One of the most frequent questions nurserymen are asked is: What is the difference between Cultivars and Hybrids? The answer is surprisingly simple…

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Cultivars and Hybrids: Cultivars

Let’s start with cultivars. The word is a portmanteau of cultivated and variety and, according to the dictionary is:
“A plant or grouping of plants selected for desirable characteristics that can be maintained by propagation. Most cultivars have arisen in cultivation but a few are special selections from the wild.”
The key thing with a cultivar is that it has come about solely through a genetic accident without any direct human manipulation. We only get involved once we have spotted the ‘new’ plant and try to ensure its continuation through propagation. A cultivar can therefore start in the wild or under glass and come from a pure species, a hybrid or even a cultivar.

Cultivars and Hybrids: Hybrids

A hybrid, too, can occur naturally in the wild and perhaps Leylandii (× Cuprocyparis leylandii) is the most well-known example of this – a naturally occurring cross of the Nootka cypress and Monterey cypress. It should be noted, though, that ‘in the wild’ is perhaps a little disingenuous as the two parent species don’t share a natural habitat and are unlikely to meet, never mind mate without man’s intervention. The cross actually took place in the gardens of Leighton Hall in 1888.
However, as a fundamental horticultural process, hybridisation is now far more often the deliberate – and patient – work of plant breeders, commercial or amateur. Again, let us turn to the dictionary:
“In horticulture, a hybrid is the offspring of two plants of different varieties, species, or genera.”.
Picture top: Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ – a hybrid of Photinia glabra and Photinia serratifolia
In our next post we’ll look at hedging plants in terms of their origination…