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Hybrid, Heirloom and OP Plants

Have you ever flipped through a gardening catalogue and wondered if a hybrid or heirloom label made a difference? It depends!

Through this article we’ll be highlighting plants from some of our favorite, family owned, local to Oregon nurseries. Not only will shopping local help your community, but you’re much more likely to find varieties suited to our local climate which means bigger, healthier, tastier and more colorful.


Hybrid seeds come from crossing existing varieties, usually focused on things like improved flavor, shelf life or hardiness. These plants may or may not produce their own seeds, and the results of seed saving and replanting vary wildly.

If your plans include potted plant starts from a nursery or buying fresh seeds every year, hybrids offer an astonishing variety of colors, flavors, textures and temperaments that are sure to please even the pickiest gardener.

Hybrid plants we love from Nichols Garden Nursery:

Hybrids, plants, flowers, growing

Sun Gold Tomato Moulin Rouge Sunflower Bushel Gourd

Open pollinated

If we say that a hybrid is a plant that can’t be relied on to produce similar offspring each year, open pollinated varieties are exactly the opposite.

Self pollinating

Self pollinating plants come in all shapes and sizes, from fruit trees to flowers and veggies; what they need is to have both female and male parts within the same blossom.

What this means for us is that if space or finances are a concern, only 1 of that plant is needed in a garden as opposed to needing a male and female pair. That might not be too big of a concern for a veggie plot, but before you write self pollination off as a party trick, consider fruit trees.

Cross pollinating

Cross pollinating types, on the other hand, need the help of an insect or human hand to bring it to fruition. Some things like pumpkins, squash and cucumbers technically still require a pollinator to visit them, but they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant.

*As a special note for squash growers: “Volunteer” plants from last year’s seed are quite common in gardens. These are generally perfectly fine to eat and likely quite hardy, but if your squash has a strange bitterness to it, stop eating. There are some wild squashes that are technically poisonous to humans, and there’s a chance your friendly neighborhood pollinators crossed last year’s butternut or acorn with one. It’s very, very unlikely to hurt you, but better safe than sorry.

Open pollinated plants we love from Adaptive Seeds

Pumpkin, Pie Pumpkin Party Celosia, Flamingo Feather Marigold, Tangerine Gem


All heirloom varieties are open pollinated, but not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms. While the specific requirements for the heirloom label continue to be hotly debated, it’s generally agreed that age (how long that variety has been grown), stability (whether it produces true) and sometimes heritage within a family or community are factors.

These are varieties that tell a story, with qualities multiple generations loved enough to plant year after year.

Heirloom plants we love from Siskiyou Seeds

Oregon Giant Pole Beans Dijon Mustard Harlequin Mix Dahlia


Some plants, through nature or human tampering, just don’t produce seed easily or at all, so the question is almost moot. Take something like garlic, for instance, where the cloves are separated off the bulb for replanting and we always get an exact copy.

This might sound like a dream come true after the last few pages, but there’s one other problem to consider: disease

The Banana Problem

Did you know that genetically, there’s only 1 Cavendish banana plant in the world? How about: why do banana flavored candies taste so… wrong?

Over time, we’ve modified bananas to the point that they don’t produce seeds. That’s pretty great as far as taste and texture go, but it means that the only way to reproduce them is to make clones. Up until the 1950s, the most popular banana sold in stores was the Gros Michel banana, which was smaller, sweeter and had that particular molasses-y aftertaste found in chicklets and other classic candies.<//p>

After a devastating outbreak of panama disease, producers world wide were forced to find and switch to a different banana cultivar, because every Gros Michel banana clone had the same susceptibility as the parent plant. Now, we’re facing the same problem with the Cavendish.

Should Seeds be Copyrighted?

For the home gardener that’s probably most of what you need to consider, but the issue is slightly thornier if you’re saving or trading seeds, running a CSA service, etc.

In some parts of the world it is illegal to sell seeds of cultivars (hybrids or varieties produced by selective breeding) that have not been approved for sale by their government, while other areas like Columbia are considering laws to make seed saving itself illegal. In Pennsylvania, a community seed library prompted patent claims on the part of big seed companies, taking multiple years and miles of red tape to resolve.

Another fact to consider: without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom seeds, big seed companies and our governments will eventually be the only ones with control over what (and perhaps if) crops are grown, even at home. Whatever your politics happen to be, we can all agree that this is not ideal.

What can you do about it? Garden! Save your seeds, trade them with friends, and teach the next generation where our food ultimately comes from. Start a community garden, seed library or CSA service, or just save a few seeds back the next time you grow an heirloom tomato.

You might change the world, and you’ll definitely change you and your community’s lives for the better.

With special thanks to: