The naming of plants – what are the rules??

Probabaly the most boring gardening post of the year (but an area I am interested in all the same) – following an update from the RHS today.

So the work with the hollyhocks (alceas) continues – this time not growing – but more about their names and the seemingly unregulated area of plant naming. Some time ago I was told by someone that a lot of it was down to the morals of breeders and sellers of seeds and plants as to whether names of plants got changed when they shouldn’t.

I guess if you don’t care what a plant has been named it doesnt matter. But then if you are looking for a specific named cultivar – or ar trying to protect a rare one then it can be hugely important.

Now there are things called an International Cultivar Registration Authority. (ICRA) Essentially its a body that logs the names of a specific type of plant. So there is one for roses as an example – but there isnt one for Alceas (hollyhocks).

Why do we have one you ask? Well its to ensure that a specific plant is given a name – and it cant be given to another different plant. So that if you buy a rose with one name from a garden centre – its the same rose at another (at its most basic level).

Now I have discovered (pointed out) that while there are several black hollyhocks there is a view that some of them may be the same cultivar, but at some point have been given different names. So the RHS have told me,

“The situation you describe with black hollyhocks is not unique. Part of the work of an ICRA is to compile a Checklist of all cultivar names within the denomination class, as far as is possible, and, in so doing, at least some confusion surrounding synonyms may be resolved.”

I then specifically asked about the naming of commemorative plants – whereby a single rose can be given a name and sold at a much higher price because its to commemorate (as an example) the death of a loved one.

Their view is that, “Whilst the ICRA system is “the horticultural world’s attempt at the self-policing of [plant] nomenclature”*, it is also a voluntary and non-statutory system, relying of the cooperation of breeders, commercial growers and amateurs alike.The RHS advice recommends checking with an appropriate ICRA that a proposed name is acceptable. However, there are many plant genera for which there is no ICRA and, therefore, no way of checking if the name has already been used.”

Now this worries me a bit – as the normal process of naming a plant can take a while. You really have to prove that the plant comes true. So I asked – given every year I have hundreds (probably thousands of cross pollinated hollyhocks), as they are genetically going to be unique – they could all be given names couldn’t they. The RHS said yes….

“In your example of cross-pollinated hollyhock seedings, as they are ‘new’ plants then, yes, it would be possible to name them all. The ICNCP (Art. 2.3) states that “a cultivar…is an assemblage of plants that (a) has been selected for a particular character or combination of characters, and (b) remains distinct, uniform, and stable in these characters when propagated by appropriate means”. One would hope that companies offering a commemorative naming service would ensure their plants are in some way distinct.”

The reality is I am not naming every single cross bred hollyhock – and I actually think that really shouldn’t happen. BUT what I may end up having to do is set up an ICRA for Alceas – so I become almost the holder of the register of hollyhock names. Mainly so I can start to get to grips with flowers which look identical to my naked eye, that currently seem to be called different things.

You see – these national collections aren’t just about growing a few plants 😂 I think I’m going to have to do some detective work.

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