This is another of those slightly confusing
points when it comes to the classification system for plants. As
usual, there is a technical/scientific definition and then there is
the way terms are used by the gardening public.
The confusion comes in the usage of the terms
Variety and Cultivar. Often, the average gardener uses these terms
interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. Technically, they
are quite different. A variety, often called a botanical variety,
refers to a naturally occurring change in a wild population of a
For example, in the olden days, honeylocust
trees all had nasty, sharp thorns. Then one day, someone was walking
through the woods or nursery and saw a honeylocust tree that did not
have the thorns. They took some seeds or cuttings and starting
growing this oddball plant which, being thornless, is much more
desirable for home landscapes.
The genus and species for honeylocust is
Gleditsia triacanthos. The thornless variety is named Gleditsia triacanthos var.
inermis. The term inermis
means thornless. Notice that the abbreviation var. for variety is
not italicized nor would it be underlined if hand written. It may
also be dropped from the name so it could be listed merely as
Gleditsia triacanthos inermis.
When many people use the term "variety" when
talking about their landscape plants, what they are really talking
about is the "cultivar". This term refers to a cultivated variety.
It implies that human beings took a plant that varies from the
species i.e. a botanical variety, and have cultivated and propagated
it in the nursery. While it is true that some of these plant
variations did, in fact, occur in the wild, most of them come about
through controlled hybridizing or selections of nursery grown
A cultivar name is always capitalized and
enclosed by single quotation marks. For example, Hosta 'Gold
Standard' would be the correct form. In some cases, the entire
species name is includes such as in Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans'.
Once the fact that the plant you are talking about is a hosta by
previous reference nearby in the document, you can refer to the
plant as simply, H. 'Gold Standard'. However, if you are also
Helleborus at the same
time, it should be Hosta 'Gold Standard' to avoid confusion.
Schmid (1991) identified 16 significant
botanical varieties or forms of hostas. These plants represent
slight deviations from the species type that were found in the wilds
of Japan, Korea or China. A form or forma is a slight variation of a
botanical variety. Who knows, someday in the future, a taxonomist
might declare one or more of them to actually be new species. Stay
Botanical varieties or forms (in Latin,
forma) defined by Schmid (1991) include:
Another area of confusion sometimes occurs when
using the term clones. Clones are plants that have been reproduced
asexually through cuttings, divisions or
and not from
seed. They are simply pieces of the original plant and are
genetically the same plant even though there may be tens of
thousands of them in gardens around the world.
Clones can be a cultivar but not all cultivars
originate as clones. Many cultivars come about as the result of
cross breeding plants and growing them from seeds. These seedlings
will contain genetic variations from the parent plants and are,
therefore, not clones. Of course, once a seedling is selected and
named as a cultivar, it will be propagated by asexual means and the
resulting plants are all clones of the original seedling plant. Hope
that isn't too confusing.
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Each plant genus has rules for what constitutes
an acceptable cultivar name. The American Hosta Society follows the
International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP)
guidelines when it comes to approving names for new cultivars being
registered. These guidelines are very detailed and deal with such
items as proper formats, types of words to used in a name,
words and a bunch of other factors. In the end, the goal is to
have a single, unique and non-confusing name for a particular hosta.
As you get more familiar with the world of
hostas, you will notice that certain cultivar names will seem very
similar. They may all contain a key word or follow a distinctive
pattern. Certain hybridizers or cultivar originators like to have a
"brand" name associated with their introductions. These "Series"
hostas account for a large number of the cultivars available today.
Perhaps the most common one is the "Lakeside" Series of hostas
Mary Chastain of Tennessee who introduced over 180
cultivars almost all with the first name Lakeside.
Zilis (2009) compiled the following list of
Series hostas. Note that, in a few cases, one person may have the
vast majority of cultivars in a Series but other hybridizers may
have named a cultivar or two that also use the key word involved.
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