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What is an Heirloom Tomato?


Many of us refer to any delicious or unusual tomato as an “heirloom”. But many of these tomatoes aren’t technically heirlooms. There are essentially three types of tomatoes:


Heirlooms are generally considered to be tomato varieties that (1) have been around for over 50 years, and (2) can be grown from seed saved from the same variety plants grown the prior year. In addition, breeders who cross breed heirloom varieties call the resulting variety an “heirloom” once it grows true from seed for 7-8 generations.

While heirlooms can be quite delicious and colorful, some can produce fewer tomatoes per plant, and can be more susceptible to disease than hybrid tomato plants.

We sell many varieties of true heirlooms. Examples are Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Azoychka and Amish Paste.

Open Pollinated

An open pollinated tomato is one that can be grown true from seed saved from the prior year, but that doesn’t have the long history or heritage of an heirloom. Green Zebra is an open-pollinated tomato that many incorrectly assume is an heirloom. Plant breeders are producing many new, exciting open pollinated varieties that have heirloom quality and flavor. Examples of ones that we sell are indigo Cherry Drops and Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye.


A hybrid tomato is one that doesn’t reproduce in kind from seed saved from its parent the prior year. Instead, each year breeders must cross-breed two different varieties to obtain hybrid seeds for planting. Thus, it’s necessary to buy new seeds each year rather than saving your own.  While some may shun “hybrid” tomatoes, there is good reason to embrace them. Many are delicious and more disease resistant and productive than heirlooms. Sungold, one of our all-time favorite cherry tomatoes, is a hybrid.