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Glossary of Seed Saving Terms

Page history last edited by Ruth 8 years, 2 months ago

Glossary of Seed Saving Terms


Accession:  The material in a germplasm collection that results from a single collecting event- such as a collector buying beans from one basket in a market.  The basket may contain just one variety or mixture of varieties. A sample of beans from a basket in the next market would get a different accession number, even if it looked identical.  They may or may not be the same variety.  So an accession may contain more than one variety, and a variety may be represented in a collection by more than one accession number.*


Annual:  The type of plant that normally starts from seed, produces flowers, sets seed, and then dies within one growing season.


Anther: The sac-like structure of the male part (stamen) of a flower in which the pollen is formed.  There are normally two lobes, which dehisce at anthesis and allow the pollen to disperse. 


Anthesis: The flowering stage when the anthers burst, pollen is shed, and the stigma is ready to receive the dispersed pollen.


Apomixis:  The development of seed without the sexual fusion of an egg and a sperm cell.


Asexual reproduction: Reproduction by vegetative means without fusion of two sexual cells.


Biennial: The type of plant that normally produces only vegetative growth the first growing season, overwinters, and then produces a seed crop, after which the plant dies.  The plant requires two growing seasons to complete its life cycle.


Bract Axils: a leaf from the axil of which a flower or floral axis arises.


Bud sport:  A mutant branch or section of a plant arises when a mutation has occurred in the somatic tissue that gave rise to the bud.*


Carpel: The individual structure of the pistil composed of the ovary, style, and stigma.  It is equivalent to the pistil if there is only one carpel, but in most vegetable crops there are multiple, fused carpels that comprise the pistil and subsequent fruit.


Cell: The basic structural unit of living organisms.  The cell is made up of protoplasm enclosed, in plants, in a cell wall.  The protoplasm consists of a nucleus and cytoplasm, which contains plastids and other small bodies.  Cells may contain a cavity filled with starches, salts, sugars, or other substances.


Character, characteristic:  An identifiable hereditary property of a variety, such as the specific component for flower color, a morphological detail, or resistance to a specific disease.


Composite variety: A plant population in which at least 70% of progeny result from cross of the parent lines.


Conditioning of seed:  A term used to describe the cleaning of seed, usually to improve mechanical purity.


Cotyledon:  Seed leaves of the embryo, which are usually thickened for storage of food reserves and may serve as true foliage leaves.


Crop rotation: Growing of crops in a regularly scheduled sequence on the same land area, as contrasted with continuous culture of one crop or the growing  of different crops in a haphazard order.


Cross-pollinate:  To fertilize with pollen from another plant.


Cross-pollinated crops:  The group of plant species that bear seeds that are largely the result of cross-fertilization between the pollen and ovaries of different plants of that species, though there is always some percentage of seed produced by self-pollination.


Crown:  Growing point above the root where the tops or shoots develop as with lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, celery, and rhubarb.*


Cultivar: A variety of a cultivated crop.  Short for "cultivated variety."


Cure:  To dry vegetative material down to an appropriate moisture level for storage.*


Cytoplasm: The contents of a cell between the nucleus and the cell wall.  In reproduction, the cytoplasmic constituents from the female parent become part of the cytoplasm of the offspring.  There may be a transfer of traits determined by factors contained in the cytoplasm not associated with chromosomes.


Damping-off: A disease syndrome of seed and young seedlings that can be caused by several different fungi and/or bacteria, sometimes occurring due to the complex of more than one pathogen at a time.


Daylength: The number of hours of daylight in each 24-hour cycle.


Dehiscence: The act or process by which a structure splits or opens when mature, such as with a fruit or anthers.  Can commonly refer to either an anther splitting to release pollen or to a dried fruit splitting to release seed.  (The later case is also referred to as shattering by seed growers.)


Detassel: To remove the tassel or pollen-producing organ at the top of a corn plant before pollen is released, usually in hybrid corn production.


Determinate Tomato:  Stem growth stops when the terminal bud becomes a flower bud.  Tomato plants of this type are also known as self-topping or self-pruning.*


Dioecious:  A type of plant that has stamens and pistils on different plants.  The plants are unisexual, so plants of both types must be present to produce seed.  An example is spinach.


Diploid: An organism with two sets of chromosomes.


Disease:  Any changes from the normal growth, structure, or physiological processes in a plant that are sufficiently pronounced and permanent to produce visible symptoms or to impair quality and economic value.


Domesticate:  To convert a wild plant species into a cultivated crop by selection and adaptation.


Emasculation: The removal of the anthers from a flower before pollen is shed to prevent self-pollination.


Embyro:  The rudimentary plant contained within the seed.


Endosperm:  The storage tissue in most angiosperm seed, containing nourishment for the developing embryo.


F1:  The resultant hybrid seed of the first filial generation after the cross.  This is the hybrid seed of commerce.  Seed that is saved from the F1 hybrid plants will not breed true. 


Feral:  A domesticated species that has reverted to a wild or untamed state.


Fertilization:  Fusion of a sperm nucleus from the pollen tube with the egg nucleus from an ovary.


Foundation seed:  The approved progeny of Breeder or Select seed produced by seed growers.  Foundation is the highest official pedigreed class of commercial seed.


Frame:  The basic vegetative structure of a plant before flower initiation and growth.  In many vegetable crops this is the basal rosette of vegetation that develops before the growth of a flower stalk.


Fungi:  Microscopic plants consisting of a vegetative structure called a mycelium, lacking chlorophyll and conductive tissue and reproduced by spores.


Gene:  The unit of inheritance composed of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) forming part of a chromosome, which controls the transmission and development of inherited characteristics.  Its effect is generally conditioned by its interaction with other genes, the cytoplasm, and environmental factors.


Genetic code:  The means of storing genetic information as sequences of nucleotide bases in the chromosomal DNA.


Genetic drift:  The process of change in the genetic composition of a plant population due to chance or random events rather than by natural selection;  particularly a problem in small populations.*


Genetic modification (GM):  The deliberate modification of an organism's characteristics by manipulation of DNA that occurs without normal sexual recombination.


Genotype:  The genetic composition of the plant.


Germination:  The resumption of growth by the embryo and development of a young plant from seed.


Germplasm:  Plant genetic resources that serve as a basis of crop improvement or a reservoir of heritable traits for breeding or research.  This term is often used to refer to the total hereditary makeup of a particular species.


Gynoecium:  The female corollary, the carpels, are the ovule-bearing appendages known collectively as the gynoecium.


Haploid:  A term indicating one-half the normal diploid complement of chromosomes.


Hard seed:  A seed that is dormant due to the nature of its seed coat, which is impervious to either water or oxygen, or both.


Head:  An inflorescence in which the floral units on the peduncle are tightly clustered and surrounded by a group of flower-like bracts called an involucre.  An example is sunflower.


Heterosis:  The increase in vigor of hybrids over their parental inbred types, also known as hybrid vigor.


Heterozygous:  A term that refers to not breeding true for a specific hereditary characteristic, usually determined by both dominant and recessive alleles.  Plants may be heterozygous for some characteristics and homozygous for others.


Hilum:  The scar remaining on the seed (ovule) at the place of its detachment from the seed stalk (funiculus).


Homozygous:  Refers to breeding true for a specific hereditary characteristic, usually by identical alleles.


Host:  A plant that is invaded or parasitized by a disease-producing agent and from which the parasite obtains its sustenance.


Hybrid:  The first-generation progeny of a cross between two different plants of the same species, often resulting in a plant that is more vigorous and productive than either parent.  These are crop varieties that are created from the controlled crossing of genetically distinct, highly uniform parents.  The term F1 designates that the resultant hybrid seed is of the first filial generation after the cross.  This is the hybrid seed of commerce.  Seed that is saved from the F1 hybrid plants will not breed true. 


Hybrid vigor:  The increase in vigor of hybrids over their parental inbred types, also known as heterosis.


Hypocotyl:  The part of the embryo axis between the cotyledons and the primary root that gives rise to the stalk of the young plant. 


Imperfect flower:  A flower containing in itself either male or female reproductive organs, but not both.*


Inbred:  A relatively true breeding strain resulting from several successive generations of controlled self-fertilization or back-crossing to a recurrent parent through selection or its equivalent.


Increase:  To multiply a quantity of parent seed through a generation of production.


Indeterminate Flowering:  Flowering and subsequent seed maturation will continue until harvest or frost.


Inflorescence:  The arrangement of flowers of a plant, such as umbel, raceme, spike, tassel, and panicle.


Inoculum:  Material from a pathogen, such as fungal spores, bacteria, etc., that is capable of spreading and infecting a plant with disease.


Intellectual property protection (IPP):  The legal measures, such as patents, Plant Breeder's Rights, trademarks, contracts, and licenses, usually developed to ensure adequate returns on investment in the development of a new technology.


Isolation distance:  The distance required to isolate pedigreed seed crops from other crops that may be a source of pollen or seed contamination.  Used by most seed certification agencies as one of the requirements for maintaining varietal purity of pedigreed seed crops.


Kernel:  The seed of a grain plant.


Landrace: Landraces are composed of traditional crop varieties developed by farmers through years of natural and human selection and are adapted to local environmental conditions and management practices. As distinct plant populations, landraces are named and maintained by traditional farmers to meet their social, economic, cultural, and environmental needs. They are alternately called farmers’ varieties or folk varieties to indicate the innovative role of farmer communities in their development and maintenance. (Abdullah Jaradat, "Wheat Landraces: Genetic Resources

 for Sustenance and Sustainability")


Legume:  A plant that is a member of the Fabaceae family, having the characteristics of forming nitrogen-fixing nodules on roots and dry, dehiscent, multiseeded pods.


Lodging:  The displacement of the stems of crops from an upright position.


Male sterility:  An inherited factor, useful in hybrid seed production; it prevents viable pollen from being produced.


Monocotyledon:  A term referring to plants with a single seed leaf at the first node of the lead shoot or stem.


Monoculture:  The production of a single species, often the same cultivar, over a wide geographic area.


Monoecious:  A type of plant that has stamens and pistils in different floral structures on the same plant, as in maize and most cultivated cucurbit crop varieties.


Morphology:  The form, structure, and development of plants.


Multiline:  A composite (blend) population of several genetically related lines of a self-pollinated crop.


Mutation:  A sudden heritable variation that results from changes in a gene or genes.


Nicking:  The synchronization of the receptivity of the male sterile plant to the maximum pollen load of the pollinator for cross-pollination in hybrid seed production.


Off-type:  Plants in a variety that deviate in one or more characteristics from the official description of the variety.


Open-pollinated (OP):  Seed produced as a result of natural pollination, as opposed to hybrid seed produced as a result of a controlled pollination.


Open-pollinated (OP) variety:  A heterogeneous cultivar resulting from a cross-pollinated crop allowed to interpollinate freely during seed production (as opposed to a controlled crossed pollination).


Outcross:  A cross-pollination between two different crop varieties (usually unintended) of the same species.  The term is also used by seed growers as a noun to refer to a plant resulting from such a cross.


Parasite:  An organism that subsists in whole or part on living tissue at the expense of the host.


Pathogen:  Any organism capable of causing disease in a host or range of hosts.


Perennial:  A plant that produces vegetative growth each year without replanting.


Perfect Flower:  A flower having both staminate (male) and pistillate (female) organs.


Petiole:  The stalk of a leaf.


Phenotype:  The appearance of an individual, as contrasted with its genetic makeup or genotype.  A set of observable characteristics of an individual or group, usually determined by genotype and environment. Also used to describe a group of individuals with similar appearance-though not necessarily identical genotypes.


Pistil:  The complete female organ within a flower.  The pistil produces the ovule which contains a stigma, a style, and one or more carpels that house the developing seeds after fertilization of an ovary or multiple ovaries.


Plant breeding:  An organized effort to produce progressively improved plants.


Pollen:  The cells that are borne in the anthers of flowers and contain the male generative cells.


Pollen parent:  The parent plant furnishing the pollen that fertilizes the ovules of the other parent in the production of seed.


Pollination:  The process by which pollen is transferred from an anther to the stigmatic surface of the pistil of a flower.


Population:  A community of individuals of a particular species that share a common gene pool.


Progeny:  Offspring or plants grown from seed.


Propagule:  Any type of plant or part of a plant that is used to propagate the plant.  This can include a seedling, cutting, bulb, tuber, scion wood, steckling, etc.


Protandrous: Anthers from a single flower opening and shedding all of their pollen within 24 to 36 hours, while the stigma doesn't become receptive for at least 24 to 48 hours after pollen shed. 


Raceme:  A type of flower cluster in which single-flowered pedicels are arranged along the sides of a flower shoot terminus.  There is space along the shoot between the pedicels.


Radicle:  A rudimentary root; the lower end of the hypocotyls of the embryo and the primary root of the seedling.


Resistance:  The ability of a plant to remain relatively unaffected by the effects of disease due to inherited factors that it possesses.  This inherited quality is often expressed by degrees, with a slight, moderate, or high degree of resistance possible.


Rogue (noun):  A term used by seed growers and plant breeders to indicate an off-type plant in a population of plants representing a specific variety.  Rogue plants may originate as a result of several circumstances: (1) an unwanted cross-pollination with a different variety of the same species in a previous generation; (2) an unwanted mixture of seed from two different varieties; (3) a plant within a population with one or more unique traits that is the result of a spontaneous genetic change or mutation; and (4) a volunteer plant from an earlier planting appearing in the same field.


Roguing (transitive verb)  The act of identifying and removing rogue plants from seed fields at any stage of a seed crop's growth or development.


Saprophyte:  An organism that subsists upon dead organic matter and inorganic materials.


Scarify:  To cut or nick a hard seed coat in order to hasten germination.*  


Sclerotia (sclerotium):  A compact mass of fungal hyphae, usually with black outer surface and white inside.  It may remain dormant for long periods and eventually gives rise to more fungus.


Seed:  "A seed is not only the most spatially contracted phase of a plant, it has also to a large extent withdrawn from the stream of time.  Often tiny, hard, dry, closed off from the world, to all appearances "dead", seeds carry the life of a plant through   the dead of winter.  Buried in ancient Egyptian tombs, grain has germinated when discovered and exposed to moisture thousands of years later.


A seed is a concentrated, frozen moment, a "time-out" in an uninterrupted generative process that originated in the far distant past and has the power to continue far into the future.  Within an acorn lies forces capable of producing an oak forest; within a single kernel of wheat lies the capacity to eventually feed a whole region for generations.  Within each seed lies more than meets the eye: a productive power that can be grasped only with the imagination.  Seen imaginatively, each tiny seed, as it lies in stillness before us, is brimming with creative potential.


Once it germinates, the seedling enters irreversibly into the dynamic stream of time and begins to relate to its surroundings.  The compressed embryo swells, expands, extends its roots downward into the ground and unfolds its simple leaves upward towards the heavens.  The plant orients itself spatially between heaven and earth, striving toward, or drawn by, both."


Barnes, John.  2012.  Toward a Meditative Understanding of Plants, in Stella Natura, Biodynamic Planting Calendar for 2013, p.14.



Seedborne:  Carried on or in the seed, usually referring to pathogen (as in seedborne disease).


Seed coat:  The protective covering of a seed, usually composed of inner and outer integuments.


Seedling:  A young plant grown from seed.


Selection:  Identification of individual plants that contain traits that are more desirable than other plants in the population and are used to contribute to the next generation.


Self-fertilization:  The fusion of the male and female gametes from a single individual plant, resulting from a self-pollination.


Self-incompatibility:  The failure of pollen from an individual to fertilize the flower and successfully produce seed in the same plant.


Self-pollinate:  The transfer of pollen to the stigma within the same flower.  Self-pollinated crops always have perfect flowers.


Self-pollinated crops:  The group of plant species that bear seeds that are largely the result of self-fertilization of each plant's ovaries, though there is always some percentage of seed produced by cross-pollination.


Shatter:  The dehiscence of the seed from a dry fruit (e.g. a pod or a silique) that occurs with minimal stimulation, often used when seed is released when the seed crop is still in the field before the grower has harvested the crop.


Stilique:  A fruit that is borne of a gynoecium with two carpels with seeds attached to a thickened central membrane.  Siliques are only found in the Brassicaceae.


Single-cross hybrid:  The first generation of a cross between two specified inbred lines.


Stamen:  The complete male organ within the flower.  The part of the flower, bearing the male reproductive cells, composed of the anther on a filament (stalk).


Steckling:  The prepared root of a biennial crop like carrots, beets, or parsnips that are evaluated, trimmed, and prepared for replanting using the root-to-seed method.


Stigma:  The upper part of the pistil that receives the pollen.


Stockseed:  Seed used to produce a crop eligible for pedigreed status.


Strain:  A term used to designate an improved or divergent selection of a crop variety.


Suberin: the waxy substance that forms fairly quickly in damaged plant cells to prevent water from penetrating the tissue.


Tassel:  The flower cluster at the tip of monoecious plants, such as corn, comprising pollen-bearing flowers (staminate inflorescence).


Top-cross hybrid:  The first generation of a cross between an inbred line and an open-pollinated variety.


Varietal purity: Trueness to type or variety.


Variety:  A group of plants of a particular species that share a set of characteristics or traits that differentiates it from other varieties of the same crop.  These characteristics must be distinct and relatively uniform across all of the plants of the variety.  A synonym of cultivar.  A variety must be uniform, stable, and reproducible.  Variety names are typically framed by single quotation marks: 'Scarlet Nantes' carrot.


Vernalization:  The exposure of seed and young plants to certain conditions of cold temperature and photoperiod, which promotes floral induction without development of the plant.


Vigor:  The vitality or strength of germination, especially under unfavorable conditions.


Volunteer plants:  Unwanted plants growing from residual seed from the previous crop.


Weed:  Any plant growing in a place where it is considered a nuisance.  Usually denotes uncultivated plants growing in fields.


Weed seed:  In commercial seed lots the weed seed component is given as the percentage by weight of the seed lot, which is composed of seed plants considered to be weeds.


Winter annual:  A plant that develops a seedling stage in the early fall, becomes vernalized over the winter, and then produces vegetative and reproductive growth the following season.



Navazio, John. 2012.  The Organic Seed Grower. A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed   Production.  White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.


* Other sources including: Deppe, Carol.  2000.  Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

                                         Rogers, Marc.  1990.  Saving Seeds.  The Gardener's Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds.  North Adams, MA: Story Publishing.


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