Landrace Gardening: Replanting Hybrids

| 9/13/2013 11:50:00 AM

Hybrid plants can be a valuable addition to a landrace garden if the right hybrids are incorporated. Hybrids have a mixed parentage, so there will be some level of diversity among the offspring. Saving seeds from well adapted plants among a genetically diverse population is one of the fundamental principles of landrace gardening.

Photo by Joseph Lofthouse

Hybrids are often created from “elite germplasm”, so they may contain traits for more robust growth, higher yield, or resistance to pests and disease. These traits can be a valuable addition to a landrace.

My cantaloupe localization project included many commercial hybrids and, after the first year, many natural hybrids. I retain a lot of variability in the landrace regarding shape and size of fruit, and the texture of the skin. I save seeds from plants that have great taste, a wonderfully musky smell, and orange flesh. Occasionally I save seeds from a bad tasting fruit if it has some other trait that I want to explore. The bad tasters get planted in an out of the way spot where they won’t contribute much pollen to my main production beds. If some of their offspring produce great tasting fruit then I’ll add them back into the production beds. This week’s photos are of my cantaloupe landrace: descendants of hybrids. Every fruit smells and tastes great regardless of what it looks like.

The first year a commercial hybrid is grown, the plants will be near clones of each other. If the seeds are saved and replanted a variety of different types of offspring are likely to show up. Plants tend to resemble their parents and their grandparents, and most of the plants will contain a mixture of traits that is like the mother of the hybrid, or like the father, or like some blend of traits that is midway between that of the mother and the father. We don’t typically know the parents of a commercial hybrid, but they have been selected to produce great offspring when paired with each other. The grandchildren are also likely to be great plants. A lot of work went into identifying those traits. We might as well incorporate them into our landrace gardens.

If the seeds from a hybrid tomato are saved and replanted, they will always produce a tomato plant. If the seeds from a great hybrid are saved they are likely to produce great offspring. If the seeds from a mediocre hybrid are saved they are likely to produce mediocre offspring.

The drawback of using commercial hybrids in a landrace garden is that hybrids in some species are made using cytoplasmic male sterility. This type of sterility is a trait of the mother plant, and it is passed on to all of her descendants. That is valuable to a commercial seed production company because it greatly reduces the cost of producing hybrid seed. I don’t like partially sterile plants in a landrace.

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