Q&A: Trade Names vs. Cultivar Names

I noticed plants’ cultivar names are sometimes in quotation marks and sometimes not. Is this a typo or does it signify something?

Answer: Cultivars are variations of a plant species. They may begin as chance seedlings in a garden or in the wild or they may result from deliberate breeding in a nursery. Either way they are selected, brought into a propagation program and named. The cultivar name is the last part of a plant name; in Buxus sempervirens ‘Vardar Valley’, ‘Vardar Valley’ is the cultivar name. Another example is Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’.

The latest addition to the plant name lexicon is the trade designation, or selling, name. This is a more attractive or easily remembered name used for marketing purposes. The plant will also have a true cultivar name, often unpronouncable or resembling some sort of code. Often the cultivar name indicates a plant’s origin. For example, in the name Clematis Wisley (‘Evipo001’), the cultivar name itself is a kind of code in which ‘Evi’ identifies the breeder, Raymond Evison. In Rosa Gertrude Jekyll (‘Ausbord’) the cultivar name similarly reveals that David Austin is the breeder.

For selling purposes these plants assume the more user-friendly trade designations Wisley and Gertrude Jekyll, which are never set in single quotes. Such names may also be registered as trademarks, so that sellers can only sell the plants under the trade names with permission from the trademark owner. True cultivar names, meanwhile, cannot be trademarked and are free for anyone’s use.

Read more about plant names

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