Working as a Plant Breeder

A plant breeder produces new cultivars of plants that have a valuable commercial potential, and licences production nurserymen to grow and sell those plants.  Schemes (e.g. Plant Variety Rights) operate in some countries, which allow plant breeders to register ownership of a plant they bred; while other countries simply do not operate such schemes.

What They Do

Plant breeders create new types of plants by:

  • Choosing male and female parent plants that have desirable characteristics
  • Taking pollen from the male flower and transferring it to fertilise the female flower
  • Protecting the female flower from being contaminated by stray pollen from other plants
  • Nurturing the female plant to develop seed
  • Collecting seed at precisely the optimum time
  • Propagating new plants from the seed they collect
  • Growing the seedling plants until they can determine which of many propagated, displays the most desirable characteristics.

What is Needed?

A plant breeder needs an intimate understanding of plant botany, genetics, plant propagation skills and above all, great plant knowledge. Plant breeders are plant specialists who can readily see the subtle differences between different genera, species and varieties of plants. They need to have a heightened awareness of their industry, the plants that are already available, the characteristics which are most favoured in plants and the things that the industry desires and cannot readily find in existing cultivars. They need to set trends and recognise changing trends set by others.

Some plant breeders are self-taught enthusiasts who have worked for so long with a genus they are passionate about that they know more about it than anyone else i.e. other horticulturists, scientists or nurserymen. Others have studied science in depth, learning about plant breeding, genetics and propagation as a foundation, then studied particular plant types that they are keen to breed.


In some developed countries, plant breeders can earn as much or more profit on plant sales than profit earned by production nurserymen or retailers. Plant breeding can be a risky business, though, if you do not have an adequate level of plant knowledge - as well as horticultural skills. It can also have an element of luck.  You need to produce a cultivar that is unlike anything else available (or differs significantly), and has the potential to sell at a high price and in large numbers. Then it needs to be promoted well and have an organised and effective distribution system - so that it is available to all who want it.

Some types of plants can be bred, grown on, selected, and propagated in very large numbers and then launched to the public all within less than two or three years. However for other types of plants - breeding, developing and launching a new cultivar can take five, ten, or even more years.


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