What’s the difference between Cultivars and Varieties?

It is important to use the right terms the right way (at least most of the time). Variety and cultivar are two terms often abused by gardeners and horticulturists.

Both are part of the scientific name. Both appear after the specific epithet (second term in a scientific name). Both refer to some unique characteristics of a plant. However, this is where many of the similarities end.

Varieties often occur in nature and most varieties are true to type. That means the seedlings grown from a variety will also have the same unique characteristic as the parent plant. For example, there is a white flowering plumeria that was found in nature. Its scientific name is Plumeria var.alba. The varietal term “alba” means white. If you were to germinate seed from this variety, most, if not all would also be white flowering.

Cultivars are not necessarily true to type. In fact, cultivar means “cultivated variety.”  Therefore, a cultivar was selected and cultivated by humans. Some cultivars originate as sports or mutations on plants. Other cultivars could be hybrids of two plants. To propagate true-to-type clones, many cultivars must be propagated vegetatively through cuttings, grafting, and even tissue culture. Propagation by seed usually produces something different than the parent plant.

Varieties and cultivars also have different naming conventions. A variety is always written in lower case and italicized. It also often has the abbreviation “var.” for variety preceding it. The first letter of a cultivar is capitalized and the term is never italicized. Cultivars are also surrounded by single quotation marks (never double quotation marks) or preceded by the abbreviation “cv.”. 

Can a plant have both a variety and a cultivar? Sure. One good example is Sunburst Honeylocust. Its scientific name is Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Sunburst’. The term “inermis” means without thorns and “Sunburst” refers to the bright golden spring leaf color.

In today’s world of horticulture, cultivars are planted and used more than varieties. Yet we often still refer to a type of plant species as a variety instead of what is actually is a cultivar. Let’s kick off the New Year by being more accurate and start using the term cultivar.

Year of Publication: 2008
Issue: IC-499( 2) — February 6, 2008
By Cindy Haynes, Department of Horticulture

The book Heliconia an Identification Guide by Fred Berry and W. John Kress offers formal definitions of the genus, species, cultivar, and variety. 

Cultivar registration is the responsibility of the appropriate International Registration Authority, for plumeria, this is The Plumeria Society of America, Inc. The Plumeria Place recognizes the registered cultivar name. Other names, if known, for the same cultivar will be listed aka (“also known as”). Unregistered cultivars and varieties will be listed in the manner deemed most appropriate.

Cultivar names must conform to certain naming conventions. They are traditionally enclosed in single quotes (apostrophes) e.g. ‘Blue’. They may not contain numbers or abbreviations unless those abbreviations are part of a recognized formal name. Certain words may not be used in cultivar names such as hybrid, variety, cross, seedling, form, etc.

Named Cultivars and Varieties

This list has not been updated. The omission of a name should indicate the information is incomplete rather than the non-existence of the cultivar or variety. The information presented is believed to be correct. In cases where we have some information, but lack bits and pieces here-and-there we indicate n/a meaning that this bit of information is not available at the present time.

Links will be added to the name linking to a picture and description of the variety.

(Note: This information is so incomplete). 

  • ‘Aztec Gold’
  • ‘Bill Moragne, Sr.’
  • ‘Carmen’
  • ‘Carter # 4’
  • ‘Celadine’, aka: ‘Common Yellow’, ‘Graveyard Yellow’, ‘Hawaiian Yellow’
  • ‘Cerise’
  • ‘Conch Shell’
  • ‘Courtade Pink’
  • ‘Cranberry Red’
  • ‘Cyndi Moragne’, aka: ‘Cindy Moragne’
  • ‘Daisy Wilcox’
  • ‘Dean Conklin’
  • ‘Donald Angus’, aka: ‘Donald Angus Red’
  • ‘Duke’
  • ‘Dwarf Singapore’
  • ‘Dwarf Singapore Pink’, aka: ‘Petite Pink’, ‘Pink Singapore’
  • ‘Edi Moragne’
  • ‘Elena’
  • ‘Espinda’
  • ‘Giant Plastic Pink’
  • ‘Gold’, aka: ‘Peterson’s Yellow’
  • ‘Grove Farm’
  • ‘Hausten White’, aka: ‘Willows White’
  • ‘Heidi’, aka: ‘Pure Gold’
  • ‘Hilo Beauty’
  • ‘Iolani’
  • ‘India ‘
  • ‘Intense Rainbow’
  • ‘Irma Bryan’
  • ‘J.L. Bridal White’, aka: ‘Compact White’
  • ‘J.L. Pink Pansy’
  • ‘J.L. Trumpet’
  • ‘Japanese Lantern’, aka: ‘Flower Basket’
  • ‘Jean Moragne’, aka: ‘Jean Moragne, Sr.’, ‘Moragne # 9’
  • ‘Jeannie Moragne’, aka: ‘Jean Moragne’, ‘Jean Moragne, Jr.’
  • ‘Julie Moragne’
  • ‘Kaneohe Sunburst’
  • ‘Katie Moragne’
  • ‘Kauka Wilder’
  • ‘Keiki’, aka: ‘Miniature Lavender’
  • ‘Kimi Moragne’
  • ‘Kimo’
  • ‘King Kalakaua’, aka: ‘Miniature White’
  • ‘Kona Hybrid # 26’
  • ‘Lei Rainbow’
  • ‘Loretta’
  • ‘Lurline’
  • ‘Madame Poni’, aka: ‘Corkscrew’, ‘Curly Holt’, ‘Star’, ‘Waianae Beauty’
  • ‘Mango Blush’
  • ‘Mary Moragne’
  • ‘Maui Beauty’, aka: ‘Manoa Beauty’
  • ‘Mela Matson’
  • ‘Mele Pa Bowman’, aka: ‘Evergreen Singapore Yellow’, ‘Yellow Singapore’
  • ‘Moir’
  • ‘Moragne # 27’
  • ‘Moragne # 93’
  • ‘Moragne # 106’
  • ‘Nebel’s Rainbow’
  • ‘Pauahi Alii’, aka: ‘Angus Gold’, ‘Donald Angus Gold’
  • ‘Paul Weissich’
  • Penang Peach
  • ‘Peachglow Shell’
  • ‘Peppermint’
  • ‘Pinwheel Rainbow’
  • ‘Plastic Pink’, aka: ‘Royal Hawaiian’
  • ‘Puu Kahea’, aka: ‘Fiesta’, ‘O’Sullivan’
  • ‘Reddish Moragne’
  • ‘Ruffles’
  • ‘Sally Moragne’
  • ‘Samoan Fluff’, aka: ‘Tahitian White’
  • ‘Schmidt Red’
  • ‘Scott Pratt’, aka: ‘Kahala’
  • ‘Sherman’, aka: ‘Polynesian White’
  • ‘Singapore’
  • ‘Slaughter Pink’
  • ‘Sunshine’
  • ‘Thornton Lemon’
  • ‘Thornton Lilac’
  • ‘Tillie Hughes’
  • ‘Tomlinson’, aka: ‘Tomlinson Pink’
  • ‘White Shell’
  • ‘Yellow Shell’

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