Peppermint seeds

andreboxApril 4, 2013

So I just found out that peppermint (mentha piperita) is a sterile hybrid between spearmint (mentha spicata) and watermint (mentha aquatica) and so growing peppermint seeds will result in a poor quality mint variety but not true peppermint. As a result, everyone suggests obtaining peppermint through a cutting.

What I don't understand is why can't the seeds of the cross pollinated plants (spearmint and watermint) be sold? Wouldn't they all be true peppermint? Many seed companies sell their own F1 hybrid seeds. Wouldn't the seeds of a spearmint x watermint be the F1 peppermint hybrid?

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Cuttings grow faster than seeds so why not just find a friend who can share cuttings? Is there a good reason you want peppermint over spearmint?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:39AM
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I suspect the seeds aren't sold because the mints are highly variable.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 10:09PM
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gvozdika(8 OR)

Those little buzzing pollinators make it look so easy :)
Peppermint seeds are not sterile and they might produce something interesting. Even peppermint itself varies. I grew spearmint from Burpee's seed and the plants came up different, some are smooth and some are fuzzy and it is too early to say anything about the taste.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 12:07AM
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I'm looking for peppermint over spearmint because I prefer the stronger flavor.

Why would the seeds be highly variable if it's produced by two stable parents? If I crossed two heirloom tomatoes wouldn't the seeds be consistent? Isn't that how seed companies can offer consistent F1 hybrids?

The only thing I'm left with is what gvozdika has said, perhaps no seed company is willing to go through the trouble of cross pollinating the spearmint and watermint to produce the true peppermint seeds? But I find that hard to believe. Peppermint is so popular. NO ONE is doing it?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 5:21PM
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Aindra(8, BC)

At least one company I know is doing it. West Coast Seeds, for one. Their message about it is: "The mint family is vast and cross pollination is difficult to control, so many sources suggest that mint will not come true from seed. Our mint seeds are grown in isolation bred with care in a greenhouse setting."

I have their peppermint seeds and I'm starting these so I suppose I'll find out later, haha.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 2:04PM
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My theory is, if I want a specific variety, even one that is a cross and is readily available, whether in plant or seed, I will find out which parent plants/varieties were originally used to breed the variety I want. In this case, mentha spicata and mentha aquatica. Then I will order the seeds of both parent varieties (don't kid yourself, you can find any kind of seed if you look hard enough), grow them til they flower (you can speed up the life cycle if you have the appropriate equipment), cross them myself, and save the seed which I know for SURE is the exact variety I want.

Also, even in doing the crossing yourself, remember that the seed produced will grow into an F1 hybrid plant. Continue to save the seeds. Plant them out, and select the ones that grow true (some will, some wont) and continue the genetic line. If you continue to do this for roughly 6 seasons(remember, plants can be grown year round and at an accelerated life cycle), the genetics will stabilize, and at that point, the vast majority of seeds saved from then on will grow true.

So, this method is a little more difficult, but in my opinion it's worth it. And again, I'll spell this out opfor you in case you still don't get my point: If you have the proper equipment (greenhouse, lighting, misters, etc.) 6 seasons DOES NOT have to mean six YEARS or six springs. It can mean as little as 3 years, with some additional time allowed for flowering. Grow one "generation" outdoors and naturally during the spring, get it to flower, save those seeds, and then grow those seeds in your greenhouse as soon as the preceding generation dies.

Now, I can't remember for sure right now, but mints MAY be biennial plants, meaning they must be alive for two years before they flower and produce seeds. I remember fresh plants from the nursery always flowering the first season they're alive, but like I said, I'm not sure about seed production. This theory does work excellent for almost all veggies though as well, if you're ever interested. Even if mint is biennial, there are ways you can "force it" to flower at least somewhat early.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 3:39AM
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Aindra, thanks for the West Coast Seeds reference.

BigN, stabilizing a mint line sounds like an interesting project but two things come to mind.

First, I have read in many places that the peppermint plant is sterile. For example, here is what Wikipedia says:

"Being a hybrid, it is usually sterile, producing no seeds and reproducing only vegetatively, spreading by its rhizomes."

Granted, it says "usually," but surely this would add much difficulty to the project.

Second, from my limited understanding it is not possible to stabilize an F1 hybrid because the chances that an F1 hybrid will produce a true seed among its batch and that you would discover it and then repeat the process for 5 more generations are practically nil. Apparently, this is especially true of the peppermint hybrid.

I think if it was possible to stabilize the peppermint hybrid it would have been done already.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 5:58PM
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mikeinor(z8 OR)

Regarding hybridization, every new variety starts as an F1 hybrid. It is just part of biology. This simply means that it is the first generation of a cross between other varieties.

The confusion that folks have lies in their understanding of the definitions of how the word "hybrid" is being used in a specific context.

In the old days, a seedsman / plant breeder (for example someone like A.. W. Livingston or Luther Burbank) would make his selection or cross, and then take the F1 generation, grow it out the next year (F2), make anther selection for the traits he was interested in, and keep doing this perhaps for 7 or more generations until the variety was stable. No reputable seedsman worth his salt would have every released an unstable F1 hybrid.

Then, starting in earnest around the middle of the 20th Century, seed companies realized that they could keep the parentage of a cross secret, sell the F1 seeds, and folks would buy seed from them every year. It is a business decision based on dollars.

This is not to say that a person can't plant two or three hundred F1 plants and go through the stabilization process. But most people won't make that effort or commitment of time and resources that can take up to a decade to complete.

Regarding peppermint . . . it is my experience that it is quite stable growing from seed. But as noted previously, growing plants asexually from cuttings is a lot faster and more sure. Clones are the best way to end up with plants that are not simply similar, but genetically identical.



This post was edited by mikeinor on Mon, Jun 10, 13 at 14:25

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 2:23PM
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What exactly do you mean by the peppermint being "quite stable growing from seed?"

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 7:15PM
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mikeinor(z8 OR)

What I meant was when I sow peppermint seeds, I get peppermint plants. I have never experienced what this original poster was claiming about them being either sterile or an unstable hybrid.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 10:58PM
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nickl(Z7a NJ)

Whenever we have tried growing mint from seeds - no matter what the seeds were labeled as - we have ended up with plain spearmint. Just by the very nature of mints in general, mint seeds are a mixed bag. It may be that the spearmint seedlings are more vigorous and when we thinned them out, that's what we ended up with.

If you like spearmint, that's fine. But if you want a specific mint variety, I think it's more reliable to grow it from divisions, cuttings or layers. . Mints are VERY easy to propagate, and most herb farms sell them quite reasonably.... Visiting a local herb farm is always fun and encourages local enterprise..

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 11:31AM
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