Landrace Gardening: Dealing With Cytoplasmic Male Sterility


plant sterility

Cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) is widely used in both conventional and organic agriculture as a simple inexpensive method of creating hybrids and protecting seed company's trade secrets. Sterile plants are problematic for landrace gardeners and seed savers because they interfere with normal plant biology and seed saving practices.

Male sterility can be achieved by unusual natural means or by genetic engineering. Last week's blog defined cell fusion CMS and touched on the politics of using genetically engineered varieties in USDA organic seeds and food. This week's blog takes a pragmatic hands on approach to sterile plants and treats all male sterile plants the same whether they originated by natural means or in a genetic engineering laboratory. On my farm I have banned male sterility of both types in annual and biennial crops because I think that it is wrong to propagate defective plants.

How CMS Affected My Carrot Crop

Approximately 85% of the USA carrot crop are F1 hybrids that are male sterile. They do not produce pollen. What this means from a practical standpoint is that if a home gardener plants one of these carrot varieties and tries to save seed from it that their attempt will be unsuccessful. Either no seed will be produced, or some wild pollen from Queen Anne's Lace will pollinate the crop and the offspring end up reverting to wild forms, or the plant will be pollinated by other nearby carrot varieties.

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