Saving hybrid tomato seeds

They say you can’t save hybrid tomato seeds in order to plant in the future.

If that’s true then how do people get hybrid seeds to sell?

If its patented, you legally can’t. But usually you dont resow because tomatoes crossbreed regularly between the cultivars. So you don’t know what you’ll get. And some might be sterile.

So how do they get seeds to sell?

Seeds from hybrids do not come true to type, although there’s no harm in trying. A hybrid tom is created when two distinct varieties are carefully cross pollinated and the seed from the resulting fruit is collected. But growing out seeds from plants grown from that process results in throwbacks - something closer to the parents than the hybrid.


So how do they get seeds to sell? They cross pollinate over and over? Couldn’t that result is slightly different fruit each time?

Good question. I suspect the parents are carefully chosen for genetic purity.

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They isolate the parents and cross-pollinate by hand. By cross pollinating one specific parent with another, the child seeds are consistently the same plant. The child of the child (when crossed with itself or the same type) slowly dehybridizes. For example, the Gobstopper tomato is a dehybridized Sun Gold, and it has slightly greener fruits (especially on the inside).

I imagine they use cuttings or something to clone the parents so that they are always genetically the same plant (probably tissue samples of possible). And this is all done in greenhouses, so there is little to no outside interference.


I’d always assumed patents applied to asexual propagation but not to seeds, but I haven’t really looked at it beyond the following post.

(Edit: I assume GM seeds could have broader protections but that may be moree a difference in enforcement than law.)

I’ve never tried to save hybrid tomato seeds – I usually grow 20 or so varieties and only a couple plants each, so the seed cost is pretty trivial as tomato seeds remain viable and vigorous for 5-10 years. That said, my parents have had some sungold volunteers produce fruit and while the fruit is variable, it’s usually quite good. But I assume mileage varies widely by cultivar.


There is certainly legal with seeds and plants. What they do is a file a patent on it. Cosmic Crisp is an example of a plant with artificial scarcity due to the patent holders only wanting it grown in Washington State. In theory you could find someone on this forum and do an undercover hush hush sell/trade through a member here but it would have to be hush hush for legal reasons. No nursery will send a cosmic crisp outside of Washington State for patent reasons.

For answering this there is massive variation in hybrid fruit. Look at videos of Aji Cream peppers. Those were the first seeds I ever grew and there was massive variation of shapes and sizes. What growers do it breed one which is a F1 then they breed a F2 which has more of it’s genes stabilized and eventually you get a heirloom which has had it’s genes breed to the point there it little to any variation. Think of a heirloom as you took a family and just kept in breeding them for specific traits until there was no dormant genes left. That is basically what they are doing with plants for heirlooms vs hybrids. In human terms a hybrid may have the adult with blue eyes but the kid may come out with brown eyes. By the time a heirloom comes out the genetic gene pool has been narrowed out you only have ones with blue eyes. With a hybrid they may have blue eyes or brown eyes.

While I think your description of the differences is your correct, your example might not be. For everything that I can see, Aji Cream (all I could find with a quick search were Aji Fantasy Cream and an offspring of that) are open pollinated. That means its pollinated by whatever other pepper is around. In a production setting, its still typically going to be the same type plants, but since it is less controlled, there is more variance. Typically, any collected seeds from your yard would be considered open pollinated, because you didn’t control the pollination.

I get my hybrid seeds from a grocery store grape tomato squeezed into a toilet paper square and placed in soil with a 1/4 inch covering in soil.

Exactly. They maintain very carefully bred inbred lines and make a cross to hybridize the two lines. The parent lines are propietary and highly guarded. The F1 (first cross) generation (the seeds in the packet) will be highly uniform and will have the traits bred for. Saving seed from fruits produced by the F1 plants will produce highly variable offspring. Only a portion will resemble the hybrid variety. You can “stabilize” the new hybrid into a new variety by saving only seeds from the plants with desirable characteristics. This takes 8 generations, give or take.

@Fusion_power can almost certainly give you a more precise answer.


A general plant patent would apply to an apple tree bred and developed for commercial production. This type patent is different from a “material” patent which would for example cover a new design computer chip. A key part of this type plant patent is that the plant itself is protected but it can be used in breeding.

A GMO patent covers the specific gene which has been moved into a new genome. For example, the gene for roundup tolerance was moved from a bacterium found in a stream near a facility where roundup was manufactured. It was successfully moved into plants such as maize and cotton to give them roundup tolerance. This type patent is more similar to a material patent with longer duration and stronger protections implied.

If you want to see a GMO patent, look up Percy Schmeiser. If you just read the wiki, you might think he was right. A court eventually disagreed because it was found that almost all of his canola crop carried roundup tolerance genes which is only possible if he deliberately propagated seed with the gene Monsanto patented.

Read and make up your own mind.

There are varieties listed as F1 that do grow true to type if you save the seed. I suspect there are financial reasons for why one might list a variety as F1 even if it’s stable.

It’s not illegal to save seed from a hybrid, plant it, and see what it produces. You have to go a bit further to violate the patent. So you can do that experiment for yourself for fun with any F1 hybrid.

One plant you might try for fun is the famed Hakurei F1 turnip. I don’t grow many tomatoes so can’t point you to any varieties to experiment with.

Definitely don’t violate patents, but definitely do experiment and prove things for yourself. Have fun!

I’m wondering about saving non hybrid tomato seeds.

Is it possible to produce seeds that have superior characteristics by saving seeds only from the best tomatoes of a specific variety over many years.

I see lots of defects in heirloom tomatoes like German Johnson which are popular in my area. Would it be possible to eliminate some of the defects by saving seeds only from the best tomatoes and planting them over many years?


Yes and yes. In addition, you select for those characteristics that fit your particular situation.


While you can save seed from open pollinated tomatoes, very little will be gained by doing so. Why? There is very little genetic variation in an open pollinated tomato and you can’t breed for something that is not there to begin with. But! You can breed for epigenetic changes and you can very rarely have a mutation show up that is advantageous. What exactly are epigenetic changes? They are changes in a genome that are passed through to offspring as a result of activation/deactivation of existing genes. As an example, it has been proven that growing seed from tomatoes on plants that handled cold best results in long term epigenetic changes such that the offspring are more cold tolerant than the same variety not grown under cold conditions.

It is far more effective to cross varieties with desired and complementary traits and select from the future generations. Keep in mind that there is relatively little genetic variation in domestic tomato. However, there is a huge amount of variation in wild tomato relatives which can be crossed with domestic tomato with varying levels of difficulty. Solanum habrochaites carries exceptional cold tolerance compared with domestic tomatoes. It is native to high altitudes in the Andes mountains. It also carries exceptional disease resistance which we badly need in our tomatoes. Solanum Peruvianum has the most unbelievable root system I’ve ever seen in a tomato relative. I tried to pull up some seedlngs and almost needed a block and tackle to get them out of the soil. What would our tomatoes be like with that root system?

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Thank you for the information. I was guessing a lot of genetic variation existed between between the almost perfect German Johnsons and the irregular German Johnsons on the same plant that ripen the same time.

Why do some tomatoes look so good when others on the same plant look so bad? Same seed, same water, same fertilizer and same cultural practice.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to breed tomatoes but I need better quality.

I was hoping to select the best characteristics just by saving and planting the seeds from only the best tomatoes. A few tomatoes on each plant have superior appearance and size. I would like to have a lot more of those and fewer of the others.