There are literally thousands of different varieties of tomatoes available for the home vegetable gardener today. With this huge assortment of tomato varieties comes a little confusion between what is a hybrid and what is a heirloom tomato. Here is some information on what is meant when someone says a tomato is a hybrid and when they say it’s an heirloom and what the differences between the two are.
A tomato is considered to be an heirloom when the seed has been saved and grown at least 50 years or more and has been passed down from generation to generation. An heirloom is also open-pollinated, which simply means the plant is capable of producing seeds that will grow a new plant identical to the parent plant the seed came from.
Hybrid tomato varieties are generally produced by plant breeders. These plant breeders select two compatible tomato varieties and cross-breed them to create a new tomato variety that features traits from the two parent plants.
For instance, a plant breeder may select a particular tomato plant because of its resistance to blights, and another tomato that produces very early. The plant breeder cross-pollinates the two tomato plants to create a new variety. The new tomato variety now has the two traits from the parent plants – blight resistance and early production.
You will see many hybrid tomatoes labeled F1, which means it is a new tomato variety, or first generation. A tomato labeled F2 simply means it is the second generation of that tomato variety.
Unlike heirlooms, seeds collected from a hybrid will not grow identical to the parent. It will grow with the traits of one of the parent plants, but not both. Many hybrid seeds are sterile and will not even germinate.