Blue Sky Science: How do seedless plants start?

Nico Conti


How do seedless plants start?

Plants can propagate in two ways: sexually and asexually. Sexual propagation is through seeds. Seeds develop from the sexual organs of flowers. But some plants take a very long time to be able to propagate by seeds.

For example, some trees take a very long time until they produce a seed. What we do is we can propagate them asexually. We take a vegetative part of the plant, and we produce a new plant out of it.

Some plants, seedless plants, can have natural vegetative structures. They propagate asexually in a natural, unforced way. For example, potatoes and onions produce bulbs and tubers. So if you take an onion and plant it in the soil, you can produce a new onion plant that’s not coming from a seed, but is coming from a bulb.
Other plants like grape vines or apples, in nature they don’t reproduce asexually. But we can use some techniques like grafting, cutting and air layering so that we can propagate them asexually.

Some plants are able to divide naturally. We can separate one plant into many different plants. And it’s going to produce a completely new separated plant from the original one. These plants are going to be clones, meaning they will have the same genetic information and characteristics. Another way of asexually propagating is by grafting. This is actually used a lot on fruit trees, where we graft new material into the plant and it grows into something different.

These techniques can be a real benefit in plant production. It’s a faster process than propagating with seeds and you can control the characteristics you want most. If you think of an apple orchard, for example, you want all the apples to be the same.