An open-pollinated plant variety is one in which pollination is carried out by wind, insects, or other naturally occurring agents. The seed saved from an open-pollinated variety can be grown in subsequent years and will breed true providing that it does not cross-pollinate with another variety of the same species.
During the process of open-pollination, pollen is constantly being exchanged among dozens, hundreds, or thousands of plants that all generally look similar but are slightly different genetically. This vast mixing of genetic material maintains the overall vigor of a particular variety or strain.
Since seeds, like all living entities, do not remain static, a few individuals (usually less than 1%) of an open-pollinated population will be phenotypic "off-types" (i.e. they don't look like the other plants) which are essentially random, naturally-occurring mutations and of which a few may become appropriate adaptations for future generations. This phenomena further enhances varietal diversity and vigor.
F1 hybrids are the first generation of plants resulting from a controlled cross between parents that are genetically different.
They are sometimes more productive and vigorous (especially if the genetic differences between the original parents is substantial) and can be more uniform than open pollinates.
Hybrid vigor is most dramatic in plants that cross-pollinate (outbreeders) freely such as corn, carrots, or cabbage. In-breeding or self-pollinating plants, in contrast, such as peas, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes show little or no vigor enhancement through hybridization.
F1 hybrids are of great advantage to both commercial farmers and the seed companies that developed them. For growers, the hybrids can mean higher yields, and greater uniformity which aids in harvest and sometimes market acceptability.
For seed companies it offers quicker development of new varieties that become proprietary because the parents of these hybrids are not revealed to the public.
Hybrids are also advantageous to seed companies because farmers need to buy new seeds every year. The seeds from hybrid plants are usually not saved because the resulting progeny are less uniform and lack the productive and vigorous qualities of the original hybrid seeds. Interestingly, Alan Kapuler, Ph.D., our Director of Research and our primary plant breeder, does not hold this to be necessarily true. By saving and growing out hybrid seed for several generations, he has developed numerous reliable and productive open-pollinated varieties.