Re: cultivar versus cultigen

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 23:25:20 -0500


> On Fri, 9 Aug 1996, Jay Bernstein wrote:
> > I have been asked to explain the difference between a cultivar and a
> > cultigen (I used both terms in a paper). Improvising, I said : "A cultigen
> > is a plant for which a wild ancestor is unknown, while a cultivar is a
> > cultivated plant."

On Tue, 13 Aug 1996, Dave Rindos replied:

> Interesting question. Now that I think of it, I don't recall seeing a
> definition of this distinction, so I can only say how I use them,
> admitting that it all gets pretty hazy at times.

Interesting question indeed! And for what it's worth, Webster's New World
Dictionary has neither term.

Aside: can we be assured that your (Bernstein's) ad hoc defense/
definitions did indeed encompass the implied meanings in the paper: that
you never used "cultigen" in reference to barley or maize, etc., for which a
"wild" ancestor is known or at least highly suspected, and that you did
use the terms "cultivar" for such plants as rice, broccoli, and, ugh,
brussel sprouts, for all "cultivated plants" in general but not vice-versa.

That is, in your panicking thought processes, when questioned about a term
paper, or even, dare we think it, a dissertation defense, you proposed
"cultivar" as the general term for all cultivated plants (marigolds,
tomatoes, and opium poppies) while reserving "cultigen" for those specific
plants for which a "wild ancestor is unknown."

Which leaves us with the question of what to call a "cultivated plant
whose wild ancestor is known."

At the same time, there is the question of how to classify particular

-Zuccini. While certainly a "cultivar," it remains a question as to
whether zucinni is indeed "cultivated" or merely "tamed." I know
of several anthropology departments that have banned anonymous
zucinnis from the mail boxes

-Hops. Similarly, "cultivated" is too puny a term for the effort
expending in vining this zymurlogically important perennial.
["Look out George, here it comes again!"]

-Oregano. A deceitfully mild herb, but which, like crab grass, can set
down roots wherever it's stems touch ground.

-Lemon Balm. See Oregano.

-Mint. Said to be a "spreader" but it has nothing on oregano.

-Raccoons! While certainly wild, I do seem to be cultivating them. But they
have yet to be domesticated.