How to hybrid plants

How to Create Hybrid Plants

Create your own hybrid plants in your garden without any special tools. In order to create a hybrid plant, you have to use two varieties of the same type of plant. For example, you can hybridize two varieties of tomatoes, but you can’t hybridize a tomato and a pepper. The seeds produced by hybridization are called “F1” hybrids. F1 hybrids generally grow stronger, more robust plants that produce a reliable crop in a shorter amount of time, as compared to an open pollinated variety of the same vegetable.

Choose the parents for your new hybrid. Designate one as the male and one as the female parent.

Remove the anthers from the female parent by pinching them off with your thumb and finger. These are the elongated stems that jut out from the center of the flower. They are the male portion and must be removed from the mother plant so that only pollen from the father plant pollinates the female.

Cut the male flower from its plant. Push the anthers from the male flower into the de-anthered female flower and gently rub the two together. Discard the male flower.

Cover the female flower with a small paper bag, such as a lunch bag. Secure the bag to the base of the flower with string. This is necessary to keep pollinating insects from alighting on the flower and perhaps adding additional pollen. Leave the bag on the flower until the pollen dries up and the seed pod begins to swell.

Remove the seeds or seed pod from the plant as soon as they are dry and have turned to a tan or brown color. Do not leave the seed pod on the plant too long or it may burst and the seeds will scatter on the ground.

Store the resulting seeds in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them. Place them into an envelope or wax paper and label with the varieties of their parents.

Be Inspired Blog – California

Posted on: July 28, 2017

If you’re new to gardening or if you’re an experienced gardener, you’ve probably heard about hybrid plants and may have questions about them.

Keep reading to learn about hybrid plants from The Spruce, how plants are hybridized, the different types and much more; are you ready to learn?

What Are Hybrid Plants?

A hybrid plant is the result of cross pollinating two different plant varieties and growing the seed the mix produces. The plant that grows from that seed combination is called a hybrid. Commercial cross planting is done to get some type of valued attribute of each initial variety into the offspring. Hybrids might be developed for disease resistance, size of plant, flower, or fruit, increased flowering, color, taste or any reason a plant might be considered special. Today, many modern plants sold are hybrids.

How are Plants Hybridized?

For the initial crossing, pollen from one plant is transferred to the flower of another variety. Before doing so, the breeder must decide which plant they want to use as the female (the pistil) and which they want to take pollen from (the stamen, male parts).

The pistil is then pollinated manually, with the pollen. To prevent the plants from self-pollinating, all the stamens must be removed from the plants that are going to be pollinated. The fruits that form because of this cross pollination are harvested and the seeds are kept.

Finding the preferred result can take years of testing. First time hybrid plants are grown the following year and the plants they produce are checked out. If they meet expectations, the cross will be repeated and the seeds will be distributed the following year. If the results aren’t quite right, the breeder must try again. The breeder who first creates a hybrid owns the rights to it, which is why they can be more expensive than non-hybrids, or open pollinated, plants. Breeders guard the parentage of their hybrids closely.

What Happens When You Plant Seeds from Hybrid Plants?

Remember, because hybrids are a cross between varieties, the seed produced by hybrids will not grow true to seed. Seeds grown from a hybrid could exhibit traits of one or both parent plants or be something totally surprising. Other times, the seed is sterile and does not grow at all.

Are Hybrid Plants Unnatural?

Most hybrid plants are manmade crosses, but hybridization is possible in nature. Two plants close to each other of different species can be cross pollinated by insects or the wind and the resulting seed simply falls on the soil and grows into a hybrid. Few of the flowers and vegetables we grow today are in their original wild form.

6 Popular Hybrid Plants

Now that you know a little more about hybrid plants, let’s look at some of the most popular and successful crosses.

  1. Hybrid Lilies

Hybrid lilies are classified as Asiatic hybrids and Oriental hybrids. Oriental hybrid lilies have large 6 to 8 inch, fragrant, pink, red, purple or white flowers. The flowers of the Asiatic hybrids are smaller and typically have no fragrance. The flowers come in bright shades of yellow, gold, rose, pink, white and orange. The Asiatic lilies naturally flower from late spring to early summer while the Oriental lilies naturally bloom during late summer. Hybrid lilies can easily be grown as potted plants when grown in the right medium with proper light and watering. Lilies are likely to develop leaf scorch from the fluoride found in most growing mediums. Hence, care should be taken that the medium does not contain superphosphate or perlite. The soil pH for Asiatic hybrids should be 6.5 and between 6.5 to 6.8 for the Oriental hybrids.

  1. Sweet Corn

Much of U.S. corn grown are hybrid types. The characteristics of these varieties have made it easier for home gardeners to grow and they are sweeter than previous crops. Grow sweet corn in larger gardens in rows for successful pollination and subsequent ear development. Plant the seeds in deep, rich, well-drained soil and in an area that receives full sun. Sow the seeds about two weeks after the last frost occurs. Harvest the ears only during the short milk stage, when punctured kernels emit juices that are milky in color.

  1. Olympia

Olympia is a hybrid of spinach, which is preferred due to its superior growth. The leaves are dark green and thick and the growth is upright. Olympia is a highly-recommended option for spring, summer, fall and overwintering. The hybrid spinach is highly resistant to bolting under high summer temperatures and long days. Olympia spinach is ready to harvest after about 48 days. The spinach can be sowed as soon as the soil is at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the seeds start germinating within one to two weeks.

  1. Stargazer Lilies

These oriental hybrids feature vibrant blooms that measure up to 8 inches in diameter, are very fragrant and come in red, purple, pink and white hues. They grow strongly during the summer and bloom in late summer. Plants are often marketed in the spring and can easily be grown as potted plants. For best results, plant bulbs in the fall or spring at three times the depth of their length. Water it regularly as the plant starts to grow and deadhead spent flowers to direct energy back to the bulb for next season’s growth.

  1. Meyer Lemon Trees

Meyer lemons, originally from China, are a cross between a true lemon tree and mandarin orange tree. The fruit is much sweeter than traditional lemons, which makes this variety a favorite of gardeners and chefs alike. Meyer lemon trees can be grown outside in climates warmer than zone 8, or can be grown in pots that are brought indoors during cooler months. Buy trees that are 2 to 3 years old and plant them in soil that is sandy, well-draining and slightly acidic. Keep the soil consistently moist but not too soggy.

  1. Argemone Mexicana

This hybrid poppy is found in Mexico and now widely planted in many parts of the world. An extremely hardy plant, it is tolerant of drought and poor soil, often being the only cover on new road cuttings or verges. It has bright yellow latex, and though poisonous to grazing animals, is rarely eaten, but has been used medicinally by many people including those in its native area, the Natives of the western US and parts of Mexico. Mexicana seeds contain 22–36% of a pale yellow non-edible oil, called argemone oil or katkar oil, which contains the toxic alkaloid sanguinarine and dihydrosanguinarine. It has been isolated from the whole plant of Argemone mexicana.

Start Planting

Hybrid plants are the new normal when done by a breeder, but they can be created organically in nature. Were you surprised by any of the popular hybrid plants listed above? Did you know some of them were even hybrids? Check out our other blog posts for more information on gardening, and visit our locations page to find a store near you!

About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Heirloom Plants

How experts define heirlooms can vary, but typically they are at least 50 years old, and are often pre-WWII varieties. Most heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait. Others may have been developed by a university a long time ago (again, at least 50 years), in the early days of commercial breeding. All heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention. In addition, they tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next.

Many gardeners agree that most heirloom varieties boast greater flavor than that found in hybrids, especially among tomatoes. Bonnie’s heirloom tomato varieties are clearly marked on the plant trays.

While hybrid plants typically yield a crop that is uniform in both appearance and timing, heirloom vegetables may produce a “mixed bag” harvest. The harvest may come in less predictably, and fruit size can vary greatly even on the same plant.

Despite their sometimes odd looks and quirky ways, heirlooms bring lots to the table (literally!). The Amish heirloom tomato Pink Brandywine, for example, yields fruit with an unbeatable flavor in shades reminiscent of a glass of Cabernet. Arkansas Traveler, a Southern favorite, originated in Northwest Arkansas prior to 1900 and gradually found its way across the South to North Carolina. Offering some resistance to cracking and disease, this beauty yields delicious tomatoes under typical Southern summer conditions–high heat, high humidity, and drought.

Tips for Beginners: Mechanics of Basic Hybridizing

Albert J. Muller
Brookville, New York

Hybridizing is easy, right? Bees do it all the time without even trying. Well, if we are willing to go with whatever seed pods that develop in nature, we need not read any further. However, the challenge of hybridizing bites most of us at some time. Since I well remember questions, problems, and failures I had in my first attempts, I was determined to do some research to find out what I should do and why. The result – my version of Hybridizing 101A.

The following material is presented only as a guide for the newcomer to the world of hybridizing; it is structured to supply the background of plant physiology and the rudimentary steps in the process of hybridizing. It also, hopefully, will help you cope with some of the bugaboos of hybridizing – the possible disappointment in the seedlings you produce not meeting expectations; the chances of the duplications of the efforts of other hybridizers; coping with space requirements for growing on a reasonable number of seedlings from which to choose the ones worth saving.

First, a few basic definitions: Hybridizing is the process of creating new varieties from already established plants. It is achieved by combining the attributes of one plant with those of another; this is done by fertilizing one plant with pollen taken from another. This action is called a cross. The notation identifying a cross is written as Plant A x Plant B, in which Plant A is the “mother” of the new plant, i.e., the receiver of the pollen, also called the seed parent; and Plant B is the plant from which the pollen is taken, the “father” or pollen parent. The resulting hybrid is the product of the seed produced in the seed-bearing (mother) plant and will contain varying degrees of the attributes of both parents, yet is recognizably different from each.

Now we need to know the basic parts of the flower that are involved in fertilization. Each flower contains male and female sex organs. However, in most instances the pollen is obtained from a separate plant (the exception is in rare cases where self-pollenization is contemplated).

The female reproductive organ is a single slender structure growing out of the center of the flower and is called the pistil. The pistil consists of three parts, namely, the stigma, ovary and style. The stigma is the knob at the end of the pistil that accepts the pollen; the ovary at the base of the flower is where the seed is produced; and the connecting tube is known as the style.

The male reproductive organ is known as the stamen. The stamen consists of the anther, which has two chambers, each with a hole through which the pollen is dispensed. The chambers are called lobes or pollen sacs and contain masses of pollen grains. Anthers are carried on tubes called filaments. Rhododendrons normally have ten stamens surrounding the pistil. (Notable exceptions are Asiatic species which have eight to twenty, and American azaleas with five.)

Let’s pause for a moment to consider when will be the optimum time and environment to make the cross. Much study has gone into defining ideal conditions for producing seeds from your crosses. Experimentation has established that a greenhouse environment, with enhanced temperature and humidity control, is most desirable for the greatest chance for success. Paraphrasing Weldon E. Delp, a long-time hybridizer and pioneer in this field, it has been established that fertilization is achieved in a much shorter time and more effectively with increased heat and humidity. Short of being able to create such conditions, one must use his best judgment in trying to come as close as possible to setting up such an environment.

We now have to consider harvesting the pollen. Pollen is not a dust as in many plants, but rather long, irregular (tacky) stringy masses. The pollen ripens before the flower opens. After the flower opens, the pollen may soon be lost. Some varieties have great amounts and virtually “drip” pollen (such as the Fortunea subsection, ‘Janet Blair’, ‘Susan Everitt’ and virtually all deciduous azaleas), and some varieties such as the species R. metternichii are almost impossible to use as a seed parent because of the copious pollen contaminating the pistil prior to the flower opening. Conversely, some are pollen sterile (such as ‘Scintillation’, and some are very difficult to obtain pollen from (such as my yak). Therefore, just as the buds start to show color before opening, carefully remove the anthers with a pair of tweezers and place the pollen in a paper envelope. If pollen is not visible protruding from the anther holes, hold an anther by the filament (stem) and gently shake it or flick it with your middle finger snapping gently off your thumb, carefully observing whether the pollen moves out of the anther hole. On some difficult varieties, it may be necessary to try different anthers from different buds. If no pollen is present, try the following day. If unsuccessful for over several days, you probably have a sterile pollen plant. Some varieties are very stingy pollen producers, so have patience. If you are using a plant that drips pollen, you have a much better chance of success.

It is important to note that prior to making the cross, the buds chosen to receive the cross must be emasculated, that is, the petals are all carefully cut off with a pair of cuticle scissors, and the anthers all carefully picked off and discarded. Also, all the flower buds around the target truss are to be removed to discourage bees from entering the area.

The next step is to present the pollen to the seed parent, the mother plant. When to do this? The textbook time is “when the stigma ripens and is sticky.” However, the stigma doesn’t always run up a flag when this happens – my experience is that it isn’t always very obvious, or you may not be available when it happens. In any event, check other flowers on the seed parent plant. About three days after the flowers open, the stigmas should be receptive and should stay receptive for three to five days, so you should cover the entire stigma with pollen at this time. (I have found that fresh pollen adheres to the stigma anyway, and have been successful in my limited experience in having this work whether or not I was sure if the pistil was completely receptive. I theorize that pollen easily remains viable for the several days it may take for the stigma to fully ripen. There, when the stigma ripens the pollen is already there, provided it has been covered to prevent it washing away in the rain.) At least six to eight flowers should be pollinated to give the best chance of getting some seed pods. If you make just a couple that don’t “take,” you have to wait until next year.

After a flower is pollinated you break off all the other flowers on that truss and cover the remaining hybridized truss with a plastic bag tied loosely at the base to protect from the wind and rain, but allowing for some air movement. Bees should not be a problem on the emasculated buds since no color is present to attract them.

Another method of covering used by Jack Rosenthal is to make a short aluminum foil tube using a pencil as a mandrel, bend one end and slide the open end over each pistil. Then tie groups of these together for support as convenient, and carefully label the cross, seed parent (mother) first pollen parent (father), and date.

Now let’s understand the fertilization process, as outlined by Dr. Clement Bowers.1 Once the stigma ripens, a critical process must take place whereby the stigma excretes a thin syrup and furnishes nourishment to the pollen which then forms a sprout-like process called a pollen tube. The style (stem) portion of the pistil has a channel running down its center from the stigma to the ovary configured with loosely formed cells through which materials easily pass. The pollen tube grows, heading down this canal. The pollen tube develops into a long slender thread-like structure as it grows down the style canal toward the ovary. At its lower end, the pollen tube contains the male cells and vegetative nucleus. In the ovary, the female (egg) cells are present. After a minimum of 24 hours at approximately 68°F, the pollen tube enters the ovule; the male nucleus is discharge and fuses with the egg nucleus to form a new seed. A separate ovule and a separate pollen cell are required to produce each seed. Dr. Bowers further writes that “up to several hundred pollen tubes may pass down the style at any one time and these may not be of the same variety or species. ” Therefore, it is entirely possible in open pollinated flowers for one rhododendron flower to be successfully pollinated by several different sources of pollen at once. The implication is, therefore, that based on all the above, one open pollinated seed pod could produce seed with several different crosses. (This information on open pollinated flowers is added here as food for thought.)

If you have been at all successful, you should observe a swelling or elongation of the ovary starting well within a month. This is no guarantee of complete success, however. Observe the pods periodically through the developing cycle – June through September – and start watching for ripening, i.e., turning brown in or by late September and certainly after the first frost. The seed pods may be harvested now. Wait too long and the pods can break open and lose seeds.

The remaining husbandry is obvious – label and store your seed careful, and donate generously to the ARS Seed Exchange or your chapter’s seed exchange.

1Rhododendrons and Azaleas, Clement Gray Bowers, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960.

Try your hand at hybridizing iris!

Practice cross-pollinating broccoli plants to produce specific traits with this online activity from Prentice Hall’s Biological Science.

These variations between individuals in a species are one of the driving forces behind evolution: The plants (or animals or other living things) best adapted to their environments are the most likely to survive and reproduce their traits. The enormous range of environments on earth has produced an even more impressive range of adaptations. The result, after millions of years, is the biodiversity we see today.

In nature, the highest priority of a plant is to reproduce itself. In the garden, the highest priority for that plant will be determined by the gardener’s intentions, which she’ll fulfill by taking advantage of how the plant reproduces itself. If she wants taller stalks, for instance, she’ll force the plant to breed with another of its kind that’s tall. The likely result will be offspring—known as hybrids—with taller stalks than the original plant.

For millennia, farmers and gardeners without any knowledge of genetics have used this forced breeding to bring out plant traits that are useful for humans. They then save the seeds from the plants they like best, in effect passing along those qualities to future generations. The people performing these unnatural plant crosses 10,000 years ago were the original genetic manipulators. Their plant hybridization was the earliest practice of agriculture.

In the 12,000 years that followed, plant breeders became extraordinarily adept at creating hybrids, and their manipulations led to nearly all of the food we see on our tables today. In 1859, an observant Charles Darwin noted a simple but profound fact: Breeders could direct change in a plant or animal species over generations by choosing which individual it mated with. He called this process “artificial selection,” and his thoughts about it led him to his ideas of natural selection (and thus to evolution). In fact, the first chapter of The Origin of Species is a record of these observations.

At the time Darwin was writing Origins, an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel was experimenting with pea plants. He cross-pollinated plants with different colored flowers and differently shaped peas to see what the resulting offspring would look like. Pairings like this happen naturally in the wild, in a more random way. By precisely controlling it and keeping careful records, Mendel took hybridization a step further. When his work finally came to light in 1900, plant breeders everywhere could cross-pollinate with more accuracy. Their efforts have brought us such plant varieties, or cultivars, as sweetheart and bridal white roses, beefsteak and roma tomatoes.

As our knowledge of genetics increased during the last century, so did the sophistication of hybrid plant breeding. Breeders now follow complex schemes that involve cross-pollinating two plants that have been inbred for several generations. This results in offspring that have been enhanced for better seedling survival, larger, stronger plants, or higher yields. This quality is known as “hybrid vigor.”

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