Shakespeare's Juliet said, "What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet...". 

Well, Mr PGC might say, "What's in a name? That which we call a hosta By many different names...smells rotten!"

For most of its history, the genus, Hosta, has be rife with confusion, changes and misunderstandings regarding the names of species and cultivars. In the early days, the genus was considered to be part of Hemerocallis (Daylily) probably due to the lily like flowers and later it became Funkia after a botanist, Heinrich Funk. Finally, they settled on naming this leafy plant after another botanist, Nicholas Host.

With all these changes at the genus level, it is no wonder that there was so much confusion in naming species and cultivars. Fortunately, over the past few decades, great strides have been made to make the naming of hostas both systematic and understandable to the average gardener.

Here are some topics which may help you understand the ins and outs of Hosta Registration:

Even though there are 5460 registered hostas (as of the end of 2014), Mark Zilis estimates that there are another 3,000 to 4,000 that are named but not registered with The American Hosta Society. This situation can lead to a lot of confusion when it comes to the home gardener selecting plants for the landscape.

What commonly happens is person "A" and person "B" each name a different plant and label it something like H. 'PGC Galore'. Person "A" is a friendly type and gives his/her plant to several dozen people who label it and put it in their gardens. Being nice people also, they begin sharing the plant with their friends and relatives. Maybe the local garden center likes the plant and starts to sell a few hundred of them. So, in a couple of years, this giant size, green leaf plant with yellow marginal variegation bearing the name H. 'PGC Galore' is spread all over the place.

In the meantime, "B" watches his blue-green leafed, miniature size seedling with a white medial (center) variegation grow in his/her garden for 5 years making sure that it is stable as a mature mound. Then, "B" completes the proper paper work to register this hosta with the AHS. From that moment on, the name H. 'PGC Galore' belongs to this plant and no other. "A" has lost the opportunity to use that name and all those giant size plants in gardens throughout America are now incorrectly named and the source of confusion.

This problem gets even more messy when "A", "B" and "C" each give three different names to what is actually the exact same plant. Sometimes this is just a coincidence but there are cases where people have consciously renamed the same plant to take advantage of profits to be made from its sale. Is it any wonder why many people have difficulty keeping all these cultivar names straight?

To address these problems so that the gardening public, plant hybridizers and commercial nurseries can be more confident in the names on their plants, actions were finally taken by hosta enthusiasts i.e. Hostaphiles.

With the increased interest in hostas, there became a need for an organization to promote enjoyment of the plant and to cater to the needs of hosta people. In response to this situation, The American Hosta Society was created in 1968. At the same time, the International Cultivar Registration Authority for the Genus Hosta was established and based at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Mervin C. Eisel acted as the first Registrar and in the fifteen years of his tenure, only 285 new hosta cultivars were submitted for registration. He was succeeded by David Stevenson who served from 1992 to 2001 when the University of Minnesota decided to stop supporting this service. At that point,  former AHS president, Dr. Jim Wilkins was appointed and served through 2005 when another former AHS president, Kevin P. Walek took on the job which he held through 2015. Gayle Hartley Alley became the Registrar in 2016.

Over this time, the number of hosta cultivars being registered has climbed dramatically. As mentioned, the first 15 years saw a total of 285 new registrations but this rose to over 300 per year during Jim Wilkins' tenure. As of the end of 2014, Kevin Walek reported that there were 5,460 registered hosta cultivars.

According to The American Hosta Society regarding the registration process, "The goal is to eliminate confusion and to compile as complete a record as possible of all Hosta cultivars." In other words, the purpose of having a registry is simply to gather detailed information about all cultivars so that people can more easily tell the difference between them when choosing hostas for their landscapes or their hybridizing program.

A common misconception is that registration is a type of "approval" process where someone judges whether a cultivar is worthy of being named and introduced into the nursery trade. This is not the case. It is not the registrar's role to determine if a cultivar is truly unique from other hostas, has stabilized variegation or is an improvement to hostas that already exist.

The registrar's role is to collect the proper information on the cultivar and to determine if it is in conformance with the rules of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. These organizations have set up standards for what may be used for names of plants and the format which must be used. For example, if the hosta is to be named for a person such as H. 'Mary Roe', the applicant must get the written permission of Ms Roe or her estate if deceased.

To put a cultivar forward for registration, you will need to fill out a form describing the plant in detail, include pictures that are representative of the plant and (currently) a check for $5.00.

For the most up to date information on this process, please take a look at the Hosta Registry website.

Of course, name problems in the plant world are not exclusive to hostas. The botanists got together long ago and created the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) to give rules on naming new genera and species that were discovered in the wild.

The ICBN was fine for newly discovered plants but there became a need to have separate rules for naming those plants created under cultivation in horticulture or agriculture. So, in 1952, the first edition of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) was issued. It has gone through several revisions and new additions over the years to help to formulate a unified system for naming new cultivars of plants such as hostas.

Copyright © 2000 -