Plant Registration

Registering a plant name provides for its future reference and recognition. You can refer to a registered plant by name without confusing it with a different yet possibly similar plant, and you can recognize the plant from its registration description. Plant registration consists of filing its name, description and other details with the North American Registrar of Plant Names, Michael Martin Mills, 215-844-6253. You can register a plant online or download the registration forms and an instruction sheet through the American Rhododendron Society.

Jay Murray, the previous registrar from 1985 through 2012, wrote the following article (reprinted here by permission from the September 1999 issue of the Rhododendron and Azalea News) to provide useful background information and details of the registration process.

Jay Whitney Murray, North American Registrar of Plant Names

Formal registration of names for cultivated plants is now practiced internationally, but until fairly recently selection of names was rather haphazard. Names were applied to plants without considering whether they were already in use for another plant in the same genus. The name ‘Sunset’, for example, was given to at least nine different cultivars in genus
Rhododendron, while ‘Pink Delight’ was used for at least seven. When such duplication occurs, the name does not serve its primary purpose, which is to identify each particular plant uniquely.

According to David Leach (Rhododendrons of the World, 1961), the first rhododendron species was introduced to Britain in 1656 (R. hirsutum from the European Alps). By 1800 only 12 species were known in cultivation (including R. canescens, R. periclymenoides, R. viscosum, R. catawbiense and R. maximum from North America, and R. ferrugineum and R. ponticum from Europe). The first known deliberate hybridizing of elepidotes occurred in 1810 when Michael Waterer crossed R. maximum with R. catawbiense. That is the time when name registration should have begun.

It was not until the early 1950s, however, that the first international effort was made to stabilize horticultural plant names. It soon expanded to include all cultivated plants. Presently, International Registration Authorities (IRAs) operate under regulations and recommendations formulated by representatives of agricultural, forestry, and horticultural products, under the auspices of the International Commission for the Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants. This body operates under authorization of the International Union of Biological Sciences which itself serves under the International Council of Scientific Unions operating under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO).

In 1955 the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) was asked to serve as the International Registration Authority (IRA) for the genus Rhododendron. Dr. H.R. Fletcher of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, was the first international registrar for the genus. His initial duties were to compile and publish a list of all cultivated varieties of rhododendron and azalea names known up to that time. Source materials included catalogs, books, magazines, publications of plant societies, and lists submitted by growers. The American Rhododendron Society (ARS) was able to contribute substantially to this effort because one of the early objectives of the Society was to stabilize the naming of American rhododendron hybrids. As early as 1949, the ARS was formulating rules of nomenclature and seeking cooperation from growers.

The initial compilation of names, titled The International Register of Rhododendron Names was published by the RHS in 1958. Now out-of-print, it is 290 pages long and contains over 6000 names. The acknowledgements
recognize the contributions of Dr. J. Harold Clarke, Dr. Henry Skinner, Dr. John Wister, Frederick P. Lee, and Mrs. Ruth Hansen, then secretary of the American Rhododendron Society. J. Harold Clarke had been appointed chairman
of the ARS Nomenclature Committee in 1949. After proposing guidelines for naming clones, he issued the first of many appeals to breeders to submit names for screening before actually using them. The American Rhododendron Society appointed Dr. Clarke the first ARS registrar in 1955. Although proceeding independently, the ARS cooperated with the RHS by submitting names for approval, forwarding all data, and even sending a contribution of $25 in 1968 to help defray registration costs.In 1969, Jock Brydon was appointed ARS registrar. The following year the ARS Board of Directors voted to discontinue acting as registrar in North America because too many members were submitting applications directly to the RHS. This defection may have occurred because the ARS attempted to include plant evaluation in the name registration process. Actually, there has never been a requirement for official trials of plant quality prior to name registration. Evaluation is a function that should be performed by the grower before conferring a name uponthe cultivar. In 1971 when the ARS apparently decided to comply with the regulations of the Cultivated Code, Edwin Parker was appointed ARS Registrar and served with distinction until his retirement in 1985. Since that time I have served in the capacity of North American registrar, reporting directly to Dr. Alan C. Leslie, International Rhododendron Registrar and Senior Registrar for the RHS. Current nomenclature regulations and recommendations are published in the International Code for Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants — 1995. By definition, the full name of a cultivar is the botanical name (in Latin) of the appropriate taxonomic group followed by the cultivar epithet (e.g., Rhododendron ‘Mars’ or R. yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada’). Present rules for naming are quite liberal. The major consideration is that the cultivar epithet must consist of no more than 10 syllables and no more than 30 letters or characters overall, excluding spaces. Names that might lead to confusion will be rejected.

The registration application is divided into sections relating to: (1) parentage of the plant; (2) people associated with its hybridizing, growth, naming, commercial introduction, and registration; and (3) description of flowers, leaves, and growth characteristics. The form is accompanied by instructions illustrating typical flower, truss, and leaf shapes. Much of the descriptive material may be reported simply by checking appropriate boxes. Flower color is an important characteristic best described by reference to a color chart, preferably one of the editions of the RHS Colour Chart, but a name will not be rejected if the color is described in words rather than by reference to color numbers. All reasonable assistance will be given to those submitting applications. For example, presence of indumentum (either scales or woolly, plastered, or glandular hairs) is an important characteristic that may be difficult to describe. Upon request, the registrar will prepare this portion of the application if a typical leaf is enclosed. Remember that those who name plants have a responsibility to other growers as well as to the public to provide a permanent record for purposes of identification. Names and descriptions of all newly registered North American rhododendrons and azaleas are published quarterly by the ARS. The RHS publishes all additions to the Rhododendron Register annually. North Americans may request registration applications from me (phone and e-mail address given above). Others should write to the International Rhododendron Registrar, The Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden, Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB, England.

Jay Murray

This was was written for “Rhododendron and Azalea News” by Jay Murray. Jay has done a tremendous amount of work as the Registrar. She was honored by the American Rhododendron Society with the ARS Gold Medal, the Society’s highest award. She is a member of the Princeton Chapter.

[Proper naming and identification of plants is an important function. The American Rhododendron Society has been involved in this activity for a long time. When one purchases a registered named plant, it is one which has been propagated directly from a particular plant by cuttings, layering or similar means of propagation. Seedlings from a named plant should never be called by the parent plant’s name, no matter how much the seedling looks like the parent plant. Likewise, seedlings from the same seedpod are each a different plant and should be distinguished as such with a new name or number even if they should happen to look alike. BWS]