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.

Seed sowing season

It’s that time of year. As I start putting different aspects of the garden ‘to bed’ the cycle starts again with some seed sowing.

Seeds waiting to be covered with compost

These seed trays were bought second hand quite a while ago. I think they were/are used in machines that automatically sow seeds. Amazingly robust – so much so that you can stand on them. Over 200 hollyhocks just in this one – and 3 already done.

The idea is they should grow on and get potted up, live in the polytunnel over winter and hopefully I will get flowers in the first 12 months. Well…. Thats the idea anyway.

The life of the cosmos patch

On top of doing the national collection of cosmos in containers (bins) I decided to grow some in a more naturalistic mass planting. Today in the heat I decided it was time to put the bed to bed so to speak.

That involved s trimming it back, then mowing it over to mulch it, I think I will spread hay (I’d rather have straw) over it to suppress any future weeds, and start again next year. All in all in think the bed was a great success, Thousands of flowers from the plants. The bees loved it, and then some great seeds collected.

Already preparing for next year

A bit of work this afternoon went into preparing what will hopefully be a cutting garden next year.

The remnants of the hollyhocks were cut down – though you can already see the leaves for next year showing at the base.

Then the perhaps bigger job of preparing the new raised bed area started. Once done I think we will have around 54 metal raised bed (enough for anyone I think). Just the wooden base to go in, and then a rather large amount of limestone and pebbles to be barrowed.

There’s always some snake in the grass

Well, in this case a grass snake I must have disturbed while cutting down some of the old hollyhocks. I usually come across one most years, and think I’m always more surprised to see it that it is me. This one made a quick exit from wherever it had been sunning itself. The usual place I see them is by my big compost pile where they often lay eggs due to the heat.

Gardens – always changing

Having a large plot can be great and a real pain. The pain is that there is always some sort of maintenance that needs doing, and the jobs are never done. The positives is that you always seem to have space to change a few things.

The wooden raised beds that went in finally gave up this year, so the wood has been removed, and this area (which suddenly seems far larger than it did) is starting to be prepared for some new metal raised beds. Hopefully this will be done ready for planting out next year.

Not content with sorting this area out, the rather weedy patch that was plan c for the hollyhock collection – where a few spares were left to fend for themselves is going to be turned into a bit of a cut flower plot. The Strulch (for mulching) is due to arrive this week, so once the ground is a bit softer after some serious rain (later on in the year more progress will hopefully be made.

What’s in a name?

One of the main things I’ve learned on this national collection journey is the importance of labelling your plants and knowing what you are growing. So, ensuring you know what cultivar you have is key. Now obviously some seeds won’t come true, there may be some cross pollination and the seeds drop where they shouldn’t, but the problem really starts to arise when seemingly seeds for the same cultivars have different names.

What cultivar is this?

This dilemma, issue, or whatever you want to call it is perhaps shown most clearly by the black or almost black hollyhocks that are available.

Now as far as I have been able to ascertain, there are possibly six differently named black hollyhocks:-

1) Nigra

2) Jet Black

3) Arabian Nights

4) The Watchman

5) Black Knight

6) Blacknight

Now Nigra seems well known, but in places Arabian Nights and Jet Black are said to be a synonym. The Watchman was said to have grown in Thomas Jeffersons garden, but others have said this was Nigra – so this could The Watchman also be another synonym of Nigra, meaning four names are given to what is essentially the same plant.

Then you have Suttons Seeds selling a hollyhock called Black Knight (with a K) with Jelitto selling a Blacknight (as part of their spotlight series. Are these the same? If not how have two extremely similar names been allowed for a black hollyhock? Is one trading on the popularity of the other.

For many people this isnt important. They see a photo on a seed packet and just want some almost black hollyhocks. But….. and perhaps its a big but, there are rules about naming plants, that should also apply to seeds and it really seems to be confusing at best and a bit like the Wild West at worst where anything goes.

I am trying to find out more – but at the moment I am none the wiser as to how many black hollyhocks there really are.