Verdant View

By Francisco Nava

Heirloom vs. Hybrid vs. GMO

tomato Heirloom


The terms “hybrid,” “heirloom,” and “genetically modified organisms (GMO)” are used regularly, especially when it comes to the vegetable garden, but these terms also can be confusing. The terms refer to how the plants are reproduced, whether by simple seed saving, by cross-pollinating two different species, or by introducing foreign genes (GMO). Heirlooms are plants that have been reproducing over time, hybrids are crossed plants that are often created to exhibit beneficial traits, such as increase disease-resistance or higher yields and GMOs are still controversial as to whether they are beneficial to the natural environment.

It is hard to know if the seeds you choose are hybrid seeds or genetically modified, unless labeled. Heirloom seeds are usually labeled so.

The term heirloom vegetable is used to describe any type of vegetable seed that has been saved and grown for a period of years and is passed down by the gardener that preserved it. To be capable of being saved, all heirloom seed must be open-pollinated, so that it will grow true to the seed. Just like a family heirloom, these seeds’ characteristics are passed down from plant generation to generation and many can be traced back hundreds of years. The big benefit of using heirloom seeds is that you can collect seeds from your plant at the end of the season and when you plant them, they will grow the exact same plant as the “parent”.

Open-pollinated plants are simply varieties that are capable of producing seeds that will produce seedlings just like the parent plant. Hybrid plants and GMO plants do not do this.

Plant breeders crossbreed compatible types of plants in an effort to create a plant with the best features of both parents. These are called hybrid plants and many of the modern plants are the results of these crosses. Seed from these hybrids will not produce plants with identical qualities.

 Hybrids should not be confused with genetically modified organisms or GMOs, which can be any plant, animal, or microorganism that has been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering.  There are both pros and cons to GMOs.


Weather is still warm and rainy. You will see in the viveros marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, phlox, cleome and kniphofia (red hot poker). You can still plant hot weather veggies as it won’t be cold until late October and most take 60 to 90 days to mature. Start asparagus seeds in individual containers for ease in later transplanting. You can plant artichokes, both Globe and Jerusalem anytime from July to November. Do plant celosia, snapdragon, phlox, petunia and stock seeds now. Last chance to prune your poinsettias for Christmas bloom. Keep up with weeds, fertilizer and pest control and deadheading. Cut back your herbs. They’ll just keep growing. Freeze or dry what herbs you don’t use. Look for whatever veggie seeds you will be starting in September. Your gardening friends are excellent sources of seeds and cuttings. Put garden clippings and non-oily, non-meat kitchen waste into the compost pile. The garden pests are out in full force so keep an eye out for them and deal with these problems at once, before they get out of hand.


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