Bye, Bye Mr. Ichiban: The Discontinuation of Ichiban Hybrid Eggplant

“Dear Sir,

I’m an avid reader of your blog and I would like to know the answer to why I can’t buy ichiban eggplant this year. It’s the best.  Was it a crop failure?



Hi Joe,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but it is most likely that we will have to have a funeral for your dear friend, Ichiban Hybrid Eggplant.  He is no more.

If you have heard any rumblings through the gardening community in the last five years, then it was without a doubt about how Monsanto had tapped into the home gardening market by acquisitioning Seminis Seeds (to read more on this, click here).  This buyout has resulted in a number of changes, including the correction of varietial names that were illegally sold by Seminis to increase their offerings and desireability (see here) and the discontinuation of many varieties that were only offered to home gardeners.

Ichiban Hybrid is a casualty of this process, as it was not versatile enough to be offered for commercial growers.  The fruits are more prone to scarring and the plants are not as disease resistant as other types.

For now, many companies have replaced Ichiban Hybrid with Millionaire Hybrid (offered by American Takii Seeds and distributed through many seed catalogs like Jung and Burpee).  I have tried it in my trial gardens in 2010, but found that it lacked the flavor of the Ichiban and didn’t seem to produce as well in a side-by-side comparison.

The only hope of Ichiban Hybrid coming back from the ‘dead’ is if Monsanto/Seminis sell the breeding rights to another seed producer, or if  they bring it back themselves.  The likelihood of this occurring is about as good as pigs flying.



© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

25 thoughts on “Bye, Bye Mr. Ichiban: The Discontinuation of Ichiban Hybrid Eggplant

  1. What a shame.Ichiban has been my eggplant of choice down here in LA every since I discovered it back in the 80’s. it produces so much better down here in the DSummer hear than the standard Balck Beauty. I was so bummed to read this and it explains why I have not been able to find the seeds. i have found the plants from Bonnie but sadly they charge something like $3 / plant at Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart and no one seems to sell the small cell flats any more. I will surely miss this wonderful productive eggplant. Tried Millionaire and Fengyuan and they just did not do well for me. sniff..

    • Unfortunately, the rights have not been sold, and Monsanto has not brought them back out of the market. As previously commented by a reader, Reimer Seed used to have them. If you click the link, you will see that they have disappeared from there too.

      The seed that Pase Seeds is selling is seed that was produced pre-2011 (before the variety was discontinued) or they are selling a similarly-looking variety in order to get lots of sales from people that are looking for it (ILLEGAL! but people do it until the USDA or their own state Department of Ag inspects them and fines them for doing so).

      If it were me, I would contact Pase before buying and get some answers. It is likely that the person answering the phone to take your call will not know this, but ask to speak with their Quality Control Manager. If they aren’t available at the time, ask for them to call you back, but don’t give them your various questions in advance! If this company is on the up-and-up (because they are not one I am familiar with and I’m kinda in the ‘know’ on who is out there), the answers should be:

      When was the seed grown?
      It should be the Summer 2010 or before if grown in the northern hemisphere, Winter 2009 if in the southern hemisphere. (NOTE: Monsanto raises their eggplant seed in in Thailand, which is in the Northern Hemisphere). If they say it was after that, then you KNOW they are selling something other than Ichiban and are labeling it as such to have buy sentimentality work in their favor.

      What is it’s current germination rate and when was it last tested?
      Federal law says it has to be at 75% or above in order to be sold. The seed should have been tested within the last 6 months.

      Was the germination test done in-house or by a state-approved testing facility?
      Either is fine. The key to asking this question is that a reputable company will say, “It was tested in-house/at facility using AOSA standards. It’s the AOSA standards disclaimer you are looking for here, not so much where it was done persay. If it was done in a off-site state-approved lab, they should be more than willing to email you a copy of it.

      How is it’s vigor?
      Should be good to excellent. If they don’t know, this is not a good sign…

      At what conditions do they store their seed (temperature, humidity level, etc.)?
      If they are interested in quality, the temps should be 55F or below, should be in a hermaphoditically sealed container (prevents moths from getting in to lay eggs/worms eating the seed/spreading seed-borne diseases), and at about 50% humidity.

      When was the last time they grew out a sample of this lot to maturity in their test/trial gardens?
      Should be within the last year. If they say they don’t have trial gardens, you don’t want to do business with them.

      If their answers don’t match the ‘standard’ response, or if the person says they don’t know, it’s not a good sign.

      I hope this helps you out. I know, it probably sounds like I’m being a pain in the butt with all these questions, but I used to be a Quality Control Manager at a very large seed company. When customers called in, this is the type of thing I’d tell them because it’s things that they should know and being able to easily provide this information is the sign of a well-run, on the level company that is interested in your success as a gardener rather than just trying to get your money.

      *stepping off soapbox…*

      • WOW! I will do that! I never thought about things like that and some I don’t know exactly what all it means, but I’ll ask them and see what they say. Thank you!

      • Mertie Mae, thank you so much for your advice because you saved me from being disappointed. I called the number for Pase Seeds (716) 337-0361 a couple times. The first time it went to voicemail, but it said the voicemail box was full. I thought that was odd, but called back again about an hour later. This time I spoke to a very cranky woman. I asked about speaking with someone in charge of quality control and she said that was her. I asked the questions you told me and wrote down her answers. She said the seed was grown in 2013 in the United States. I asked if she grew it or if it was purchased from a large seed producer. She asked why that mattered to me, seed is seed. I then asked about the germination rate and she said it was 100%. I asked when it was last tested and she said it was just harvested last year, so of course it was 100% and acted like I was an idiot to not know that. I didn’t ask where it was tested or if it had vigor because it was obvious that it had not been tested or grown. I asked about storage and she got really cranky and asked if I was the seed police and then hung up on me. As much as I would love to have some Ichiban again, I do not feel like spending my money with these people. Thank you for your help and for giving me great advice.

      • Sorry to hear that, but I am glad that you found out before getting fleeced. If you are looking for a similar variety, I recommend Orient Express from Johnny’s in the hybrid category or Japanese Pickling from Baker Creek for an o.p/heirloom variety. Japanese Pickling is rumored to be one of the varieties used in the crosses that were made to develop Ichiban.

    • No, Bonnie does not have them. However, for the customer perusing their plants at the greenhouse, they would like your pulse to quicken in excitement by letting you THINK they have them.

      Look closely at the label (or at their listing for it here on their webpage). It says they are “Ichiban Type”, not “Ichiban Hybrid”. Big difference. While they do not list the exact variety on the website, the variety listed on the tags for “Ichiban Type” at my local Wal-Mart last year was Dairyu.

      So, really, the plants you are looking at are Dairyu, not Ichiban. Sorry!

  2. Well that may explain a thing or two. last year Iplanted so mething labelled Ichiban that was like no Ichiban I had even seen before. The fruit was inedible- hard and woody by 4″ . Smaller fruit were bitter . Other eggplant variety nearby was fine.

    This year I bought 2 “Bonnie” plants labelled Ichiban Dairyu – last year’s was also from Bonnie, they have the market sewn up here.

    Anyway Dairyu seed is listed by several suppliers as a replacement for Ichiban. Do you think Dairyu is a legitimate variety, or just another way to ripoff gardeners?

    If its the same thing I planted last year, its the worst eggplant I’ve grown in 50 years. I guess I’II see what it does this year- one in the ground, one in a container.

    • *insert my repetitive eyeroll to Bonnie Plants*

      Here is another example of where Bonnie Plants is trying to make a buck by doing illegal things. The fact that they list Ichiban as a prefix for Dairyu is SO ILLEGAL!

      Ichiban is a variety that was patented and produced exclusively by Seminis Seeds, a division of Monsanto.

      Dairyu is a legitimate variety and is patented and produced by Seedway, a subsidiary of Growmark. The legality issue comes up with Bonnie Plants using a Monsanto name on the label for a Growmark product. I’ve seen them labeled this way too, and wondered how it was that they were able to get away with it — unless they had permission.

      When I was in my final year (2012) with the seed company I worked for, the new trial garden person that took over for me was growing Dairyu as a potential new seed for the company to offer. I left midsummer, so I did not get to see how it turned out beyond being in the ground for about a month. I do know that it was not picked up by the company to offer, and instead they are offering Millionaire Hybrid, which is what Seminis/Monsanto used to replace it. Millionaire Hybrid has similar hybridal parents to Ichiban, whereas Dairyu would have completely different hybridal parents as it would not be allowed to come from similar stock as Ichiban due to patenting. Since then, I have seen it in other companies’ trial beds. While I cannot speak on the flavor of it, the size, shape, color, and growth habit are very similiar to Ichiban. I have not grown it myself — I’m not much for the long eggplant types and prefer to grow the big, blocky Italian types.

      Am curious — what made it bad for you? Flavor and texture issues or was it more to do with the growth habit?

  3. Flavor and texture – as I said, it was woody and hard by the time it got to 4″ or 5″. Smaller fruit were bitter and did not hold well. Much of the fruit turned that weird purple-green color which I never saw with Ichiban or any of the other eggplants I’ve ever grown.

    Some of that may have been caused by growth habit, I don’t know. What I DO know is that whatever that plant was last year was absolutely worthless.

    Normally I don’t buy plants, I start my own seed. But last year we moved at the end of June (halfway across the country) so I had to buy, and this year I have had health issues that precluded getting my seeds started on time – so I had to buy again.

    Fortunately a local nursery had several varieties of eggplant not available from the Big Boxes (who only carry Bonnie plants for vegetables and herbs) so at least I’m not limited to one giant Italian type (which btw was quite good but was improperly marked so I have no idea what it actually was) and the faux Ichiban I was stuck with last year.

    None of the nursery grown plants, BTW, were labeled “Ichiban”. One is labeled “Little Fingers” and the plant really didn’t look that good – sort of stunted looking – but it was the only one of that type so I bought it anyway. If it fails, I won’t blame the variety. It’s in a container. We’ll see how it does.

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  5. I live in Central Wisconsin. All the greenhouses around here, even Amish, offer Ichiban. The tag says it. Have the rights sold?
    Thank you,
    Warren Przyrowski

    • No, the rights still have not been sold. Similar to the situation with Bonnie plants, you are being sold something that is similar to Ichiban Hybrid rather than Ichiban.

  6. Pingback: Who Owns Who? Where and How Monsanto Has Their Sticky Little Fingers In the Home Garden Seed Industry | Horticulture Talk!

  7. It irks me that Monsanto does this, but thanks for the info. Allows me to have to go find new faves because I don’t want to support Monsanto’s evil ways.

  8. I have seeds that were saved from eggplants grown from plants that were labeled as Ichiban Dairyu. Are they of any value? Is it legal to use them or sell them, or should I throw them away?

    • Dairyu Eggplant is a hybrid eggplant. This means that seeds saved from your Dairyu fruits last year will not come back true this year. Hybrids have at least 2 or more varieties that were crossed to make the hybrid. Growing out seeds saved from the hybrid will result in plants and fruits that will show various combinations of the traits of all the varieties used to make the Dairyu cross.

      That aside, when it comes to seed selling, there are a number of aspects that come into play. First, anyone selling seeds is required by law to have a seed sellers license. The average cost of a license can range from 1000-25000/year, depending on the state and if you plan to sell seeds internationally. The particulars of what is involved to obtain a license and to abide by it vary from state to state, but at a bare minimum it requires having 10,000 plus seeds per variety just to get started, plus an association with a state-certified testing facility. Additionally, in this case, selling any seed that is a hybrid or plant patented is expressly against the law unless one has the permission of the vendor that creates the hybrid.

      If you are interested in growing the seeds for your own personal use, that is fine, but be aware that they will be similar but not necessarily identical to the Dairyu that you grew last year. But given the way the laws are, it is not under any circumstances allowable to sell the seed.

      I hope this information helps you out. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!

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