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A Plant's A Plant, Right? Cultivars, Straight Species, Ecotypes, and Maximizing Your Garden's Ecological Value - Wild Roots
Okay, so you’ve decided to add some native plants to your yard, or maybe even a lot.? Great!? But then you roll up to the garden center, start browsing the selection, and wind up glued to your phone, engaged in endless plant species Google searches and more confused than ever. If you’re lucky enough that your garden center even carries more than a handful of natives, you should just buy them, right?? A native plant’s a native plant, isn’t it? I’m sorry to say that it’s not quite that easy. As with anything else, there are folks that will passionately argue about some of these topics at length. In this post, I just want to try to make things a bit simpler for you. What’s a Cultivar? First things first: If you’re buying a native plant at a big box garden center or even at many independent garden centers, there’s a really good chance you’re buying a cultivar.? That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but here’s what you should know.? Cultivars (a portmanteau of ‘cultivated variety’) are almost always clones, sometimes of a naturally occurring variety of a plant and sometimes of a hybridized or selectively bred specimen.? The alternative would be a ‘straight species’ plant, which you could call the garden variety plant. You can tell that it’s a cultivar if it has an extra name attached. The plant with the common name of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) has a number of commercially available cultivars, such as the very popular Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace.’? At a lot of the big garden centers, you’ll be more likely to find this cultivar than the straight species.? The cultivar name will be in English as opposed to Latin, must be included in the label, and it comes after the scientific name in single quotes.? Sometimes you’ll also see the term ‘nativar,’ which is simply a cultivar of a native species. There are also intellectual property implications of cultivars.? If I work to develop a cultivar of a certain species and there are good commercial prospects, I can name it something like Echinacea purpurea ‘Tim’s Choice,’ and you wouldn’t be able to propagate that variety without paying me a licensing fee.? It may seem strange to have intellectual property rights over a living thing, but that’s how the system works. The benefit of cultivars is that you know exactly what you’re getting.? They’re…