Plant Breeding as a Hobby
Breeding plants to create new varieties and improve upon old ones is a hobby that nearly everyone can engage in. The crossing techniques are easy to learn and you can experiment with many kinds of plants. Generally, amateur plant breeders work with traits that are fairly easy to change — for example, flower color, fruit shape, or plant size. Nevertheless, although your experiment may be simple, it is possible for you to produce unusual or beautiful plants.
In order to breed plants successfully it is important to understand the principles of plant reproduction. The purpose of this page is to explain these principles and to describe some of the simple techniques that you can use to produce new varieties or strains of plants.
Plant characteristics can be changed after many generations by a process of selection. There are two types of selection — natural and artificial.
Natural selection is the process that occurs in nature whereby strong and well- adapted plants survive while weak and poorly adapted plants eventually die out. This process has taken place since the beginning of life on earth and it is still occurring in nature.
Artificial selection is the process that humans use to obtain more desirable types of plants. Thousands of years ago people learned that saving seed from the kind of plant they wanted to continue growing would increase the chances of getting a plant similar to the original. But our ancestors didn’t know what their chances of success were nor did they understand the processes by which traits were changed or maintained. It wasn’t until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that humans began to understand the laws of heredity and the processes of plant reproduction. Even today these fundamentals aren’t completely understood. But enough is known so that we can select plants for breeding with considerably more assurance of success than our primitive ancestors did.
Fundamentals of Plant Reproduction
Kinds of reproduction
Plants reproduce in two ways — asexually and sexually.
Asexual, or vegetative, reproduction occurs without the fusion of germ (reproductive) cells. In garden plants, asexual reproduction occurs when a part of the plant is separated from the parent plant and develops into a complete plant, as when strawberries produce runners which take root and form new strawberry plants. Asexual reproduction can be brought about artificially by means of leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, root cuttings, etc. Plants that originate from asexual reproduction are usually identical to the parent plant.
Sexual reproduction involves the union of a male and a female germ cell. From this union a seed — and ultimately a new plant — is produced. Sexual reproduction is the most common type of reproduction for garden plants. The plants originating from sexual reproduction are often quite different from their parents and from each other. Because of this possibility for variation, sexual reproduction of plants is the method used by plant breeders in developing new strains and varieties.