The following definitions are paraphrased, with thanks, from a USC Canada presentation on seed saving:

  • Annuals – Plants that start from seed and produce seed themselves within one growing season. For example: Tomatoes, peas, beans, lettuce.
  • Biennials – Plants that require two growing seasons to complete their life cycle. Carrots, for example, grow a tap root the first season, but if conserved over winter and replanted in spring, they will produce seeds the second summer.
  • Botanical Name – The scientific name given to a plant. Helps avoid confusion, as many plants are known colloquially by different names. The botanical name is based on taxonomy, a system of classification developed by botanists. For example: cucurbitaceae describes a family that contains squash, melons, cucumbers, and gourds.
  • Cross-pollination (“Crosser”) – The flowers are wide open, allowing pollen from one plant to be delivered to another plant – often by insects, birds, or the wind.
  • Days to Maturity – This number describes the point at which the plant yields food that is ready to eat. You typically have to wait another few weeks for their seed to mature.
  • Dry Seed – Seed in pods or on seed heads that literally dries out.
  • GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) – Varieties in which genes have been inserted into the DNA of the host variety. These genes may be from different species, genera, or even kingdoms (transgenic).
  • Heirloom Variety – Non-hybrid, open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation (> 50 years old is generally considered an heirloom).
  • Hybrid (‘F1’) – Are a result of a controlled crossing of inbred, genetically distinct parent populations. Most of the seeds saved from hybrids (F1’s) will appear very different from their parents. A few will look like the original F1 variety.
  • Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different species or varieties is crossed by human intervention.
    • Hybridization can occur naturally through random crosses, but commercially available hybridized seed, often labeled as F1, is deliberately created to breed a desired trait. The first generation of a hybridized plant cross also tends to grow better and produce higher yields than the parent varieties due to a phenomenon called ‘hybrid vigor’. However, any seed produced by F1 plants is genetically unstable and cannot be saved for use in following years. Not only will the plants not be true-to-type, but they will be considerably less vigorous. Gardeners who use hybrid plant varieties must purchase new seed every year.

Hybrid vs OP

  • Inbreeding Depression – Loss of vigour and variation due to crossing two genetically-similar plants.
  • Locally-adapted – Plants that have been grown in a given geographic area over a long period of time, and that have acclimated to the local environment and proven hardy.
  • Open-pollinated (“OP”) – OP’s varieties are a result of combining parents that are genetically similar. Seed will yield plants that look like the parent plants.
  • Perennials – Plants that live more than two years and produce flowers and seeds from the same root, year after year.
  • Pollinator – An agent (e.g., an insect, bird, bat, moth, or wind) that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization.
  • Roguing – The removal of an off-type, or diseased plant.
  • Self-pollinator (“Selfer”) – Flowers are tightly closed, and feature both the male and female parts. The flower essentially mates with itself. The offspring are very similar to the parent.
  • Wet Seed – Seed encased by a moist fruit or vegetable, like tomatoes, melons, or peppers.