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Seed glossary for gardeners, or what does that mean?

Do you find yourself wondering what some words mean on seed packets or in catalogs? Here is a seed glossary to help explain.

These cranberry pole beans are ready to dry and be harvested. These beans are an example of an open pollinated variety.
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What do some of those seed words mean?
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Cultivar comes from the word cultivated variety. This is described by the International Code of Nomenclature as being a group of cultivated plants that are clearly distinguished by one of more characteristics. A seed grown cultivar can be a hybrid or open pollinated. This means that it is a cultivated variety with specific traits.

Genetically Engineered (GE) This is the high tech methods to incorporate genes into an organism. The plants that are made from the genetic crossing, intervention and manipulation by scientists do not occur in nature. This can mean corn modified with a naturally occurring soil bacterium that protects against corn borer damage and herbicide resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and alfalfa.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is an organism produced through any type of genetic modification. This can be done either by high tech genetic engineering or by traditional plant breeding methods. When plant breeders work with conventional or organically produced varieties select and monitor for productivity, disease resistance, cold resistance, color or flavor, they are using crosses that could happen in nature.

Open pollinated (OP) are seeds that result from pollination by insects, wind, self pollination (plants that have both male and female flowers like squash) or other natural methods of pollination. If you save seeds from open pollinated plants and grow them in following years, they will produce plants with very similar traits as the parent plant.

F1 hybrid is a first generation hybrid that was created when a plant breeder selects two pure lines when self pollinated and cross pollinates them to produce a seed that has a combination of good qualities of each parent. Plants grown from seed saved from F1 hybrids may lack the qualities you are looking for and revert to its parent.

Heirlooms can be described as open pollinated varieties that have resulted due to natural selection. Some sources say 50 years and older make up heirlooms. Some families have been saving seed for over 100 years. Like any open pollinated plant, saving the seeds will produce plants with the same characteristics. There are many organizations like Seed Savers Exchange who work to prevent varieties from becoming extinct. To learn more please see

Organic seeds have a distinct legal meaning in that the term can only be used by growers in compliance with the USDA's National Organic Programs rules and regulations.

Treated seeds have been coated with a fungicide to protect seeds that are germinating in cold or wet soil.

Safe Seed Pledge is signed by seed growers that pledge to not sell or buy genetically engineered seeds. The Council for Responsible Genetics was founded in 1983, and is made up of scientists, lawyers, public health advocates and citizens concerned about the social, ethical and environmental impact of new genetic technologies. A list of participating companies can be found at

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