What are Native, Adapted, and Hybrid Plants?
We often get questions about what exactly makes a plant “native,” and how is this different from a plant that’s “adapted?” Native plants are known to grow naturally in a certain region, and so they should do well when planted in landscapes in that region. And adapted plants are native to regions with a similar climate, so they’ve been shown to do well in an area, even though they aren’t found in nature there. It’s also very easy to be confused by the terms variety, cultivar, and hybrid. Think of varieties as naturally-occurring variations … and cultivars as variations that come about due to human intervention, such as cross-breeding and hand-pollinating. When you see the abbreviation V-A-R period, such as Anisicanthus quadrifidis V-A-R period wrightii, you’ll know that plant’s a variety.
And the common way to indicate a cultivar is to include its specific cultivar name in single quotes, such as Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ The most important reason to use a plant’s full scientific name correctly is to make sure that you get the exact plant you’re looking for.
The term hybrid is often used to indicate that a plant is sterile, due to cross-breeding between two different but closely related species, but can also be used to simply convey that this cross-breeding has occurred naturally, due to an exchange of pollen in the wild. And these plant’s names often include the letter X, as in Salvia x. ‘Indigo Spires’
If you’re still confused, you’re not alone. I have two degrees in plant science and plant nomenclature STILL scrambles my brain! Perhaps more important than knowing whether a plant is a variety, a cultivar, or a hybrid, is to understand what type of soil it prefers, how much water and light it needs, how big it’s going to get, and how sensitive it is to cold, heat, and intense sunlight! And just because a plant’s native to a particular region or ecosystem doesn’t mean it’s suitable for every garden in that region. Be sure to check out what’s tagged as invasive in your state at the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center website.