What Are The Pros and Cons of Propagating Plants with Cutting vs Seeds?

The two most common ways to propagate plants are by seed or vegetative cuttings (stem, root, leaf, or tissue culture). While seeds preserve genetic diversity and give rise to new varieties, vegetative propagation can clone and preserve existing varieties. Here are some pros and cons of seeds and cutting.

Seed Propagation

Seeds have parents and are the result of cross-pollination between two different plants or single self-fertile parent. Each seed is the result of sexual-reproduction and is genetically distinct from its parents and each other. Seeds that resemble their parents are said to “come true to seed”. While some plants come true to seed others, like apples, rarely resemble their parents.

Pros of Seeds

  • Seeds are genetically distinct from each other and their parent plants.
  • Desirable traits can be selected for via careful plant breeding.
  • Seeds create and protect genetic diversity. Genetic diversity creates resiliency from climate, pests, and disease stresses.
  • The random recombination of genes can new yield new traits; desirable fruit, cold hardiness, etc.
  • Seeds yield new cultivated varieties (cultivars).

Cons of Seeds

  • Seeds are genetically distinct and are thus inherently less predictable than cuttings.
  • Not all plants come true to seed.
  • Difficult to control cross-breeding in an open-pollinated environment.

Vegetative Propagation

Vegetative propagation is the process of starting a new plant from a root, stem, leaf of an existing plant and results in a genetic clone. Cuttings are most useful when trying to preserve specific traits such as growth habit or fruit quality. Since seeds are genetically distinct, the only way to maintain a cultivated variety is to keep it under continuous vegetative propagation. The original Granny Smith apple was a seedling discovered in 1868 and cloned to produced every Granny Smith apple tree in existence. The Annurca apple, a seedling of Italian origin, has been growing since the year 0079 due to continuous vegetative production.

Pros of Vegetative Propagation

  • Vegetative propagation produces genetic copies of their parent plants enabling the preservation of cultivated varieties of plants that don’t come true to seed. Without vegetative propagation, cultivated varieties would be lost at the end of the original plant’s life.
  • A single parent plant can yield a large number of cuttings for propagation.

Cons of Vegetative Propagation

  • Vegetative propagation reduces genetic diversity and can leave plants susceptible to shocks such as climate changes or the introduction of pests and diseases. The practice of propagating potatoes via tubers (instead of seeds) made Irland’s potato crops susceptible to potato blight.
  • Some plants are difficult to propagate vegetatively.

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