What Is A Cultivar?

In the world of gardening and horticulture, sometimes we use crazy, made-up sounding words like “cultivars” to describe what we’re talking about. What is a cultivar? We’re glad you asked.

What Is A Cultivar?

A “cultivar” is a plant with a specific variation that has been bred by humans. Another way to say it is: a cultivar is a plant that has to be bred with human intervention to maintain its crazy characteristics. 

When a plant breeder creates a new cultivar, they cross-breed parent plants and hope the offspring inherit the right stuff. Plant breeders have to use selective breeding techniques, such as controlled pollinations, grafting, tissue culture, cuttings, or cloning. The offspring of these plants are not likely to be true-to-seed, or carry the same mutations as the parent.  

When we write the name of a cultivar it has this format: Cercis canadensis “Flame Thrower” , or Fragaria × ananassa “Ruby June”

Cultivar Vs. Variety 

Varieties are different from cultivars, because unlike a cultivar (which requires human intervention), varieties will occur in nature, all on their own. These plants will produce true-to-seed offspring that have the same characteristics as the parents. 

For example, within the redbud trees, there are different varieties which grow in different forms. These include the typical form (canadensis), the shrubby form (mexicana), and compact form (texensis). Each of these trees occurs naturally, hence they are varieties. 

However, the redbud tree will not naturally occur with deep red-purple leaves. That is thanks to the work of Dennis Werner at NCSU, so a redbud with red-purple leaves is a cultivar. 

When writing a variety name, it will follow this format: Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima  

Cultivar Examples 

Here are some cultivar examples to inspire your next plant purchases! 

Cercis canadensis “Ruby Falls” 

Brassica oleracea “Romanesco” 

Syringa × hyacinthiflora ‘Lavender Lady’

Syringa × hyacinthiflora Lavender Lady | Barefoot Garden Design
Source Monrovia patent #1238

Want to know the best time of year to plant your favorite perennial cultivars? Check out our post on the best time to plant!