Gardening Horticultural nomenclature

What is a “Nativar?”

The double form of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’). It appeared spontaneously in the wild and would be considered a nativar when grown in North American gardens. Source:

Have you ever seen the term “nativar?” It’s been showing up more and more often in gardening circles, so maybe it’s time to define its meaning.

A nativar is a variety selected from a native species for its horticultural qualities and offered as a cultivar (cultivated variety) on the market. It could arise originally as a selection from local wild stock or from selective breeding (hybridization) within a single species.

For example, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a perennial native to eastern North America and has given rise to a mutation with double flowers, originally found growing in the wild: S. canadensis ‘Multiplex’. It would be considered a nativar of this species when grown in North America, because bloodroot is only native to that continent. It would not be a nativar in Europe, however, whereboth bloodroot and its double cultivar ‘Multiplex’ are introduced plants.

20181007B Gypsophila-paniculata-Bristol-Fairy
Gypsophila paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’. Source:

Baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata), on the other hand, is a perennial native to Eurasia. It has produced several cultivars, including ‘Rosenschleier’ and ‘Bristol Fairy’, that would be considered nativars when cultivated in Eurasia. They would not be nativars in North America.

Why Is the Term Useful?

The term nativar is useful for dealing with all those plants that are not exactly the strictly wild version of a plant, since they don’t occur that way in the wild, yet are not imported or non-native plants either. I’ve always found it a bit awkward when nurseries have a native plants section in which most of the plants are actually cultivars*. But a nursery could legitimately call this section its Nativar Collection.

You will certainly see me using this term in future texts.

*In fact, you really cannot buy purely “native plants.” All plants propagated from wild plants are essentially selections, whether labeled as such nor not, and thus are technically nativars.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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