Hybridizing Mints and Basils
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Chrissy Smythe
Posted on: June 3, 2001

I don’t know if this is the place to ask but I figured since I plan to buy plants here it wouldn’t hurt to ask :)

I am going to buy mints and sage from Richters, maybe some basils too.

What I was wondering though is: can you offer any sites, books, even key search words for hybridizing plants. I know I might just come up with messes but I’d really like to try hybridizing mints and other herbs. Every store or place I ask just looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles. Can people even sell hybridized mints if they come up with something good?

Most definitely! If you develop a new mint or basil or whatever through hybridization, selective breeding or even just spotting sports in your garden, it could be marketable. A large percentage of herbs on the market today were first developed by amateur gardeners, not by professional breeders.

While there are lots of mints on the market today, there always seems to be interest in more. In recent years Richters has been carrying the new hybrids developed by Jim Westerfield, an amateur breeder in Missouri. He routinely crosses mints and, from the progeny, selects the best new varieties. Because mints propagate so easily by cuttings, it is easy to ramp up a new variety for commercial sale from a single plant.

It is a little harder to develop new varieties this way for basils because most are annuals and do not propagate well by cuttings. But it is not impossible. The variety, ‘African Blue’ is a hybrid between ‘Dark Opal’ and camphor basil, and, like its second parent, it is perennial and therefore practical to propagate by means of cuttings.

What’s involved? The type of hybridization used for plants like mints is actually very simple. Here is how Kevin Vaughn, a breeder of day lilies, describes the process he uses to create new varieties – a process similar to what you would use for mints:

"It is just a very simple process of transferring the pollen to the stigma. The pollen is the fluffy part and it lays on the stigmatic lip and if you’re lucky and your cross is successful you will get a little green pod. In about 6 to 8 weeks that pod will ripen and produce about 15 to 20 seeds. I tag it with which pollen I have put on that particular plant. As a good hybridizer, I want to make sure I know who the parents are so that if I make a really good cross I can come back next year and do the same cross again."

A good starting point for learning about breeding is: http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/~vista/html_pubs/PLBREED/pl_breed.html

Have fun, and be sure to let Richters know if you come up with anything interesting.

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