Have you ever wondered what F1 means on seed packets? What are hybrid seeds and plants anyway?

Well, they’re not genetically modified seeds or GMOs, but they do contain a mix of different varieties from identical plants. For example, a hybrid tomato seed might include two distinct tomato plant varieties or species. 

Farmers and gardeners will use hybrid seeds because they can bring many advantages during and before the harvest. Of course, hybrid seeds don’t happen overnight, requiring some scientific experimentation to determine what varieties work best.

Below is a deeper dive into what hybrid seeds are all about. 

non hybrid seeds on the market

What You'll Learn

Definition of Hybrid Seeds

Think of hybrid seeds as a cross between two different variations of a single species. Or, you can think of those seeds in terms of hybrid vehicles. A hybrid car gets its power from two different sources – gasoline and electricity.

In the same way, a hybrid seed grows a plant that represents more than one of its variations. For instance, tomatoes can be hothouse or cherry tomatoes, and a hybrid tomato seed might contain genetic material from both variations. 

Hybrid seeds are designed or bred by plant breeders. However, it’s a laborious process that involves testing and writing down the results of different cross variations. Breeders aim to produce specific outcomes and want both varieties’ best traits or characteristics. 

Another way to think of hybrid seeds is in terms of people. Each person contains 50% of their DNA from each biological parent, and a human is essentially a hybrid of both parents. The difference is that this genetic makeup assembles randomly without experimentation. 

hybrid seed in controlled environment

Difference Between Hybrid and Normal Seeds

Hybrid seeds are created in controlled conditions when two different types of parents are combined. With those, you will have more information about your plant in advance, which means you will know what to expect when growing with it.

Normal or non-hybrid seeds are the ones that you don’t know precisely who the parents are and what characteristics will new-planted plants have. These seeds are naturally pollinated by bees, insects, water, or wind while hybrids are mostly pollinated by hand.

hybrid seeds are pollinated by hand

Are F1 Hybrid seeds Gmo?

The name hybrid comes from the Latin word hybrida, which means something mixed, cross. The word itself tells us there’s been some interference, and hybrid organisms contain the characteristics of both parents.

The terms hybrid and GMO are often mixed and are not the same.

The process of hybrid formation, and hybridization, are natural phenomena that occur spontaneously in nature.

GMOs are not a natural process; they are created in the laboratory by taking the DNA of one organism and placing it into another. 

We are nothing but a hybrid organism that inherited the characteristics of its parents. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be different from the first man, we’d just double. Thus, in nature, hybridizations happen every day by mixing and intersection.

gmo seed laboratory

Are Hybrid Seeds organic?

Hybrid seeds can be organic. Farmers that are producing organic seeds follow specific methods to cultivate and harvest their crops. Generally, certified organic sources contain no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and must be grown from organically raised parents. For a seed to be labeled organic, it must meet all the standards the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets. For example, some hybrid corn is certified organic, while others are not because others didn’t follow the strict set of rules.

What Does F1 Mean on Seed Packets?

You may be wondering what the “F1” stands for. “F” means filial, and the number following refers to the filial generation, the number 1 stands for the first filial generation, the number 2 stands for the second filial generation, and so on. F1 or first-generation seed results from selective breeding of two different plant species or varieties. The second generation, or F2, is offspring from their parent, F1. It also means F2 should have some characteristics of F1.

If that looks confusing, let me try to explain from another aspect.

For example, if I want to grow cabbage from a seed that is at the same time bolt resistant and fast-growing. I need to find a way to cross the fastest-growing cabbage breed with a variety that can stand high temperatures. I will isolate those two plants in a controlled environment and pollinate them. When I succeed and prove new variety with sowing and testing, I will then mark that new seed and variant as F1.

seed package with informations
seed package with informations

Benefits of Growing With Hybrid Seeds

Hybrid in non-hybrid seed comparison often contains several benefits. These include:

  • Ability to mature or ripen faster
  • Improved disease resistance
  • Higher crop yield
  • More standard growth rates
  • New colors
  • Tougher skin that will help with machine processing

Some successful examples of those seeds or crops include modern corn and tomatoes, and many roses also come from hybrid sources. Large food producers prefer F1 seeds because of many good qualities in vegetable production with machinery.

f1 tomato hybrid seed variant
f1 tomato hybrid seed variant

Disadvantages of Growing With Hybrid Seeds 

There are also some disadvantages when compared with non-hybrid and heirloom seeds. These include:

  • fewer nutritions than in heirloom varieties
  • often less tasty 
  • some seed varieties can be expensive and are patented
  • do not transmit faithful traits to new seeds
  • often not fit in local conditions

Hybrid seeds can also be less resistant to pests and diseases, especially in local environments where heirloom variants have already established their endurance over the years.

Do hybrid seeds reproduce?

One of the main disadvantages of hybrid F1 is that this seed will not faithfully transmit its characteristics in further breeding.

Seeds of F1 plants are already grafted onto an embryo containing several genes from one or the other parent. That means the plant wouldn’t be the same as you planted, and the following year’s crop could be risky and unknown.

For this reason, if you want to save seeds from your plants for further sowing, select non-hybrid or heirloom seeds.

seedpod with seeds closeup

Should I Let Flowering to Save Hybrid Seeds?

One thing about plants from hybrid seeds is that their traits can be unpredictable. That is somewhat similar to siblings from the same set of parents. The siblings may share the same DNA, but the results or assembly of those traits will often be different. 

In other words, you can’t really predict if one child will inherit the mother’s brown eyes or the father’s blue ones. The same happens with plants. So a tomato from seeds that are a cross between hothouse and grape varieties may end up looking like something in-between.

On the other hand, some fruit might look like a grape tomato, and others will resemble the hothouse “parent.” And some may be sterile or take on a life of their own. For all these reasons, it is risky to plan next year’s vegetable production with collected seeds from hybrid plants.

So, when you notice bolting or flowering, you should cut the flower stalk to prologue harvesting time.

sowing f1 hybrid seeds

Should You Grow With F1 Hybrid Seeds in Small Garden?

F1 hybrid seeds are an excellent choice for gardeners, especially those with limited space. These seeds offer the highest number of plants per square foot, produce the most robust plants, and can help you make the best possible harvest.

Small gardeners and beginners can benefit from growing with those to receive more information about specific plants and herbs they can apply to their own growing conditions. The most significant disadvantage of growing with hybrids is the inability to save seeds for the next planting season.  

Final Thoughts

Hybrid seeds have many benefits and are essentially cross-breeding between two variations of the same plant. 

You have probably already eaten a fruit or vegetable from hybrid seeds, which are available in grocery stores and supermarkets. However, the process of getting those seeds takes many years of experimentation, and drawbacks include lack of collecting seeds less tastier flavor with less nutrients than old varieties. 

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