Heirloom, heritage, landrace, open pollinated, hybrid and GMO seeds.
I get asked about these different types of plants all the time and I reckon this is the best way to start.
It’s gonna be a lot of text, and I am gonna make broad sweeping statements that may not be 100% accurate in every single case. I definitely won’t be using the correct scientific terms either.
That’s all on purpose so that new gardeners are not overwhelmed, and if you can wrap your head around this, that’s more than enough info for the average person.
Heirloom, heritage, and landrace are all open-pollinated.
That means the plants rely on nature to do the pollination.
Bees are the critter everyone gives most of the credit to, but there are also wasps, flies, beetles, birds, rain and wind helping out too by moving the male bits onto the female bits.
- This could be from a male plant onto a completely separate female plant.
- It could be from a flower that has both male and female parts, onto a different flower that has both male and female parts, but still staying on the same plant the whole time.
- It could even be from a flower that has both male and female parts and back onto exactly the same flower.
It might not even need to move at all to do this last one.
It all depends on the species, and the local conditions and pollination method used, but you get the idea…
Male bits + Female bits = babies(seeds).
Everyone got that bit? Cool, now let’s get more specific.
Landrace are open-pollinated, and they are also a wild plant that humans like and use. They chose that fella because it was cool, and started planting and growing it on purpose.
They are very hardy across a wide range of conditions as there are slight differences between each plant. These genetic differences mean that some plants will normally survive if it gets too hot or cold or wet or dry for example. They have been grown for generations, in the case of amaranth several thousand years, always open-pollinated, not hybrids or commercial selections.
At the same time, they are not technically “heirlooms” as they are not specifically named lines.
Heritage and heirloom plants
Heritage and heirloom plants that were originally landrace selections, then people chose the bestest plant, then they made it even better. They did this by killing or just not selecting all the weak or boring ones, and crossing good plant to good plant generation after generation.
For example, the Broccoli I sell is “Waltham” which is a type originally bred by the University of Massachusetts, Waltham Field Station, Waltham, MA in 1950. It was chosen for its medium-large even heads, and the abundant green side shoots it produces once the main flower head has been removed.
They didn’t breed from the ones that didn’t fit that EXACT profile they wanted.
They grew thousands of plants but only chose the best couple % to breed from. Year after year they grew thousands, and just selected seeds from just a couple.
This minimized the available genes, and it standardised the form, removing nearly all variation in the babies.
Because they selected only certain ones to breed from once they had done that for a few generations the babies stopped being so different from each other, and they all started to look the same.
They then named it, and it is very different from the other named heirlooms like “Purple sprouting” or all the other broccoli’s out there.
The disadvantage is that these heavily selected plants are suited to a very specific set of conditions that the plants were originally grown in. They generally can’t handle extreme weather changes as well as their feral undomesticated landrace relatives, but because the yields are so much better it’s been worth growing them for decades, hundreds of years in some cases.
Hybrid and F1 plants
Hybrids are when you take a plant that has something you like and cross it with something else you like, and tomatoes are a great example.
You have a plant that produces this massive tasty fruit, but the plant is really weak and gets disease all the time.
You have another plant that is just a feral cherry tomato and it is super hardy and disease resistant, but the fruit it produces are tiny.
Cross the two plants together and you will get 1000’s of genetically different babies.
Some big, some small, some strong, some weak and if you are lucky you will even get a couple that are huge, tasty and disease resistant too. Crossing two unrelated plants widens the gene pool and will give you a heap of genetic possibilities.
This causes an effect called “hybrid vigor” which basically just means bigger and better, but only once. This is all those F1 hybrids at the local hardware and big box gardens centres.
If you save seeds from these you will get a plant that is generally not as good at the parent as it now lacks the huge variety of genetic material now. Most of the time they are just weak mangled runts, or they revert back to the most dominant hardy parent, in this case, the feral cherry. Unless you have room to grow thousands of plants and put years of your life into it there is not much point saving seeds from them.
If you do have that time and space and you keep selecting just the couple plants that you like and crossing them to similar plants, in a very long time they all start looking the same again. Now you have a new fancy breed of tomato and it is genetically stable.
It’s babies all look just like the parent plants!
You can then name it, you could even protect it with plant breeder rights or even patent it if you wanted.
After a few hundred generations it could be considered an heirloom plant in its own right.
Let me start by saying I am sure some moron and/or shill will now try and correct me by saying
“Well actually, 90% of food grown by man has been altered from its original wild form and is there for Genetically modified”.
My answer to that is big bloody deal…
- Crossing two plants that are naturally able to sexually reproduce is something that happens all the time in nature and the statistical chances of something going wrong is way less than when you physically inject genetic material from an unrelated species into a plant.
- Blasting bacteria, fish and frog genetic material into a plant is not the same as crossing up the flowers on a couple of tomatoes, as happens all the time in the wild.
- To suggest it is the same is ingenuous.
- To suggest it is proven to be safe is moronic. I can’t prove a new cross is 100% safe for every person in every situation, but you definitely can’t prove that crap is safe either.
Now I don’t have any proof at all of any danger or harm being directly caused by eating GMO food.
Zero, zip, absolutely none. Very happy to admit it.
There are however endless amounts of proof that the companies(and countries) that produce and market them are less than moral in their actions…
Take for example labelling.
The consumer has time and time again petitioned and protested to have all GMO derived products labelled as such.
In response, the Australian government under great pressure from these multinational companies and foreign powers have instead decided not to, by using a simple loop hole in the English language.
They disingenuously assert that since the genetic material has been removed during processing they will hide this information. By their own admission if labelled, then these products would not be financially viable as the majority of the community is also against them.
“We can’t tell you what’s in it, because if we did you wouldn’t buy it”.
That seems like a pretty shitty sales tactic to me and there is no other industry on the planet that would allow for this.
Last I looked 20% of Australia’s Canola oil crop, most if not all of our cotton, and all processed imported foods and additives that also have this genetic material removed are not labelled GMO.
Due to this trickery of language working so well the majority of Aussie consumers don’t even know that they are financially supporting these destructive farming practices, and/or putting food into their body that THEY would never choose to if they were informed.
Real world I believe it is irrelevant if it causes harm or even if it is proven to be safe.
Folks do harmful stuff to themselves all the time and I believe they should have the right to if they choose to. You should have autonomy of your own bloody meat sack.
I also just as strongly believe in education and informed choices, and by hiding this information the producers, the major supermarket chains, and our government are doing a huge disservice to its people.
Regardless of the safety of ingestion, there is endless proof that the plants have lower productivity, and at the same time, they vastly increase insecticide and herbicide use.
This is despite the companies and those that directly benefit from them asserting the opposite, spending billions of dollars promoting them, as well as just as much if not more money, ruthlessly destroying the lives of everyone that dares to oppose their dominance. To my eye they seem like real bastards and just because of that alone I would never ever support them.
Some folks suck, that’s just life, but they ain’t ever gonna mates of mine…
The main point that everyone seems to miss when screaming at each other online about this issue is that not only do they cause a heap of harm to the environment through causing herbicide and insecticide resistance in the pests that compete with them, the fact remains they are in no way necessary.
Heirlooms heritage and landrace selections come in so many millions of forms, selected for so many regions and climatic conditions, being already absolutely bloody perfect for every single patch of farmland on the planet!
The problem is that they are not profitable to big business as they are the Open Source(OS) of the plant world.
Anyone can use them and share them freely, without interference from above.
The use of GMO’s only real world benefits BIGAGRA, and the countries and chemical supply companies they are financially tied to.
On the ground level where the growers and consumers like you and me are there are no real world benefits that even come close to outweighing the negative impacts created by this unnecessary rubbish.
They are the ink cartridge and disposable razor blade of the botanical world.
Great for the company, but absolutely terrible for the consumer, and even worse for the environment that we all share.
We would never allow GMO’s on the property, and if even distant neighbouring properties ever decided to grow them I would no longer grow any species of that genus, at all.
It is part of the reason why I have such a passion for collecting uncommon food plant species.
Every plant that we grow is open-pollinated and they are grown on a continual rotation all year round regardless of weather conditions. I do this to increase hardiness in each generation and with erratic weather becoming more commonplace I reckon that this is a good investment in my future ability to grow food.
I always select the best fruit from the best plants for growing and saving seeds.
I do not harvest the whole crop of anything as I do not want the weak poor performing plants to survive. They need to die, and their death will feed my soil and future generations of plants.
This is how humanity has produced and improved our food for 10,000’s of years, and since it ain’t broke, it don’t need bloody fixing!
Many heirlooms seed suppliers miss this super vitally important selection step.
I am seeing crappier and crappier genetics in many well established old heirloom lines these days through a combination of folks selling every seed they grow and from small scale folks eating their best fruit and only saving seeds from the runts.
Both of these are very bad long term and all you are doing is making a weedy type of plant, or a runted weak type of plant.
The other issue with large mainstream seed suppliers is that they buy in their seeds in bulk from mono-cropping broadacre farmers. They have beautiful lush soil, flat land, irrigation, regular intensive weed and insect control systems, and the plants they produce in these ideal conditions are really good.
Awesome actually, can’t argue with that!
The thing is, no-one has those conditions in their backyard or small scale farm…
Their plants are only ideally suited for a broadacre farm, and they are bloody pathetic when grown in less than ideal conditions and this is why so many new growers think they just don’t have a green thumb.
Just cos what you did isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you should have 100% failure.
I consistently deliberately sabotage my plants, and despite this, I still get a viable crop in my poor rocky dry soil with bugger all TLC. When grown in semi-decent conditions my plant’s PUMP, while at the same time they will survive much better if you get crazy weather, or you have unexpectedly neglected them for a while in an emergency.
That’s the main focus with everything me and the Mrs do, and that focus on hardiness in all seasons and in all conditions, doing everything by hand the old fashioned way. I believe it really sets our seeds apart from all the rest.
Our stock numbers are low because of all the many 100’s of species we grow, and because of this, there are often big waiting lists between each harvest. Folks sometimes miss out on stuff they have waited for ages and they definitely do get understandably cranky with me from time to time.
For some species, our prices are much higher than the average seed seller which also sets a few folks off, with the reason for that being those plants take a lot more time, or its more physically labour intensive when done manually the way we do, vs by machine.
Sometimes you have to wait, and sometimes ours costs more than the big guys, and I’m OK admitting it.
Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to change in the future.
I wish I could send everyone, everything, the very second they wanted it, for a price they were always really happy with, yet still get the rent paid as well as have time for sleep.
But I mean, unfortunately here in the real world where I live that ain’t ever likely to happen…
That said, you won’t get better quality seeds than what me and the Mrs produce, and that last bits just a bloody fact!