What’s in a Name?


Be warned, this is a bit longer than usual posts but it is an important subject when you start to collect plants.
People are often intimidated or put off by botanical names for plants but there are very good reasons to use the correct names.
Taxonomy is the classification of plants, the binomial system gives plants 2 names. For example Tillandsia neglecta; Tillandsia is it’s genus name and neglecta it’s species name. All Tillandsia will have certain characteristics in common- similar to it’s surname and it’s species is like your first name, it is what makes it special and different from other Tillandsia. When species are pollinated with others of the same species the seeds will grow into other plants of the same species.
Where it can get confusing is when we also use cultivar names for hybrids or particular forms of plants. The Bromeliad Society International keeps a registrar of cultivar names, a cultivar is a recognizable, unique and stable form of a plant that has been registered with a particular name. A plant breeder may make a hybrid by cross pollinating 2 plants, for example Tillandsia xerographica x brachycaulos. They then grow on the seedlings and select ones with particular characteristics, these can be reproduced asexually, in the form of pups usually for Tillandsia and once a stable form is found it can be registered with a cultivar name, for our example above Tillandsia Betty is a registered cultivar of xerographica x brachycaulos.
As a seller and grower of Tillandsias I can make my own crosses of xerographica and brachycaulos but I can only call it Tillandsia Betty if the plant has been asexually reproduced, either from pups or tissue culture, from the original registered Tillandsia Betty.
Where it gets even more confusing is when people use ‘nursery names’ there are often plants with particular desirable characteristics that will be given a name that is not a registered cultivar name. For example I often get requests for Tillandsia tectorum ‘Fuzzy Giant’. Tectorum is a fabulous plant with fluffy looking leaves, there are some forms that are particularly big and fuzzy and so these forms are asexually propagated and sold under the name fuzzy giant. However this isn’t a registered cultivar so one Fuzzy Giant may not be the same as others from another source.
There are many Tillandsias which have lots of forms of a species, we have lots of different kinds of Tillandsia stricta with different leaf types and flowers sizes and colours, where we don’t have formal parentage of these plants as being a cultivar we will refer to them by a descriptive form, T. stricta stiff, erect leaf form. This is purely so we can differentiate them and show our customers the different types without trying to add on a registered cultivar name that isn’t correct.

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