When starting a garden, orchard, or fruit forest, you need to be aware of genetics. Yes, plant genetics matter. How a plant propagates plays a role in the quality and variety of fruit you’ll harvest later on.

So, which fruits grow true to seed? Here in Hawaii, papaya, Suriname cherries, and rollina are just a few of the tropical fruits that grow true-to-seed. However, if you want to ensure your favorite mangoes grow in your backyard, you should try air layering or cuttings instead of growing from seed.

Here’s what you need to know about true-to-type or true-to-parent fruits if you’re planning to reserve seeds from produce to start your own garden.

What Does True-To-Seed Mean?

While most fruits can be grown from seed, that doesn’t mean all fruits grow ‘true-to-seed’. 

Most watermelons, for example, do not grow ‘true-to-seed’. They do grow from seed but will produce a lottery of sweet and juicy, or mushy and bland melons when grown from reserved seeds of a typical grocery store watermelon.

True-to-type or true-to-seed means that a seed, once planted will produce an identical plant to the parent. These seeds will produce the same type of fruit as their parent: the texture, color, and sweetness will be almost identical to the parent in most cases.

Knowing which plants do (and do not!) grow true-to-seed is imperative to understand when you make cuttings or purchase heirloom seeds over reserving seeds yourself.

Hybrid vs Heirloom Varieties

Most of the fruits and vegetables found today are hybrid varieties, specifically designed to make them larger, grow faster, and look more colorful for supermarket shelves. That does not mean they are more nutritious or tastier, though.

Cross-pollination makes hybrid varieties of plants and results in a different genetic makeup of a fruit or vegetable. While the fruit will look the same, the flavor, sweetness, and even hardiness against disease will vary from the parent plant.

Cross-pollination can be done by hand to create specific varieties, but it also occurs naturally in some cases, if you have two varieties of fruit trees close to one another. So, be aware that you may plant heirloom seeds, and still end up with a “natural” hybrid variety, just because of the proximity of the same plant in a different variety.

Tropical fruits that grow true-to-seed

These fruits are a good bet that what you’ll grow will be just as sweet and delicious as the fruit you reserved it from:

  • Papaya
  • Malay apples/Mountain apples
  • Soursop
  • Rollinia/ Sweetsop/ Custard apple
  • Suriname Cherries
  • Some types of tomatoes (which technically are a fruit)
  • Guavas
  • Passion fruit (Lilikoi)

But, remember this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Tomatoes, for example, are often hybrid varieties, to begin with. But, if you start with heirloom tomato seeds and reserve those, you should be good with true-to-type harvests, later on.

Another exception is passion fruit – some do not grow true to seed. However, all the plants that self-germinated in random places around my homestead (and I transplanted to more practical locations) had sweet, delicious fruits. The dark purple passionfruit are more likely to produce true-to-seed than the yellow varieties.

Note to Homesteaders: It’s imperative that your parent plant NOT be a hybrid in order to grow a plant that is true-to-seed.

Tropical Fruits that do not grow true-to-seed

Now, here are some fruits that, in most cases, do not grow true-to-seed. If you find a fruit you love, you may have to graft a branch of it onto a seedling to ensure it will have the same great taste.

The good news here is that cuttings will produce fruit faster than trees grown from seed!

  • Rambutan
  • Lychee
  • Jackfruit
  • Avocado
  • Melons (Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Honeydew)
  • Pomegranate
  • Abiu

What About Mangoes?

One tropical fruit you may have noticed was missing from both lists was the delicious mango. That’s because mangoes fall into different categories, based on their pits: mono-embryonic or poly-embryonic.

While this sounds very fancy, basically what it means is the way a new tree emerges.

With poly-embryonic mangoes, many new embryos come out of the original pit, making them genetically like the mother (i.e.: true-to-seed), however, these trees don’t usually thrive, they sometimes don’t even germinate.

Mono-embryonic mangoes, on the other hand, form one, single (usually strong) tree. It won’t be true-to-seed, though, so you’ll have to wait until your first harvest to find out if the mangoes are sweet or sour, large and juicy, or have big pits and very little flesh.

Throughout Hawaii, many locals grow poly-embryonic mangoes and enjoy them. However, the commercial mango industry uses mono-embryonic mangoes because they produce more, even if they are not true-to-seed. Two popular examples are the Haden and Pirie varieties of mangoes; both have mono-embryonic pits. You cannot guarantee to get a Haden mango tree just because you grew it from a Haden mango pit. The only way is to grow from a graft.

If you’re living in Hawaii, you should grow a mango tree! They are delicious. If you’re unsure whether to grow from seed or not, I suggest you do both:

Try propagating a mango pit from a local Hawaiin mango (these varieties of small, sweet mangoes are poly-embryonic, usually), just to see how it grows. You can also graft your favorite variety onto a seedling, that way you’ll be sure to have sweet mangoes in a few years.

Other Fruits

There are two tropical fruits that we homesteaders will not be growing from seed: bananas and pineapples.

Banana plants are propagated through their rhizomes or root system, not by seeds, and pineapples are grown by reserving the spiky tops and planting in rich soil.

Since both of these fruit are not propagated by seeds – you’ve guessed it – they grow true-to-type!

It’s not all about the parents

While the parent plant matters in some cases, that’s not the only factor for growing sweet fruits. How healthy your plants are, adequate water, and ample sunshine matter, too!