ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

They keep talking about species, variety, cultivar and hybrids and I don't know what they mean!

Updated on January 24, 2014

First thing first - Let's talk about names!

Flowers in a flower kiosk in the street.
Flowers in a flower kiosk in the street. | Source

What are common names and scientific names?

Common names of plants are what we use every day, like roses or orchids, or watermelon or peas. For everyday use they are perfectly fine.

Nevertheless, these names change from place to place even if the language is the same. Sometimes you will find that nobody knows what you are talking about and even take offence (i.e. papaya is a bad word in some Latin-American countries).

Scientific names are unique for every plant and they mean the same thing in any country or language. You would not use them in everyday talk, but if you are trying to buy seeds online or are trying to post in a forum looking for advice they may come pretty handy.

Citrullus lanatus is the scientific name for the watermelon.


How are scientific names formed?

First thing first: scientific names are formed by two words: the genus and the species. It is referred to as binomial nomenclature.

Species is unique for each plant. It´s like it was their first name.

A genus is not specific, it includes of a number similar organisms. Think about genus as the last name or family name of the plant.

And remember this: when saying a scientific name you must start always with the last name.

Scientific Name = Genus + species

The second important thing to know is the writing conventions for scientific names:

  • They usually are written in italics or in a different typography to stand out within a text.
  • The Genus starts with Uppercase letters.
  • The species starts with lowercase letters.
  • It is always written in Latin.

Geranium sanguineum var. Striatum


Who made the rules?

The rules for giving the scientific names to plants or animals are in the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants. If you are interested I’ve included some links at the end.

The variety. A third name into the mix.

Sometimes a plant from the same species is different enough to receive its own name. This usually happens with plants that were genetically enhanced to improve some attribute or eliminate another.

The rules for variety are:

Before the variety name, the word var. should appear.

  • The Variety name starts with Uppercase leters.

  • The name of the plant is then:

    Genus + species + var. + Variety.


Prunus cerasus var. Aviumor wild cherry tree

Prunus cerasus var. Cerasusor Morello cherry tree

Both are varieties of cherry trees of the species cerasus.

Rose "Life Lines" Cultivar


What is the difference between Variety and Cultivar

And then there’s the cultivar, which it’s also different

Cultivar comes from “cultivated variety” and it means that a human being worked on the plant to improve it through selective reproduction by seed selection, plant cuttings, mixing varieties and other human led processes. (Not by genetic meddling though).

That’s the reason why they usually carry the name of the person who took that much care to grow them.

Note: To be truly considered a cultivar, the plant must have particular characteristics and they must be passed generation to generation.

Cultivar names must:

  • Be written in any language but Latin.

  • Must start with an Uppercase letter.

  • If they are written in the company of the scientific name, they must be between quotation marks or preceded by the term cv.

x Laeliocattleya

Laeliocattleya is an hybrid between orchids Cattleya Lindl.  × Laelia Lindl.
Laeliocattleya is an hybrid between orchids Cattleya Lindl. × Laelia Lindl. | Source

Scientific Names of Plants Quiz

view quiz statistics

And finally: Hybrids

Sometimes two genetically different plants interbreed and may have descendants. If their descendants can reproduce by themselves they are called hybrids, regardless if they had human interaction or occurred in nature.

Rules for forming hybrids’ names:

The naming of hybrids is like a multiplication of the two plants’ scientific names, in alphabetic order.

Scientific Name x Scientific Name

For example a grapefruit:

Citrus x paradisi

However, you can find that an hybrid may be given its own species name, although it will be preceded by the multiplication sign. (x).

For example, lemons, that are a product of C.medica and C.aurantium or of Citrus medica and Citrus x aurantiifolia.

Citrus x Limon

And there is an alternative notation that gives you a pretty compact name by combining the genus of the two plants that formed the hybrid.

They must follow the multiplication sign. For example, May’s flower (a type of orchid) is:

x Laeliocattleya

If the hybrid is a human creation the name will be given in accordance with the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants

If the hybrid occurs in nature, the name will be given according to the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants.

There you have it! With this guide you will have a better idea of how scientific names are formed.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)