Cultivar Is A Cultivated Variety

Most cultivars need to be cloned.

A plant ‘variety’ is a group within a species that exhibits distinguishing characteristics. A ‘cultivar’ is simply a cultivated variety. The first five letters of ‘cultivated’ merged with the first three letters of ‘variety’ to form the word ‘cultivar’. A variety should be self perpetuating to some degree, and may be naturally occurring. A cultivar perpetuates by unnatural means, and would go extinct otherwise.

Of course, the distinction between variety and cultivar is not always so obvious. Varieties of nasturtium were selected from plants that displayed desirable qualities. Seed of these varieties grows into plants that display the same qualities. However, without continued selection, some varieties eventually revert to a more feral state in only a few generation. They are not truly self perpetuating.

Most hybrid tomatoes are unable to perpetuate themselves naturally. Their seed is either not viable, or is very genetically variable. Genetically variable seed grows into plants that are very unlikely to produce fruit that is comparable to that which produced their own seed. Nonetheless, hybrid tomatoes grown from original (primary generation) seed are generally varieties rather than cultivars.

The distinction might be that they grow from seed. A plant that is cloned rather than grown from seed is a cultivar. Cloned plants can be grown from cutting, layering or grafting onto understock, but are genetically identical to the original. Some rare camellias grown now are genetically identical copies of original cultivars that were developed centuries ago. Their seed would not be the same.

Some cultivars developed from selective breeding. Others were random but appealingly distinctive plants in the wild or even in landscapes. Many originated as ‘sports’, which are mutant growths of otherwise normal plants. For example, some plants, on rare occasion, produce stems with variegated foliage. Cuttings taken from such variegated stems became popular variegated cultivars.

Seed from a variegated cultivar is very unlikely to produce more variegated plants.