Open Pollinated Plants vs. Heirlooms

| 4/23/2014 9:32:00 AM

Tags: Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Seeds, Seed Saving, Amy Hill,

Amy HillIn my previous post, I described the basics of differentiating between open pollinated plants, F1 hybrids, and GMOs. This time we'll look a little more closely at the differences in open pollinated plants: heirlooms, heritage varieties, and modern heirlooms.

What’s the difference between an open-pollinated seed and an heirloom seed?

Heirlooms are seeds of plants that have been tended, selected, shared, and handed down for generations within a particular location or community. Some seed companies categorize heirlooms by the age of the variety (e.g., if seeds of a particular plant have been recorded as being handed down for 100 years or more). Seed Savers Exchange classifies heirlooms by tracing a plant’s documented history of preservation, emphasizing the plant's ties to a particular group of people.


For example, Seed Savers Exchange founder Diane Ott Whealey's great-grandparents brought some morning glory seeds from Bavaria to Iowa in the 1800s. Upon her grandfather's death, Diane founded the Seed Savers Exchange to continue this hand-me-down tradition of conservation, and Grandpa Ott's morning glories are found in gardens across the country, including mine. Seed Savers Exchange further differentiates between heirlooms and "heritage" varieties, which are "old-timey" plants that may have no particular connection to a particular people. And there are "modern heirlooms," or modern open-pollinated varieties, in various stages of emerging tradition, being bred and selected by a handful of seed companies who care deeply about plant genetic diversity and stewardship. 

So to summarize:

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