Heirloom Peppers vs Open Pollinated vs Hybrid Seeds: What’s The Difference?

When it comes to pepper seeds (or any kind of seeds for that matter), you’ll see the words heirloom, open pollinated or hybrid in the description. These labels classify the types of seeds that you can plant. You’ll see what these all mean below.

These terms are pretty significant. ​The different types of seeds will tell you:

Generally, you can grow any non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seed.

types of seeds for planting tomato
Tomato Seeds

Having said that, different types of seeds will produce dramatically different results.

Here’s a description of each seed type. This will help you determine your own preference when buying seeds.

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Heirloom Seeds Meaning

​An heirloom variety is typically seed that is at least 50 years old. It has a history of being passed down through generations. This is a great way to preserve historical varieties.

Heirloom peppers are created naturally and not commercially. This type of seed is ideal for saving.

Hot Fish Heirloom Pepper
The Hot Fish Is An African-American Heirloom Pepper

Heirlooms tend be more nutritious than other varieties. Many growers agree that they have a richer flavor too.

Some people don’t like heirlooms because the harvest can be sporadic. The size of the fruit can be different on the same plant too.

Personally, I like being surprised, and I love the idea of preserving historical foods. I try to grow heirlooms whenever I can. (By the way, I agree about the flavor aspect too.)

» Related: Where to Buy Heirloom and Rare Pepper Seeds Online

Open Pollinated vs Heirloom

​Plants that are pollinated by natural means, such as birds or insects, are open pollinated (OP). This type of seed can also fall into the heirloom category, but not all OP seeds are heirlooms.

Disadvantages Of Open Pollinated Seeds

This doesn’t bother me, but it’s worth mentioning just so you’re aware of it. Open pollinated seeds have the potential to grow plants that are not exactly like the parent.

When it comes to seeds, you’ll see words like “grows true-to-type” or “grows true.” These words are in reference to whether the plant will produce seeds that are genetically similar to the original.

It’s possible to grow a true-to-type plant from an open-pollinated seed, but the chances for variation are greater. This is typically due to animals, wind and insects pollinating nearby varieties.

Ultimately, if you want to retain the exact characteristics of an OP, isolate the seeds. You can do this by placing mesh bags over the flowers you want to isolate, hand pollinate and then remove the bag once the fruit sets.

isolate flowers to prevent cross pollination
Serrano Pepper Flower

(Just wanted to note that you can also isolate by distance, but small space gardeners won’t have the required area to make this happen.)

Hybrid Seeds Meaning

​Hybrid varieties — typically labeled as “F1” — are developed by human intervention. Usually, it’s to purposefully create a desirable trait such as higher yields or better disease resistance.

The Red Savina, for example, is a red habanero pepper that is developed to produce larger, hotter and heavier fruit.

Hybrids are not stable enough for seed saving, which means you’ll need to buy more seeds each year.

If you do try to save and grow hybrid seeds, they won’t be true-to-type and they’ll be a lot less vigorous.

grape tomatoes are a popular hybrid seed
Grape Tomatoes Are A Popular Hybrid Variety

Are Hybrids and GMOs The Same?

​Hybrids are usually confused with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here’s some clarification:

They are not one in the same.

Genetically modified organisms are developed in a lab to have their DNA altered. This is typically a deletion or insertion of a gene.

This process is not natural.

Hybrids, on the other hand, are developed over time by human hands using natural methods of cross-pollination.

Choosing The Best Seeds To Grow

​Hopefully, this post gives you a better understanding of the different types of seeds you can plant. Selecting heirloom, open pollinated or hybrid seeds is more of a personal preference and whether you want to save seeds or not.

The important thing is that you start growing! 🙂

If you’re new to growing peppers from seed, be sure to check out The Pepper Seed Starting Guide. This ebook steps you through all of the processes of starting seeds indoors and growing them into strong plants that are ready for the outside.

More Posts On Pepper Seeds

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Jenny is the creator of Grow Hot Peppers. She is a self-taught gardener and has been growing peppers and a plethora of veggies for over 10 years. When she’s not writing or gardening, she loves eating spicy foods, hiking, and going to the ocean.