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What is a Cultivar?

Esther Brueggemeier

So with all this talk about cultivars, well, what the heck are we talking about? That's a good question but it's not quite as complicated as it may seem.

There was a smart cookie named L. H. Bailey back in 1923 who coined the name "cultivar". This simply being a shortened name for cultivated varieties. The name stuck.

According to the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority, " . . .by cultivated plants is meant plants raised in cultivation which differ sufficiently from their wild ancestors or, if taken into cultivation from the wild, are worthy enough of distinction from wild populations for horticultural purposes to merit special names."

In other words, a plant is specifically chosen because of its excellent garden qualities, whether that be, among other things, its great form, foliage or flower. These plants are also of a high quality that must stand out as different enough from their wild parents.

Acacia leprosa 'Scarlet Blaze'
The cultivar Acacia leprosa 'Scarlet Blaze' produces red flowers whereas the normal colour for this species is yellow
Photo: Brian Walters

Cultivars must be maintained by the use of cuttings to produce stable, repeatable forms.

Plants that can be included as cultivars are:

  • Hybrids - deliberate or accidental. A hybrid is the result of crossing two plant species.
  • Natural mutations - from the wild or home garden.
    • A plant's genetic component can change to such a degree, for instance, that it produces a complete new colour.
    • A 'sport' - A natural process where a branch or single flower grows differently from the rest of the plant.
  • Variants from wild species - including wild hybrids.

Horticultural breeding of Australian plants has developed some fabulous new garden plants and continues to do so.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Acacia Study Group, March 2008.

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Australian Plants online - 2008
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants