tastes like; they just want uniform size, color, and something that can sit on the counter for a week without spoiling...the reason they won't spoil is that even the bacteria don't like them!  Tasteless blobs that look pretty.
Paracelsus McCoy

Joined: Jan 24, 2011
Posts: 49
Location: Elmira, ny
Yep, there are plenty of sucky hybrids out there, but not all by a long shot.. Hybrid vigor is a real phenomenon. It's what makes a mutt a smarter, sturdier dog than the typical purebred. I used to avoid hybrids, but with some stuff, like peppers and eggplants, I am more likely to get a decent crop if I use a hybrid seed. So hybrids can be good for people who have tough growing conditions for a particular plant.

I see a lot of people knocking the fact that some hybrids are developed to all ripen at once. Thing is that some people, like me, like to preserve their harvest. That's tough to do if you want to make dilly beans but you are getting a harvest in drips and drab as opposed to in a big blob, which is more convenient and saves energy. Hybrids can be very helpful for canners.

Nor do all heirlooms taste better than hybrids. Some heirlooms are better off in the museum. I do agree, though, that the world does not need another hybrid petunia.
Brandon Monterosso

Joined: Mar 20, 2011
Posts: 30
Siberian Watermelon! There is beauty to be had with hybrids I like the thought of trying to stabilize one, sounds fun.
paul homestead

Joined: May 29, 2010
Posts: 126
Location: Ava, Mo, USA, Earth
The word "hybrid" is used to mean two related but different things.  Its original meaning was crosses between species, and most of them are sterile.  Think horses and asses making sterile mules.  The trend nowadays is if two species routinely crossbreed with eachother as freely as with themselves, they are relisted as being the same species.

When refering to almost all hybrid garden seeds, the word means a cross between two different strains of the same species.  The results will be fertile, but the next generation will be unpredictable.  Think crossing two breeds of dogs.  Cross a beagle with a pug and you get a pugle.  Breed two pugles and who knows what you'll get.

All new varieties of garden plants start out as the 2nd type of hybrid, crosses withing a species.  If you want to take the time, you can sellect the best plants from the second generation to breed for the third and so on.  Eventually you might get a new strain or cultivar that breeds true and has the trates you want.


Emerson White

Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Hybrid flowers are often sterile because the seed setting process diverts resources from maintaining the flower petals. The hybrids really are superior, just like a mule really is superior to a donkey or a horse.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5847
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
I know a tomato fanatic who typically grows 2-3 dozen varieties of heirlooms each season.  As an insurance crop, he always plants a hybrid (Jet Setter).  When disease hits his hot/humid garden, he can still count on tomatoes on the dinner plate.

Hybrid vigor is a reality that can overcome adverse conditions.
Suzy Bean

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
Paul and Jocelyn discuss Paul's CFL experiment and seed saving in this podcast.

Paul talks a bit about hybrids.
subject: Hybrids, fertility and breeding 'true'
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