What is a cultivar? with Barslund Judd

February 14, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Are plant apps helpful for identifying plants in your garden? Any you would recommend?

There are too many to name them all, and none of them are perfect. We mentioned the Ask an Expert option with MSU Extension, where you can send in pictures of plants and get an educator to identify them, but if you want to know the run down of plant apps out there and which one takes the cake, this MSU Extension article compares several in their ability to identify common plants you might find out and about, and is a good starting point for identifying the more accurate ones: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/plant-identification-theres-an-app-for-that-actually-several

2. There were quite a few questions about Native Plants and how to know if something is native. That topic went beyond the scope of this webinar (and could be a webinar series all in itself!) but here are a few places to get started:


Video Transcript

Welcome everybody to Cabin Fever Conversations. We are Abby and Isabel and we're coming to you from the occasionally sunny, but lately it's been mostly gray. Lansing, Michigan. Were both educators with MSU Extension. Isabel and I are both based in Mid-Michigan though this program, we have folks coming from all over the state and even some non-'Ganders (as in "Michiganders!") joining us as well. So welcome everybody. We've started this series in 2020 as a response to the social isolation that many folks were feeling at the start of the pandemic. Now almost two years later, we find ourselves in a pretty similar situation. So we're back with Cabin Fever Conversations again this year. These are centered around lighthearted conversations with the goal of getting you some joy, enthusiasm and connection, sharing that over gardening in lighthearted conversations. We will have about 30 to 40 minutes of a guided conversation with our speaker. And that will be followed by a chance to answer some of your questions. You can ask questions at anytime using the Q & A feature, we'll try to get to as many questions as possible, but we will follow up with an email afterwards with additional resources, information to continue your own learning. And so here, like last year, we also have ASL interpretation and have enabled live captions. If you want to adjust the location of the captions, you can drag the text box around. To turn them off. You can click on the little carrot icon next to live transcript and hit "Hide Subtitle". So with that, I'm going to introduce our guestspeaker today who like Abby said, is joining us from behind the scenes. Now. he's in front of the camera with us. Barslund Judd, and Barslund is a consumer and horticulture educator based out of Flint, Michigan. And for today's session we're talking about "what is a cultivar?" which is kind of our way of saying that we are going to kind of dissect plant names today and to try to make more sense of those. So Barslund, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for making sense of the wild world of plant names and taxonomy. Yeah, thanks for having me. It's a fun topic. Yeah, yeah, so term that we usually use to describe how we named plants as "binomial nomenclature". So I was wondering if you could start us off by talking about what binomial nomenclature is and why we use it. It sounds really fancy when you say binomial nomenclature, you'll see, hear people say like Latin name, as well, or Latin binomial. One of the ways I like to think of a Latin binomial is it's kind of like the equivalent of ID number for something, right? You go to the library and the library has one specific number for each book. Or a driver's license has a specific ID, per person. So Latin binomials kinda give us a way to classify things in biology, in nature with plants. So there, there are a whole lot of different kind of quirks to it that are fun to learn about. But it's kind of the difference of...If I use a common plant name, then that's a name that might be regional, It might be specific to a certain culture. But if I go somewhere else it might be different. While binomial nomenclature gives us like that single ID that's attached to a plant that in theory is the same everywhere all over the world. Okay. So like a universal identification? Yeah. Yeah. It helps us kind of classify how plants are related. And also it kind of gives us a structure to where to place the plants as far as relations to one another. Got it! Appreciate that. I know when we were talking about preparing for this webinar, this is all very new language for me, and I also appreciate your very colorful shirt as a way of jazzing up this very technical topic sometimes. So maybe you can explain a little bit. I know you said part of the magic of this is the universality of it. Ideally, you could call something by its binomial culture here or in another country, and that would be a universally understood language. Can you share more about why we use this nomenclature when it comes to plants? So one of the really handy things about it, the way binomial nomenclature structured and the reason we call it binomial. So "bi" is Latin for two, is that we have the genus at the beginning, which is a little bit like a first-name. Specific epithet, that's a little bit like a last name. Together. Those make the specific or those make a species name. So one of the examples that I like to use a lot is Canis. So Canis is that group that they call a genus of wolves and dogs, right? So both of them have that same first part. And that way we know that they're related. So you've got Canis familiaris, which is your your typical dog. And then you've got Canis lupus, which is the wolf. So we can tell that those two are fairly closely related just by looking at the first part of that Latin binomial. Okay? And so when it comes to, to plants, I know sometimes that can be some confusion. Especially when it comes to things like common names. So, you know, do you have any examples of how that can be confusing and why and why we need this universal terminology? So, one of the geniuses that I really like, and everyone hears me talk about it way too much is. Rudbeckia And that's the genus for the Black Eyed Susan. And so you can go to some places and there are different species of Rudbeckia . And people might call all of those species Black Eyed Susan is right because that's just the common language that people will use. People might also call them cone flowers. And that's where it gets a little bit confusing as well. Because if you're familiar with Echinacea Echinacea purpurea it's used a lot in pollinator gardens. It's that pretty purple flower with a super spiky center. And so commonly they'll call those cone flowers. So it can be really confusing because Rudbeckia And Echinacea are actually in the same family, but they're not super closely-related. They're in two separate genus' So using that Latin binomial kind of lets us communicate more specifically. And that can be really important when it comes to plant care in determining what we actually have. I remember Laurie, who's behind the scenes, and I when we first started working together, went out to a field day and we were identifying weeds. And I walked by weed and I called it one thing and she called it another thing. And then we argued for a few minutes and we realized we were talking about the same plant, but we were using common names. That the common name I was using was specific to the region of Virginia where I was like where I was previously. And for Laurie, she was basing that on the common name for where she grew up. So it's kind of interesting, I mean, even between people who work in the plant industry or horticulture, agriculture will have these different common names and we have to occasionally go "oh, wait! We're talking about the same plant!" Or are we talking about different things? And just different. Yeah, I remember having that conversation with Lamb's Quarter which where I first started farming. There is a large Greek population and they used a totally different name. And then it took us awhile to figure out that what they were looking for was this thing that I also knew about versus having that kind of universal language where everyone can speak the same. So you shared a little bit about the example with dogs and wolves and how that binomial nomenclature are allowed you to, allows us to understand relationships. Where does that come into play with plants? So how can these scientific names help us make sense of relationships between plants? Well, so it's kind of structured the same way. So we've got the family and then the genus and then specific species underneath that. So if you were to lay it all out on a chart, we can see that things like Rudbeckia and Echinacea are in the same general group right there in the same family, which is the Aster family. And then when you go down further, you can see that they're not closely enough related that they would probably cross. So when you start getting into like the same genus, then there's a possibility for those plants also be able to hybridize. Which gets really interesting, um, but, but further up that relation, they might have similar features. So between all of those plants I compared and sunflowers, they actually have these small florets. So when you look at it really close, like on a sunflower. Every little seed has its own floret and it makes up this compound flower. And so that's a feature of asters and plants in the aster family. So it helps you kind of group those things together and look for specific features. In fact, that's how Linnaeus, who first came up with this whole system classified things. Right? Now, 1700s. We didn't have genetic testing. And so he classified things by similar features. And we're finding out now that some of those were incorrect and some of them are correct. So the tomato has actually been renamed a few times, but it is now back to the original name that Linnaeus used. which I find fascinating. Yeah, I feel like it's constantly evolving and sometimes hard to keep up with the more advanced we get with figuring things out. But I also wanted to ask, as far as like that The Aster family goes, I feel like that's a really good family to latch onto and thinking about how all of those plants kind of look similarly. Do you have any other examples of that? We had Rudbeckia we had Echinacea... I forget the other one. You mentioned. Sunflowers. What could you give us a few other examples because I like the visual. Oh gosh, gosh, What else do we have in there? We've got zinnias. I mean, there's a whole bunch, a whole bunch of yeah, daisies, a whole bunch of the annual flowers that we grow are in the aster family. So it's a really big family with a lot of really unique plants. And that's one of the cool things about plant families is that they can be broken down by some of those different features. And a lot of it has to do with structures of the flower but it's always fun to look at. Yeah, yeah. So why does this even matter to us as gardeners trying to take care of our plants. Why do we even care? If that's what you will also avoid? What's the point? I had a, a mentor and so one of my professors that I got to learn a lot about binomial nomenclature from. And this, this is my philosophy. Not everyone agrees. I don't mind how you say the Latin name. If you butcher it, as long as you can spell it right.. And the reason I say that is because I think it makes us more responsible consumers because we know what we're actually buying. And the reality is sometimes when we go out to a nursery or to a store to buy a plant, they may have marketing names on them that are only specific to that brand. So it can be really hard to actually tell exactly what you're buying. So if you see the plant, like the plant, that may not be really important. But if you're trying to say, replant an area with native plants to attract a certain native species or you're trying to return an area to a more native setting, then you might want to say, Hey, I'm going to look specifically for this species. So, so I think on one hand it helps us be more responsible consumers. It also gives us some fun clues about what the plant might like, condition wise or what features it might have. Also, it's just fun to nerd out over it. You know, for, for being a dead language, Latin is very entertaining, especially when it comes to binomial nomenclature, because some of them are latinized names or latinized words like one that you'll see a lot is Virginiaena You'll see like Tennesseensis and says like Florida. So it kind of gives you an idea of a geographic region it might even be from. Okay? So I'll be honest that when we started talking about this topic, I was trying to figure out what it was. I was trying to convince myself like, why should I care about this conversation? Because it does feel like, you know, you've shared that Latin is not a very universally used language in a lot of spaces anymore. And I'm, I'm always thinking like what is the practical application of this knowledge? But one of the things I've been thinking about recently is I do a lot of seed saving and we've done some episodes of cabin fever conversations on seed saving and thinking through how this can help me better apply that practice. So in seed saving, we often talk about families that can cross-pollinate with each other. When you're just using their names, you know, cauliflower and kale, thinking like those are two different things. You can look at the binomial nomenclature and recognize that relationship and then make better decisions about isolation and making sure that there's not cross-pollination between, between plants of the same sort of family. So that's like. That's why I've decided that I should care about this is because it helps me do something that I do really passionately care about a little bit better and be more intentional. I've appreciated this, this learning a lot. I think that's a really great point to bring up too, because a lot of people may not realize those brassicas that we typically grow in the garden are actually the same species. So they're, they're very, very closely related. And in a lot of instances that means they can share diseases. And so when we think about gardening with Solonaceas plants, so a tomato, eggplant peppers. Knowing that those are related, can help us with rotation and avoiding some of the disease issues that might persist from here to here. Yeah, that's a really good point. That is, so there, there are a few good things about what makes Latin great for this is that it is not a widely used language, so it's, it's not really changing a whole lot anymore. It's pretty static. Minus some of the silly names that we make up. Sometimes but it is separate because it's not being used as an active language anymore. It kind of suits this purpose pretty well. For sure., and there are some silly interpretations that kind of latinized words that we just want to apply to names, which I know we'll talk about some of those later as well. So I know you talked a little bit about the nightshade family about like tomatoes and potatoes and things like that. Are there any other helpful examples of related plants or families that we might not be aware of that are applicable and in gardening practices, I think. So. Some of them were talking about Rudbeckia That's so common in a lot of people's gardens. And there are some different ones that look vastly different. They can share some of the same disease issues like powdery mildew and things like that. So it is nice. I mean, tomatoes are something that everyone's familiar with, right? We've got all these different types of tomatoes. And so we know that certain diseases might be an issue with all tomatoes. We can look for specific types of tomatoes that might have some resistance. And you talking about brassicas, most people really don't realize that cabbage and kale are really, really closely related. They're the same species. Um, and that's the case with a lot of the popular brassicas that we eat. We've just bred them for different plant parts that are desirable like the flower buds or the leads or the stem? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, what do you think about cabbage and kale, one was bred more for that kind of heading versus one more for the leafy kind. But but it's interesting that they are the same species. Yes, I've seen some wild pictures of cabbage, I guess, where some of them, you know, split open. And we're actually going to balloon. As you know, cabbage has been bred to form that really nice tight head versus like kale, which is going to be open and leafy and eventually will hold and get these flowers. It's really fascinating. But yeah, it keeps you kind of in the know. So if you have a plant issue with cabbage one year and you know that that disease persist in the soil, that you're not gonna want to plant kale there the next year. And you're probably not going to want to plant anything else that's closely related either. So yeah, I will say there was a question that came in that's related to this asking about if there's any vegetable families that shouldn't be planted next to each other? You know, would you just recommend kind of spreading your families out? And yeah, I mean, that's kind of a complicated because there are different reasons you might not plants certain stuff together. Typically the diseases kind of, and this is a bit out of my area, But typically the diseases are more confined to specific groups. Like specific species or geniuses. Sometimes into the family. Like you typically would not have, say, a Brassica disease spread over to a tomato or a pepper. So cabbage and tomatoes and peppers wouldn't share diseases most of the time. Because they're not very related, right? They're not closely related. And I am thinking through like pest pressures as well. There are certain pests that are really consistent amongst Brassica us that, you know, spreading them out to prevent transmission of pests from one to the other is smart, but that, that pests might not necessarily interact with that tomato plant or something in that family in the same way. There are diseases that can persist in the soil or insects that might pupate or overwinter in the soil. So and so rotating those things around and avoiding replanting the same families in the same spot over time can sometimes help with disease issues. So let's move on to cultivars, which is relevant because a question just came in about, what about plants with three names? So let's get into cultivars and I guess I'll first start off by asking you, how do cultivars come into play? So here's, this is the fun part. So when it comes to binomial nomenclature, that the genius is Latin, Right? And the specific epithet is also supposed to be Latin or latinized. The cultivar, in theory is supposed to be a real word. that is not someone's name. And it'll be capitalised and you'll see it in single quotes, right? So if I go and I look for a big boy tomato, or a better boy tomato then it's going to have Solanum lycopersicum And then in single quotes, It's going to have 'Big Boy' And that's how we know that it's like denoted that is the cultivar, right? So you've got all these other cultivars of tomatoes like, oh gosh, what is it like? Brad's atomic tomato, like all these different ones. And a cultivar is really just a cultivated variety. That's what its short for. So it means we went and found something in the wild and we brought it into agricultural use. And then we bred it for specific features. Typically when you're going to a store, it's really rare, especially with vegetables, that you're buying a straight species. You're almost always buying a cultivated variety that someone has bred for a specific purpose. So think about "Big Boy", it's probably going to be a very big tomato. Yeah, they were very proud of that fact. Oh yeah, one and the other one I mentioned, like 'Brad's Atomic Tomato', was bred to have multiple colors and all these cool stripes. So the cultivar is basically something that we've developed for a different kind of sub feature. Taken a feature of that plant. We've intentionally selected for that feature and bred for it. So we get these really cool, different cultivars that are vastly different in appearance or taste, or sometimes even shape or size from what we would see out in the wild. So as I understand that the Latin name, the binomial nomenclature, is always those two pieces. And then when there's a third piece, it's referring to the cultivar. So there's never a kind of like a three-part binomial nomenclature. You know, they, they get long or some unusual situations. So lot of times, if you get a seed catalog, right, you open it up and it says tomato varieties. Technically those are cultivars. A variety is something that's found different in the wild. So one of my favorite, favorite examples is Cercis canadensis, which is redbud, a redbud tree. And typically those are purple, but there is a white variety that's found in nature. So instead of cultivar, "var." And then it'll have, you know, I think it's Alba variety Alba, which means white. So there's, there's all these interesting little things. It does get more complex, but the cultivar is going to be in single quotes. Okay, cool. So how are cultivars developed? I know you shared that like like black cherry tomato and a big boy tomato would have the same kind of binomial nomenclature. And on that cultivar denotes the specific characteristics of that variety. How are they kind of like developed? And is it a universally applied cultivar or so? Like so that kind of gets into breeding a little bit, okay? And it also might help keep you from getting confused. If you go out to buy a plan, you see something really unusual. So there are lots of different ways. There's like traditional breeding where we'd might cross pollinate plants and save the seeds. There are some other more advanced methods. In the gosh, 40s and 50s. It was really popular for seed companies to expose them to radiation to cause the plants to mutate. So I mean, there are all these different wild ways that we come up with it. Traditionally, it's just cross breeding plants. Over time. You pick out that feature you want and you just keep crossing the plants. That features consistent. I used to work for Brassica breeder. I spent so much time staring at kale flowers. doing this...again and again They're itty bitty. Just crossing flowers... It takes a long time. I don't remember exactly how long it takes to get something to market. But if you're doing something like a perennial, perennial plants a lot of times don't produce C the first year. It might take them two or three years. And so you're thinking every single generation is taking two or three years. And you also have to stop at each level and assess those plants and say, Okay, are there any problems with it? Is does it not have the disease tolerance or other issues? So it can be a really long process breeding plants out. And I was going to point out, sometimes you will see a really, really weird sets of numbers and letters in-between those single quotes. And a lot of times what happens is breeders will give a plant a code based on what generation it was in or, you know, when, when it was created or first crossed or what it was crossed with. So it will be something crazy 1Z2F9C See in single quotes, if that's the cultivar name. It's it gets a little weird sometimes. For sharing, yeah, and like you said too, sometimes that breeding doesn't take all the way, right? So like sometimes there's a rogue cabbage that starts to reflect the habits of its kale ancestors or a different one too. So it takes a really long time to kind of stabilize those lines and those hybrids out. Yeah, one So you mentioned hybrids. There's, you know, we talk about hybrids. Lot of times these are plants that are not from the same species crossed, right? So if we had, i will be a weird example. A coyote and a dog, I believe, can cross o r like a dog and a wolf can cross. You can end up sometimes with sterile animals or sterile plants doing that. But that's, that's more of what a hybrid is. Cultivar is going to typically just be species specific. Gotcha... Although I do sometimes see the word hybrid used a bit loosely. So yeah. There's always some flexibility, I think. Yeah. So I think that that kind of relates to a question that we got in the chat, which is that, you know, this is really helpful when you're looking at tags that have that binomial nomenclature. And a lot of places where you might go to buy plants might not expect consumers to be looking for that. And so just slap on a generic tag, says somebody used the example of buying second lens and the titles just succulents, even though there's many different ways that those succulents grow, right? So what do you do in a situation like that? If you're interested in knowing more about the family relationships and that binomial nomenclature aspect. Do you have any tips for that? So if you don't know the day You got to ID the plants burst. So that's where it gets a little bit tricky. We do have a really good resource at MSU Ask Extension where you can take a picture of the plant. And I find generally what helps is when people send me an up-close photo and then a photo a bit further away. And then a photo that shows a whole plan. That kinda gives me an idea of overall structure and features that I might want to look for. And the great thing about Ask Extension is that if one of us doesn't recognize it, we can always find someone. That can be a pretty helpful tool for ID. And there are ways that you can key out plants. So they have these crazy big books and charts that fold out. And you have to go through each feature. It can be really time consuming. So most people usually just prefer to go by a photo. But unless you're in a lab, right? Phone a friend. Yeah. So Barslund, how does this information present itself to us in our everyday lives? Ooh, well we can look at, I've got some pictures and some plant tags. Some of the text will be a little bit small on them, but we'll have the names in the chat. So some of the things that you might see, like you go to a store. And this is the example that I was talking about earlier. I'm going to try and point dang it...the wrong way. Here it is. This one over here. So you see what it says at the top of the tag, it just says cone flower. And so that's where you run into confusion sometimes because there are lots of different kinds of Echinacea and Rudbeckia that people will call cone flowers. Usually it's Echinacea but not always. But luckily down here at that other side, bottom. Right here, really tiny. It's got the genus on it. And then the one that's right over my head says Echinacea purpurea, Fine Feathered Parrot. And so what's really interesting about this one is you notice the name isn't in single quotes. So that's not actually a cultivar name, that's a trademarked name that, that's specific grower has attached to it, The find feathered parrot part? So if you actually looked up the cultivar name on this, then you could potentially find it through different grower or find out more information on it. But a lot of times growers do like to slap these trademarked names on them. And then a tiny, tiny one right there, my fingers disappearing.