The Cultivated Plant Code (108KB) - Royal Horticultural Society

The Cultivated Plant Code (108KB) - Royal Horticultural Society


International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated

Plants (Published in 2004 by the International

Society for Horticultural Science as Acta

Horticulturae No 647)

The seventh edition of the ICNCP, or

Cultivated Plant Code, was published early in 2004.

This new Code is the culmination of international

discussion and debate which reached peaks of

activity during the Third International Symposium

on the Taxonomy of Cultivated Plants held in

Edinburgh in 1998 and at the following Fourth

Symposium held within the 2002 International

Horticultural Congress in Toronto. The object

remains the same as it did when the first edition

appeared in 1953: to put the naming of the past

into order and to provide for that of the future.

The Code is the responsibility of a Commission

of the International Union of Biological Sciences

and in 1995 the Commission was responsible for a

major revision, re-ordering and re-structuring of the

rules which has essentially stood up well to practical

use. This new edition therefore maintains the overall

style of the 1995 Code but contains a few noteworthy

changes and additions. As far as possible the

language of the Code has been simplified to remove

technical or jargon words and the number of

illustrative examples has been increased.

The Code now deals with the names of plants

in just two categories: the cultivar and the Group

(the latter term replacing the more cumbersome

“cultivar-group” and reflecting the fact that Groups

may contain individual plants as well as named

cultivars). Extensive examples of what may

constitute a cultivar or a Group are provided.

For the first time the Code also includes full

provision for the formation and use of grex names,

the particular sort of Group used only by orchidists

and defined solely by parentage.

One structural innovation in the layout of the

Code concerns the removal of the provisions

relating to registration of names and International

Cultivar Registration Authorities (formerly

International Registration Authorities), as well as

those concerning nomenclatural standards (formerly

Standards), to separate Divisions within the Code.

As registration and the citation of nomenclatural

standards are not requirements for new names it

was considered they would sit more easily outside

the formal rules. A new Division has also been

included, summarised from the Botanical Code,

dealing with how hybrid generic names should be

formed. This is an area of especial importance to

orchid breeders where intergeneric crosses are very


Following representations from some of the

major user groups of the Code a new section gives

explicit guidance on how the status of cultivar and

Group names should be indicated. Cultivar status

should only be indicated by enclosing the epithet in

single quotes and not by using the abbreviation “cv.”

i.e. ‘Longworth Double’, not cv. Longworth Double

or cv. ‘Longworth Double’. Formal Group status is

indicated by the use of the word Group (note the

capital letter), or its equivalent in other languages,

used as the first or final word in the epithet

depending on linguistic custom e.g. Hydrangea

macrophylla Groupe Hortensis (in French), Begonia

Elatior Group (in English).

In this new revision the Commission has tried to

take as liberal approach as possible, only seeking to

maintain restrictions when a real chance of

significant confusion would arise if certain words or

practices were to be employed. This is most evident

in Article 19, dealing with the formation of cultivar

epithets. This is the longest Article in the Code and

probably that most frequently consulted. The

provisions have been grouped for easier

comprehension into five sections and some of the

more notable changes incorporated include the


• allowing the use of Latin words which are

in current use in a language other than

Latin e.g. as terms, common phrases,

personal names or place names

• removal of the 10 syllable limit on epithet

length, the only restrictions now being a

maximum length of 30 characters

• allowing epithets to be novel inventions

(i.e. made up words)

• making it unacceptable to form an epithet

from a single letter or solely of Arabic or

Roman numerals

• removal of the word “cross” from the list of

words banned in cultivar epithets

• explicit indication that numerals may form

part of a cultivar epithet

• explicit banning of the use of fractions and

most symbols in epithets

Moreover rules on the use of the latin or

common names of a genus or species as part of

cultivar epithet have been considerably relaxed. It is

still not possible to use the name of the genus to

which a cultivar belongs as part of its cultivar

epithet, but so long as confusion is unlikely the use

of other names is allowed. Thus if a rhododendron

breeder wants to name a series of his new seedlings

after his daughters Lily, Veronica, Erica, Victoria

and Daphne he can now do so.

This section ends with a series of further

Recommendations (i.e. not Rules) which, whilst not

mandatory for the purposes of the Code, give

guidance on names which might prove unacceptable

to others such as statutory authorities considering

names under National Listing or Plant Breeders’

Rights legislation.

Further consideration has also been given to the

often contentious issue of correct spelling, in the

full knowledge that this area can generate more

heated debate than all the rest put together (the

taxon/culton debate aside perhaps). New departures

in this Code include:-

• provision to add accents and other

diacritical marks if it is thought that

demands of linguistic custom are better

served by doing so, even if they were not

used in the original publication

• in transcribed Japanese epithets if a long

vowel is to be indicated with an accent that

must be the macron (e.g. - o) not the

circumflex or any other device

• the ligatures “æ” and “œ” indicating the

letters are pronounced together should be

transcribed as separate letters –ae- and –oe-

• the ampersand (“&”) is to be transcribed as

“and” – or its equivalent in other languages

depending on the language used when

establishment of the name took place

• the symbol #, when meaning ‘number’ in

English is be to be written as “No” or spelt

out in full: again provision being made for

different words in other languages.

In general this edition of the Code aims to

provide standardisation in dealing with spelling in

order that compilers of listings, especially in

electronic databases may have consistency in their


Of particular significance to future

nomenclatural stability are the clarified and

augmented provisions for the continued recognition

of names contrary to the Code but which are in

widespread/long established use. Gradually

botanists have been extending provision in the

Botanical Code for well-known, widely used generic

and species names that fall foul of some

nomenclatural rule and the ICNCP has similarly

been developing provisions in this respect. If the

Codes are not to be seriously undermined such

action has to be taken sparingly and only with good

reason. In the 1995 Code a combination of

sanctioning (by an ICRA) linked to conservation

(by the Commission) was outlined, but the detail of

its operation was not clear and the conservation

element rarely invoked. In the 2004 Code ICRAs

have been given wider authority to designate a

name as acceptable (sanctioning as a term

disappears) and the Commission only becomes

actively involved if no ICRA exists or an objection

is raised to an ICRA decision. All decisions, either

of an ICRA or the Commission, are only effective

following their publication.

Trademarks are beyond the jurisdiction of this

Code and it is made clear that should an established

cultivar name be successfully challenged as being in

conflict with a prior trademark right, then a new

name has to be found for the plant concerned.

Similarly the formation of trade designations is

not regarded as a matter governed by the Code.

Indeed these devices, used to market a plant in

place of the accepted name, are not considered to

be names in the sense of the Code. The Code

merely indicates that trade designations should not

be enclosed within single quotes and recommends

they should be typographically distinguished from

cultivar epithets.

There is much more besides the rules within the

slim volume that forms the new Code, including a

full glossary, lists of the current ICRAs and

statutory registration authorities, as well as a listing

of special denomination classes and institutions

maintaining nomenclatural standards.

This Code is part of a continuing process of

evolution and improvement. A Code that changes

too much or too frequently will soon lose effect and

standing, but at the same time the rules need to

change to respond to changing practice and

opinion. If you have views that you feel are not

reflected in the Code please make them known to

the Commission.

Dr A C Leslie

IUBS Code Commission

RHS Garden, Wisley, Woking

Surrey GU23 6QB, UK

December 2004

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