Variety (botany)

taxonomic rank

In botany, variety is a rank (like species or subspecies) or a taxon in that rank. Like a subspecies, a variety gets a three-part name (a trinomial); such a variety name will include the name of the species and the variety epithet. The term "variety" is often shortened to "var." Some examples of this use are:

  • Acer palmatum var. atropupureum (Purple Japanese maple)
  • Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica (Corkbark fir)
  • Hosta undulata var. undulata (Plantain lily)[1]

A variety is a plant that is different in some way, and continues to be different, from the rest of the species but is not different enough for it to be classified as a new species or as a sub-species. This difference will usually be bigger than those of a form; a form will have one or more small differences, for example, different coloured flowers, lack of thorns, variegation or different coloured leaves. These variations come about by natural evolutionary process to which most plants are subject.[1] However, a taxonomist can use their own judgement as to at what rank they want to recognize a different plant. What one taxonomist will call a variety, another will call just a form, or will decide not to recognize as being distinct.

Different varieties of a species will be able to breed together if given the opportunity (just like subspecies, and forms, or for that matter many species).[1]

Not to be confused


A variety is not to be confused with a cultivar, which is something else entirely. The name of a cultivar can be recognized because it includes an epithet that is written with initial capital letters, in a different font and is set in single quote marks as shown in these examples:

  • Helleborus foetidus 'Wester Flisk'
  • Fuchsia magellanica 'Riccartoni'
  • Dryopteris affinis 'Crispa Congesta'[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Ed., Christopher Brickell, Dorling Kindersly, London, 1996. ISBN 0751304360.