When shopping around for geranium seeds, you may occasionally stumble on the term “F1 hybrid geranium seeds,” but what are these seeds exactly? You might have seen these seeds advertised on catalogs or perhaps in your favorite garden center store. Learning more about what F1 hybrid geranium seeds are will help you make more informed choices, so that you know what to expect from your plants once they’re grown and you can compare F1 hybrid geranium seeds with other types of seeds.
A Practical Example
F1 hybrid seeds are the first generation of seeds produced from crossing two different species or varieties. F1 is short for filial 1, meaning “first offspring.” Providing a simplicistic example may be the best way to learn exactly what F1 hybrid geranium seeds are.
Let’s imagine a geranium plant breeder has fallen in love with two geranium plants he has. One of them has beautiful foliage while the other one has magnificent flowers. He therefore decides to breed these two specimens. Year after year, he produces interesting plants and the seeds are collected.
Soon, the breeder has a pure line with seeds that promise predictability of resembling their parents, boasting the best of both worlds: beautiful foliage and magnificent flowers.
F1 hybrid seeds have therefore been created for the buyer’s delight. The F1 plants produce seeds that “breed true” which means that they have uniformity so that buyers can enjoy plants that show predictable features.
Did you know? Mules are F1 hybrids between the crossing of a horse and a donkey. When it comes to plants instead, peppermint is a sterile F1 hybrid derived from crossing watermint and spearmint.
Benefits of F1 Hybrids
The production of F1 hybrids by plant breeders often aim to great improvements which makes their seeds appealing to buyers. Often the plants are selectively bred for creating plants that are more resistant to disease and that provide a higher yield compared to conventional plants.
The term “hybrid vigor” is often cited as a phenomenon that occurs when crossing two different varieties. The plants express vigor and quality that are ultimately often superior to the two original lines from which they derive.
Uniformity is also a big advantage as buyers want plants that look like the ones portrayed on the seed packet or on a website’s picture.
It would be very upsetting for a buyer to purchase seeds that are supposed to produce a geranium with big white flowers only to discover that once the seeds grow, the flowers produced are not the expected color. F1 hybrid seeds produce plants with limited variation which is desirable to buyers and producers.
The Downsides of F1 Hybrids
F1 hybrid geranium seeds generally cost more considering the years it takes to produce them and the fact that the pure lines need to be maintained. Often, the flowers are hand pollinated and the seeds are collected by hand which requires a lot of work. This ultimately leads to higher costs which impact the price tag of the F1 hybrid geranium seed packet.
Buyers may be tempted to collect seeds from their grown F1 plants and sow them to make up for the cost; however, this practice is often not useful nor recommended. The main reason being that the plants produced will not manifest the same desirable traits in subsequent generations.
The seeds collected off F1 hybrid plants (F2 generation) will vary greatly from one another and will lack hybrid vigor. In just a few generations, there will be a progressive slackening of character, up to the point where all the original qualities of F1 hybrid are lost.
Not to mention the fact that some hybrids may produce sterile plants that will not produce seeds, an appealing trait that comes handy for obtaining seedless fruits such as watermelons and oranges.
However, according to Thompson and Morgan, despite the claims made on seed catalogs, F2s may at times produce an acceptably high percentage of cultivars that are nearly identical to the F1 hybrids from which they derive, and they may get a nice percentage of the vigor and disease protection too!
A word of caution is needed here though: depending on the variety, there may be plants with intellectual property rights (Plant Variety Protection Act) where propagation is illegal. This is to protect the breeder. For example, in the case of an F1 hybrid geranium, should a buyer decide to collect F2 seeds and then decides to offer them for sale under the same name as the F1 seed, this will hurt the breeder’s reputation and hard work, considering that the seeds won’t breed true and will not be identical to the F1 plant.
Another disadvantage of F1 seeds is the fact that their popularity is hurting traditional varieties which are becoming more and more scarce. For instance, in the the world of vegetable and spice seeds, the impact is grave as there is less agricultural biodiversity. Thousands of natural varieties have been wiped away and replaced by a few commercial species.
Of course, large companies have all interests to keep on developing these types of seeds rather than more traditional varieties. Nowadays, the preservation of traditional seeds remains in the hands of a few hobby collectors, heirloom farmers and small seed banks.
Protecting the Work
While buyers may be upset about not being able to collect seeds from the F1 hybrid plants that provide uniformity, geranium breeders find F1 hybrid seeds convenient since their “work” cannot be replicated by the average gardener and sold.
In other words, with non-F1 varieties, anybody can plant seeds, grow the plants and then collect the seeds to obtain the same exact plant and perhaps re-sell the seeds and the plants.
As mentioned, F1 hybrids instead produce seeds that do not breed true. Yes, they breed true for the breeder because they are obtained from crossing pure lines but only the breeder has access to those pure lines. Breeders therefore must go back and repeat the original cross to obtain seeds that breed true.
This also means, that buyers are often forced to continue purchasing the seeds year after year if they are dealing with annual plants and want to keep enjoying them year after year; however, in the case of geraniums, the advantage is that propagation by cuttings can be a way around this.
Types of F1 Hybrid Geraniums
The first hybrid geraniums produced were a strain known as “Carefree” soon followed by “Sprinter.” Then, in the 1970s, the Gustav Emich variety was often seen in the flower beds of Buckingham Palace but was then replaced by the Sprinter variety, explains Maria Lis-Balchin in the book “Geranium and Pelargonium: History of Nomenclature, Usage and Cultivation.”
Nowadays, there are several varieties of F1 hybrid geraniums. Need a few examples? Here are a few: Geranium Apollo F1, Geranium Ringo F1, Geranium Orbit F1, Geranium Black Velvet F1, Geranium Horizon F1, Geranium Pinto F1, Geranium Diva F1 and Geranium Maverick F1.