• cultivar •
kêl-tê-vahr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A plant variety that is produced by selective breeding specifically for human beings and is maintained by cultivation. A cultivar is noted in its botanical name by single quotes, as in Dahlia 'Akita'.
Notes: The difference between a cultivar and a hybrid is that the latter may either reproduce or not. A cultivar must be cultivatable, which is to say, it must readily reproduce. Also, a hybrid may mix varieties for any reason; a cultivar results from two varieties that have properties that are desirable to humans, such as hardiness and beauty, or nutritional value and disease resistance.
In Play: Floral hybrids tend to be barren, so we might hear someone say, "I don't have any barren hybrids in my garden, only cultivars and natural varieties." A cultivar must be imagined before it can be developed: "A caffeine-free coffee cultivar would be a welcome variety for people who are not buzz-tolerant."
Word History: We know the exact source of today's Good Word: Liberty Hyde Bailey, an American horticulturist, botanist and cofounder of the American Society for Horticultural Science. He introduced the word in a pamphlet entitled BSPB Plant Breeding, published by the British Society of Plant Breeders in 1923. It is a blend of cultivate + variety. Cultivate was borrowed from Latin cultivare "to till", from Latin cultus "tilled", past participle of colere "to till". We can see many English borrowings from various Latin words based on this verb, including cult, culture, colony and inculcate, from the figurative sense of "till the mind" that the word took on in Late Latin. (Norman Holler of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, suggested a word that led our investigations to today's Good Word. We owe him a debt of gratitude for that.)