Sunday, November 4, 2018

What's In A Name? Varieties, Cultivars, Hybrids, Patents and Trademarks - Part Two - A guest post by Christine Wegman


This article continues Christine's discussion on botantical nomenclature. See Part 1 here  Your comments are welcome!

Last month I wrote about identifying a plant’s genus and species, which is always in Latin and italicized, or underlined if handwritten.  This month’s article is about the rest of the name, or that part that identifies it more specifically.  In botanical nomenclature we always go from the largest to the smallest, or most specific.  Think of the Latin binomial (two-part) name as the family name and the rest as the given name.  Varieties and cultivars are all more specific epithets (names) than genus and species.

Varieties are naturally occurring types of plants that will usually come true from seed.  Varieties are denoted by listing the genus and species followed by the abbreviation “var.” and then the Latin varietal name.  For example the large leaved white false indigo is denoted:  Baptisia alba var. macrophylla.  (Note var. is not italicized.) 

Cultivars, that is cultivated varieties, are plants produced by selective breeding.  They will usually not come true from seed.  Most of the ornamental plants in our gardens are cultivars because, over time, plants have been bred for improved hardiness, disease resistance, beauty, etc.  New cultivars are officially registered by the breeder through a number of different horticultural organizations.  The American Rose Society, for example, is the official registrar for all new rose cultivars.  As a general rule, the name of a cultivar is placed after the genus and species, is enclosed in single quotation marks, and is not italicized or underlined:  Camellia japonica ‘April Blush’. 

Hybrids are plants produced by crossing two or more plants, sometimes within the same species, sometimes between two or more different species.  There are a few different ways to designate hybrids. 

1)     Hybrids occurring within a single species are usually denoted with the genus and species followed by the plant’s specific (cultivar) name, such as Camellia japonica ‘April Blush’.

2)     Complex hybrids between two or more species are designated by simply dropping the species name.  Camellia ‘Winter Star’, for example, is a hybrid of Camellia oleifera and Camellia hiemalis.  

3)     In some cases, a hybrid becomes its own species.  A good  example is  the hybrid holly, Ilex x aquipernyi. It is a cross between I. aquifolium (English holly) and I. peryi (Perny holly).  The “x” before the species name denotes that it is a hybrid species.  The popular Dragon Lady holly is a cultivar of Ilex x aquipernyi ‘. 

A plant patent is government license conferring an exclusive marketing right for 20 years to an inventor who has discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber.  (There are other types of patents that apply to seed reproduction, and they those are used for such things as edible crops and turfgrass.)  The first plant patent was granted in 1931 for a rose, and since then more than 27,000 plant patents have been granted.  Generally, plant patents are granted using the official registered name of the cultivar. 

A plant trademark is a legal monopoly on a name for a particular cultivar, but it is not the official name of the cultivar.  Trademarks are designated with the symbol TM or a circled R.  While plant patents are limited to 20 years, trademarks do not have an expiration date.  Patents protect the plant; trademarks protect the name.  Thus, in theory, even when the patent protection expires, the breeder will still own the marketing name of the plant. 

Increasingly, as breeders seek the additional -- trademark -- protection for their patented introductions, official cultivar names have become nonsensical.  New holly and rose introductions usually have names that begin with the first three letters of the breeders last name.  The Dragon Lady holly’s official name is ‘Meschick’, incorporating breeder Kathleen Meserve’s last name into the official cultivar name.  Dragon Lady is the marketing name.  ‘Meschick’ is not really a name that will catch a potential customer’s fancy, so although the patent on this plant expired in 2003, Ms. Meserve still owns the name, Dragon Lady.  That means, if you want a Dragon Lady holly, you will get the plant that is licensed by Ms. Meserve; however, if you want the actual plant, ‘Meschick’, under any name you might be able to get it a little less expensively. 

Let’s take as another example the beautiful rose, Scepter’d Isle, introduced by David Austin in 1996.  It is registered with the American Rose Society, under the name, Rosa ‘Ausland’, and this is its official name.   Austin applied for and in 1999 was granted a patent for Rosa ‘Ausland’.  He also applied for and was granted a trademark for the name Scepter’d Isle, by which the rose is generally known.  Like the Dragon Lady holly, you will probably look for a Scepter’d Isle rose and not an ‘Ausland’ rose, so David Austin has, in fact, continued to protect his plant even though the patent has expired. 

The Missouri Botanical Garden lists this rose as:  Rosa ‘Ausland’ SCEPTER’D ISLE.  Rosa, the genus name is italicized; ‘Ausland’ the official cultivar name is enclosed in single quotation marks; and SCEPTER’D ISLE, the trademark name is capitalized.  There is no official rule about how to designate a trademark name, although they are most often designated in all capital letters.  But, since they are not the official cultivar name, they are never enclosed in single quotation marks. 

There is no escaping that the world of plant nomenclature is a confusing business.  Talk to most nurserymen and they are likely to respond with rolled eyes and complaints.  Plant taxonomists, those who group and organize plants into categories, often add to the confusion by retroactively renaming genus and species.  A few years ago, most chrysanthemums were renamed Dendranthema.  Loud cries of anguish went up and the name eventually was changed back to Chrysanthemum.  In the end, the best way to find the correct botanical name of a plant is to look it up on the Internet.  Simply enter the search term, “botanical name for …” and you will usually find the answer. 

Christine Wegman is a Rock Spring Garden Club member in National Capital Area Garden Clubs' District III.  She is one of the go-to 'hort' experts in her club. Christine and her husband, Charlie Flicker, are avid and generous gardeners and have cultivated a delightful garden (for any season) in Arlington, Virginia. 

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