The Wide World of Cultivars
In the world of plants, there are those human beings have evolved alongside in the wild, and there are those we have helped to cultivate. These cultivars (cultivated varieties), some of which have been selected and propagated over millennia, were chosen by growers who wanted to perpetuate any number of factors, from disease resistance, to size, flavor, structure, and flower size.
Most of the plants we eat are cultivars modified over centuries, and when we imagine a beautiful garden, chances are we're imagining that garden full of plants like roses, camellias, and azaleas – all cultivars. When researching plants, you can usually tell if it is a cultivar if its Latin name ends in a title within single quotations, for example Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen.’
Epipremnum aureum ‘marble queen,' a common variegated cultivar of Epipremnum aureum, or the Pothos plant.
Plant collectors flock to cultivars and naturally occurring plants alike, but the varieties in color, shape, flower size, and overall uniqueness found in cultivars opens up a wide world of textures and structures that, for many, are simply irresistible.
How to Make A Cultivar
There are a few ways to form cultivars. The first is to take the seeds of the most desirable plant and continually grow plants with the most desirable factors over many seasons. Our ancestors did this intuitively for generations. The second method is by cloning plants – taking pups, limbs, leaves, or other cuttings and growing the same plant separate from its 'mother.' Finally, plants can be cultivated scientifically through genetic modification.
In the worlds of gardening and indoor plants, no method is more common than the second – cloning. Many plants do not retain their desirable characteristics when grown from seed, so the easiest (and often fastest) way to perpetuate a cultivar is through taking cuttings or pups from already established cultivar specimens, and planting them.
Often, it's easiest to understand cultivars by examining some of their most recognizable (and eye-catching) resulting characteristics.
Many plants, like Calathea lancifolia, naturally take on color and variegation. But sometimes a mutation in a plant results in Chimeral variegation, which inhibits the growth of chlorophyll in parts of the plant. Chlorophyll turns plants green, so when that is missing, the result is splotchy coloration (typically white or yellow) that is highly desirable among both tropical and arid plants.
Euphorbia lactea 'White Ghost' is a beloved collector cultivar that lacks the ability to produce chlorophyll. The result is a slow-growing, ghost-white plant.
Cresting / Monstrose
Some plants like cacti and succulents can form cultivars through genetic defects or damage sustained in special immature cells call meristems. Put simply, something happens to these plant 'stem cells' that results in the over-replication and creation of cells that normally wouldn't occur en-mass in the plant. In the example of cresting (the wave-like rippled structure you see in some collector cacti and succulents) a vertical cell should form, but a branching cell forms and replicates over and over, new growth points forming on new growth points. Wildly distorted and rippling, the resulting cactus folds in on itself.
Monstrose formation is similar to cresting, but in the case of monstrose, the genetic defect of growth points is occurring all over the plant instead of at one joint. The resulting effect is lumpy, knobby, asymmetrical, and to some collectors, delightfully weird.
Myrtillocactus geometrizans 'Fukurokuryuzinboku,' an example of a rare, beloved monstrose cultivar.
Defects like monstrose and cresting occur all over the plant world, but we more commonly see them in cacti and succulents because these plants are hardy enough to live into maturity with these defects.Shop Tula's Cultivar plants here
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