What Does True to Seed Mean?

The hands of a man planting pumpkin seeds

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If you are new to gardening, there are a lot of horticulture terms that can be a bit confusing. When shopping for seeds, you may have seen descriptions like ‘true to seed,’ ‘hybrid’, or ‘heirloom.’ What exactly do these labels mean? Let’s take a look at these important terms so you can understand what kind of seeds you need. 

What Is True to Seed?

True to seed refers to plants whose seeds, when planted, produce plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant. For example, a tomato seed collected from a tomato plant that was not cross-pollinated with another variety will produce the same type of tomatoes as the parent plant.  

Characteristics of True to Seed

True to seed plants are open-pollinated. This means they are pollinated by outside forces, such as bees, animals, wind, or water. True to seed plants (also referred to as true to type) allow you to collect the seeds year after year and still grow the same plant with the same characteristics. For example, if you grow a beefsteak tomato, collect its seeds, and plant them, the resulting plant will create more beefsteak tomatoes. The following are just a few of the plants that are true to seed:

  • Tomato
  • Cucumber
  • Pepper
  • Peach
  • Citrus Fruits

True to Seed vs. Hybrid vs. Heirloom Seeds

As discussed above, a plant’s seeds that are true to seed will produce plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant. So what are hybrid and heirloom seeds? 

Hybrid seeds come from a plant that was cross-pollinated by a different variety of the same plant to achieve a plant that has blended, or hybrid, characteristics. For example, a tomato that is disease resistant may be cross-pollinated with a tomato that produces early fruit. This cross-pollination will result in a plant with both of these characteristics. Plants grown from hybrid seeds do not grow true to type. Oftentimes, they produce plants with different characteristics than the first hybrid, while some may even revert back to one of the parent plants.

Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation, keeping the same characteristics as they had years ago. There is not an exact age requirement for seeds to be considered heirloom, though they have been around long enough to be passed down through generations and carefully protected to keep the same characteristics. Generally, heirloom seeds have been around for over 50 years, though some heirloom seeds have been around for over 100 years.    

Fruits That Are True to Seed 

Many fruits are not actually true to seed. This is why so many fruit trees are propagated through grafting instead of seed. This ensures that the desirable characteristics of a certain variety of fruit are maintained. Before you go out and plant all your fruit seeds expecting to get the same kind of fruit, it is important to know whether they will grow true to seed. Below is a list of fruits that grow true to seed: 

  • Certain heirloom apples, such as Antonovka 
  • Polyembryonic mango seeds
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Papaya
  • Apricot
  • Nectarine
  • Heirloom tomatoes

Here are some fruits that are not true to seed: 

  • Most apples
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Strawberry
  • Banana 
  • Cherries
  • Any hybrid variety

Where to Find True to Seed Plants and Seeds

Finding true to seed plants and seeds is as easy as traveling to your local nursery or ordering seeds online. Wherever you can find fruit or vegetable plants, you can find specimens that are true to seed. 

When buying in person, be sure to ask the seller about the variety, whether it is a hybrid or heirloom plant, and whether or not it was grown with organic methods. Purchasing a plant is the quickest way to enjoy a harvest from your plant. Seeds are also available in local nurseries or greenhouses, as well as home and garden stores, such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. 

When buying online, be sure to thoroughly read about the seed and its seller to ensure it is coming from a reputable place. Try sourcing your seeds from trusted sources, such as Burpee or Seed Savers Exchange. Buying from a high-quality seed distributor will not only guarantee that you get the highest quality seeds, but also the highest quality harvests and high germination rates.