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Hybrid vs. Heirloom Plants: What is the Difference?

The biggest difference between heirloom and hybrid plants has to do with cross-pollination. 

Heirlooms have cross-pollinated naturally throughout the centuries, and the seeds of the heirloom plant will grow true to the parent plant.

Conversely, people cross-pollinate hybrids in a controlled environment from two distinct parental plant lines to maximize growth and yield. 

Seeds taken from a hybrid plant won’t grow the same plant as their parent. 

Gardening and growing our own food is one of the most satisfying hobbies around, and choosing the perfect plant is one of the best parts. 

When we pick between heirloom and hybrid plants, we’re choosing between lines of plants that people have grown for thousands of years or plant lines combined through science to create higher yields. 

So what exactly is the difference between heirloom and hybrid plants? 

What is the Difference Between Heirloom and Hybrid?

Most home gardeners are under the impression that a seed taken from one of their plants will become the same type of plant as it grows. 

But, with how commonplace hybrid plants are becoming, this just isn’t the case anymore.

Heirloom and hybrid plants might produce the same plants, and upon visible inspection, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference. 

What differentiates the two types of plants actually comes down to both history and science.

Heirloom Plants

Heirloom plants are a familial line of plants that farmers have grown for at least 50 years that reproduce naturally through cross-pollination. 

The seeds from the heirloom plant will create a plant that is the same as its parents. 

This type of plant is popular with home gardeners because they can collect the seeds and use them to grow another similar plant. 

Plus, while heirlooms don’t produce the same large yields that hybrids do, they can grow in more diverse conditions and are more consistent than hybrids. 

Hybrid Plants

Hybrid plants are the offspring of two different and unique parental lines of plants from the same species. 

Someone has selectively cross-pollinated them instead of allowing the process to occur naturally so that these plants produce the maximum yield. 

But, you aren’t as likely to see these plants in a home garden because you can’t harvest the seeds from hybrid plants year after year. 

Seeds from hybrid plants may be sterile or fail to grow the same high-quality plant as the parent plant.

Thus, hybrids are perfect for mass production growing but aren’t as ideal for smaller organic gardening or farming setups. 

Read Also >> How to Save Heirloom Seeds?

Which is Better: Hybrid or Heirloom?

For home gardening and small farms, most people prefer heirloom plants. 

Meanwhile, hybrid plants are the better choice for mass production plant and vegetable setups. 

Yet, overall, neither type of plant is technically better than the other because they both have their place in the modern gardening world. 

But for the average gardener, heirlooms are the best choice. 

Heirlooms:

  • Provide you with seeds to grow new plants that are true to their parents
  • Produce vegetables that many gardeners claim taste superior to hybrid vegetables
  • Are hardier and more adaptable from years of growing in different ecosystems

Plus, when you choose heirlooms, you get the added perk of caring for a plant species that has existed for thousands of years.

Hybrid plants, on the other hand, came about because of a desire to control the quality and amount of yield more accurately when growing plants like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. 

Thus, they allow for a lot more products. 

However, hybrid plant seeds will either be sterile or produce a plant totally different from the parent plant. 

So, while many people prefer heirloom plants for their taste and quality, hybrid plants are better when you need a large amount of the plant in a shorter period. 

Therefore, the type you should grow really depends on what you want from your harvest. 

Read Also >> Why Save Seeds?

Are Hybrid Vegetables Safe?

Yes, hybrid vegetables are completely safe. 

Hybrid vegetables aren’t the same as GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) plants. 

Scientists design GMOs in laboratories by changing their DNA, while hybrids just come from someone cross-breeding lines of the same species of plant. 

Most scientists agree that GMO vegetables are the future and will help deal with hunger worldwide. 

However, they can still be intimidating for the average vegetable consumer, and many people aren’t too sure of them. 

Luckily, though, hybrid vegetables are completely safe and are in no way GMOs.

Read Also >> Recommended Seed Saving and Heirloom Seed Preservation Books

In Conclusion

Heirloom and hybrid plants can be the same species and variety, but they have distinct differences.

Where heirloom plants come from the same plants we’ve grown for thousands of years and will produce seeds that grow healthy new plants, hybrid plants produce the highest yield possible at the cost of having either sterile or lackluster seeds.

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