Hybrid? Open-pollinated? Clonal?...What's the difference?

Last Updated: 
February 19, 2003

CORVALLIS - As you pore over plant catalogues and contemplate flats of seedlings at the nursery, you may have the choice of purchasing hybrids, open-pollinated varieties or clones. What's the difference?

Rebecca Brown, Oregon State University horticulturist, outlined these distinctions:

  • A hybrid variety is made by cross-pollinating two specific parent varieties. This first generation of offspring is referred to as the F1 hybrid. Although F1 hybrids often show increased yield and vigor, the plants will not breed true if its seeds are saved. F1 Hybrids include many kinds of sweet corn, summer squash, melons, cucumbers, carrots, spinach and some tomatoes and peppers.
  • Open pollinated varieties are cross-pollinated plants that will breed true from seed if they are isolated from other varieties of the same species. Many heirloom varieties are open-pollinated. Examples of open-pollinated varieties include most winter squash and pumpkins, radishes, popcorn and ornamental corn, and some cucumbers, squash and carrots.
  • Pure line varieties are self-pollinated. They do not need to be isolated and will breed true from saved seed. Examples include all beans and peas, lettuce, and some kinds of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
  • Clonal varieties are propagated by methods other than seed. Like "chips off the old block," they will yield true if planting stock is saved, but diseases can be a problem. Examples include most potatoes, garlic and asparagus.
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are transgenic varieties developed by inserting a gene from another organism into a plant. There are currently no GMO varieties available to home gardeners.
Author: Peg Herring
Source: Rebecca Brown