When you pick up a packet of seeds knowing what type of seeds you are growing is very important especially if you are planning on saving seeds from the fruits of your labor.
Much like man’s best friend seeds come in many varieties, sometimes these occur with careful consideration of pedigree. others are brought together to complement both parents good (or bad) physical traits, and finally there are the nature chooses their own way.
Heirloom: These would be the purebreds (English Bulldog) of the seed world. These seeds are carefully pollinated and saved for decades or even hundreds of years to preserve the quality product that has been stabilized over many generations.
Hybrids: These would be those carefully planned mixes (cockerdoodle) with both parents being specially selected to produce offspring that carries traits of both parents. The tricky thing about hybrids is the seeds these plants create more than likely will not be that of their parents since it normally requires at least a few generations to stabilized their genetic makeup. So your “tasty slow bolting cilantro” might end up being “tasty fast bolting cilantro” or “not so tasty slow bolting cilantro” Even if you decide to collect your seeds if the seed company has patented that variety you could be sued for patent infringement…though I have yet to hear of a case of this occurring to a home gardener.
Open Pollinated: These can be thought of as the “muts” of the seed varieties. Just like in the canine world these can produce some very fortunate accidents and produce some seeds no one could have even considered trying to create on their own. There are many benefits to growing with open pollinated seeds. First there are very little worries in collecting seeds from these varieties. There are no patents to worry about and these varieties have a few more generations to stabilize their genetic traits. By collecting your seeds and growing these along with other varieties to add some diversity to your garden and avoid establishing a monoculture which can be susceptible to pests and disease after a few short seasons.
I should also state that Heirlooms are also open pollinated thought for most strains extra care is taken to prevent cross pollination to keep the end products as true as possible. These
GMO: Now GMO or Genetically Modified Organism, would be the the creation of a dog which is crossed with a cat which has the loyalty of a dog but the bathroom habits of a cat. In the seed world this would be seeds that are grown with “good intents” such as the creation of a potato that is resistant to the potato beetle, reducing the need for pesticides. On the more scary side are seeds with “terminator” genes whose offspring that does not create viable seeds. From first thought, this seems like a justifiable way for seed makers to protect their patents being infringed on, until you think about cross pollination. For example lets say your neighbor is growing some GMO tomatoes where your friendly bees cross pollinate your open pollinated heirloom varieties.…now to your dismay now your seeds are now crossed with the “terminator” gene and you no longer can produce your own viable heirloom seeds.
Though I have never actually found GMO seeds being sold to home gardeners, though for commercial seeds these are much more common. Basic rule is to avoid these seeds at all costs.