Caveat Emptor

That old Latin phrase still applies today – caveat emptor… let the buyer beware!

Southern Belle Hibiscus

Young Southern Belle Hibiscus Plant

I thought of this recently when I was searching to find Southern Belle hibiscus seeds. I have a few of these plants along a fence and I need to fill in one spot. As I was checking with various seed companies, I found out that Southern Belle hibiscus is slowly being replaced by other varieties. When it was first introduced it was all the rage – a perennial hibiscus that could be grown from seed and blossom the first year. But over the ensuing decades, other varieties, particularly Disco Belle and Luna, have taken over the market. These newer varieties are smaller and better in containers.

Since the other varieties of hibiscus are half the size of Southern Belle, I couldn’t use them along the fence. When I started to think I’d never find Southern Belle seeds, I tried eBay since you can get anything there!

A few people had seeds of Southern Belle hibiscus for sale but one of the listings stopped me cold in my tracks. In clear type the seller said that these seeds were collected from their Southern Belle plants. Now this might not be a problem except for the fact that Southern Belle hibiscus is an F1 hybrid.

To create an F1 hybrid, two separate plants, each with a different but stable genetic makeup are crossed and the seeds that develop and the plants that grow from those seeds are a combination of the two parental lines. F1 stands for “filial 1,” meaning the first  generation of a cross between two parents.

F1 hybrids are very uniform in their growth and habit because their genetic “blueprint” is the same. But if you collect seeds from these plants, who knows what the next generation will look like? Genes that were specifically combined to provide the characteristics of the F1 generation get shuffled and the seeds from that plant could produce offspring with all different sizes and colors. Add to this that hibiscus are insect pollinated and there’s no way to even guess what pollen pollinated the plant. It might be fun to grow these seeds and see what happens but I can guarantee that they won’t be Southern Belle hibiscus plants. True Southern Belle seeds can only be produced by breeders who have the two parental lines and carefully cross-pollinate the two plants.

Reading that listing scared me and kept me from buying any hibiscus seeds from eBay. Who knows where the other sellers got their seeds?! Fortunately Stoke’s Seeds still is offering Southern Belle hibiscus. Since this is a company that been around for a long time I knew I could trust that their seeds would be true F1 hybrid seeds.

Even when you’re buying seeds, the ancient Roman principle is still true – caveat emptor – let the buyer beware!

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