Heirloom, F1, and F2 Tomato Plants: A Quick Guide

Tomatoes

Can you grow seeds from hybrid tomato plants? The short answer is yes, but the results may surprise you.

What Is an Heirloom Tomato?

In heirloom tomato is like a purebred dog, bred selectively over many generations for particular characteristics. The primary advantage of heirloom tomatoes is that they consistently produce fruit with particular flavors that many people love. If you save and plant seeds from a heirloom tomato plant, they will produce plants that are the same as the parent plant (their fruit will be similar in terms of size, color, flavor, texture, and other factors).

The primary weakness of heirloom tomato plants is that they lack genetic diversity and the resulting hybrid vigor, which makes them more susceptible to diseases and other problems. Heirlooms are a good choice for experienced gardeners who have plenty of time to devote to their gardens, but may be challenging for novices, given that they require more care and attention.

What Are F1 Hybrid Tomatoes?

F1 hybrids are created when pollen is shared between two different varieties of tomato plant. They are bred to have certain characteristics such as disease resistance, early production of fruit, attractive appearance, and/or good flavor and texture. F1 hybrids have the advantage of genetic diversity, making them tougher and better able to resist diseases and pests. Hybrids also tend to produce more fruit than heirlooms.

If you save seeds from an F1 hybrid tomato plant such as Early Girl and grow them, you’ll get an F2 hybrid rather than a plant that is just like the original, which means that the fruit may look or taste a bit different and the plant may not produce fruit as early in the season (or the fruit may arrive even earlier). F1 hybrids are a good choice for novice gardeners and those with limited time to spend in their gardens.

What Are F2 Hybrid Tomatoes?

If you save seeds from an F1 hybrid and plant them, the resulting plants will be F2 hybrids, or second-generation hybrids. While heirloom tomato plants are like purebreds, F2 hybrids are akin to the tough, scrappy mutts of the animal world that tend to survive and thrive even when circumstances aren’t ideal.

The appearance and productivity of F2 hybrids and the flavor of their fruit are somewhat unpredictable because they can express genes that were expressed in both F1 parents as well as recessive genes that weren’t expressed but were present in the progenitors. F2 hybrids are a good choice for experimental gardeners who want vigorous, robust, low-maintenance plants and are willing to roll the genetic dice in the hope of producing something even better than what they had before.

I’ve grown F2 hybrid cherry tomatoes on a number of occasions. They have always done well, never succumbing to diseases or pests, and their fruit has been very tasty. They have typically diverged from the parent plants in terms of appearance, flavor, and texture, but only slightly. Differences may be more pronounced with large tomatoes.

For more gardening articles, see the main Gardening page.

References:

    • Borrell, B. (2009, March 30). “How to Grow a Better Tomato: The Case against Heirloom Tomatoes.” Scientific American.
    • Iannotti, M. (n.d.). “What’s the Difference Between Hybrid and Heirloom Vegetables?” About.com.
    • Parrish, R. (n.d.). “What is an F2 Tomato Plant?” GardenGuides.com.
    • Reuss, M., & Cutcliffe, S. H. (Eds.). (2010). The Illusory Boundary: Environment and Technology in History. University of Virginia Press.

 

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