Examples of Seed Variation - Natural vs Man-Made Materials

Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Feb 20
5 min read
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Pinto Beans with variations in color

Is It Normal For Seeds to Vary in Color, Size, and Shape?

The short answer is yes. Any given seed will have a regular shape, size, and color or pattern associated with it. However, seeds are a natural product that will have a level of variability. Seeds are developed under varying conditions caused by regional climates, seasonal weather, and irregular events. These can cause small deviations from what is “normal” or “regular” for a given variety. This can be seen in the header image above. These are a type of pinto bean seeds. A standard pinto bean description would include a creamy tan colored bean with maroon to brown speckling. However, you can observe several mostly maroon beans along with varying shades of cream, tan, and caramel-colored beans. Just like people have varying hair colors, seeds may express different seed coat colors within the range of their genetic possibilities. This means the beans pictured above will likely never appear with neon green speckling. It just isn’t within the possibilities of their genetics, regardless of the environment they are grown in. But, it may appear as a fully reddish-brown bean.

Natural life is unique and individual in design. Unlike manufactured products that are replicas of each other, living products have the ability to present qualities of lesser or greater worth. It is the variability found in nature that allows for new varieties to be discovered. Plant geneticists not only work in laboratories but also out in the natural settings of our fields, prairies, mountains, and plains, searching for outliers in nature. Seeds and cuttings from these outlier plants are retrieved for their desirable characteristics in an effort to reliably reproduce them with natural means and make them available to others. This is the age-old process that has been used by natives and explorers around the world for centuries.

Plant Geneticist searching for rare plants in nature


The color of a seed is determined by several different factors. One of those factors is maturity. As a seed ripens, it may change color. This is demonstrated in a study published by Frontiers in Science, where brown and yellow brassica seeds were observed through the ripening process. Both seeds were shown to start with a pale green coloration that matured to green and then on to the appropriate brown and yellow pigmentation. This process takes place in many seed types. Another factor known to affect the color of a seed is its flavonoid composition. Flavonoids are compounds with strong links to many health benefits, as seen in The Thinking on Flavonoids by Harvard Health. These are especially noted to affect the yellow pigmentation of a seed. The occassional light colored radish seed occurs due to this component.

In addition to the pigments and compounds determined by genetics, growing conditions can also affect or enhance the color of a seed within the bounds of its genetic markers. This means environmental factors can make a red seed more red or pink, but not blue. The color of a seed coat is determined by the combination of melanin, flavonoids, anthocyanins (a specific flavonoid), and polyphenols. Essentially these determine the shades of browns, yellows, reds, and patterns displayed on seed coats (a seeds outer covering). Anthocyanins are specifically linked to red pigmentation and are highly influenced by light, water, and temperatures in plant development. These principles are displayed in the Dwarf Horticulture Taylor Bean Seeds to the right.

Dwarf Horticultural Taylor Bean sorted by color

Dwarf Horticulture Taylor Bean in Natural Light

Picture vs. Reality

Here at True Leaf Market, we strive to display our seeds in a way that shows their true color profiles. Natural light is best for displaying true colors. However, how cloudy and sunny it is on a particular day can influence the appearance of the plant, seed, or object being photographed. An object may appear slightly different in a shaded, indoor, or intense light setting. The variable appearance of seeds in different light conditions is shown below to demonstrate how much light can affect or obscure our perception of color. Each photo contains the same batch of Dwarf Horticulture Taylor Bean Seeds photographed with different lighting.

Light bean color

Light on Dark Background

Dwarf Horticulture Taylor Bean

Natural Light on White Background

Medium bean color

Medium Light on Dark Background

Dark bean photo

Low Light on Dark Background

Seed Shape and Size

The shape and size of a seed are highly determined by its genetics, but are also affected by its environmental factors. In Factors that Shape Seed mass Evolution, it is emphasized that a plant's genetics are the greatest contributing factor to shape and size. Following genetics, plant mass is the next greatest factor. A plant’s mass can be affected by the amount of light, water, wind, and other weather factors. If a crop experiences more extreme weather factors over an extended period of time, such as drought, you may see slight changes in seed sizes or shape. These can also be due to the available space around the developing seed as it is formed. This principle is also prominant with fruits developing in clumps on trees.

pumpkin seeds lined up by size

Photographed to the left are pumpkin seeds of the same variety displaying the varying shapes and sizes it may develop into. Even though these seeds vary in shape and size, they will still grow true to type and develop healthy offspring. Seeing this slight variability in shape or size is no need to worry about the viability of your seed. If you would like to check the viability of a batch of seeds, a home germination test is simple and easy to conduct. To guarantee quality seed, we are always testing our seed germination rates to remain within, or exceed, germination standards.

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