Life of a Cultivar

Life of a Cultivar

How long does the average cultivar survive?

The lifespan of the average cultivar in begonias is most likely around 10 years. Of the roughly 20,000 cultivars of Begonia we know of, only a fraction still exist. The longest lived cultivars must have something very special about them to persist! Here is a short list of some of the oldest cultivars that still exist today.

1845 B. ‘Erythrophylla’ | 176 years old

1892 B. ‘Corallina deLucerna’ | 129 years old

1911 B. ‘Flamboyant’ | 110 years old

1847 B. ‘Ricinifolia’ | 174 years old

1866 B. ‘Bettina Rothschild’ (FIREFLUSH) | 155 years old

1904 B. ‘Mme. HeleneHarms’ | 117 years old

1861 B. ‘Manicata Crispa’ | 160 years old

1884 B. ‘Arthur Mallet’ | 137 years old

1864 B. ‘Weltonensis’ | 157 years old

What makes a cultivar disappear?

The reasons why so many have disappeared are many and there are no simple answers.

  1. Most were never meant to last very long. In the 1800 and early 1900’s most Begonia cultivars were named to honor the aristocrats who were paying for the greenhouse and gardeners. They in turn named many plants after their friends, sponsors, and rulers in order to show how important they were. These were gifts and may have only survived a year or less.
  2. New and Improved! Once nurseries were doing the hybridizing, they constantly worked to improve their lines. Old cultivars quickly were replaced with ‘new and improved’ cultivars. Many times the new plant would get a new name, but more often the new plant was just substituted for the old one and used the old name.
  3. Get Out of the Gene Pool! Virus, Disease, and low vigor will eventually thin out the worst of the cultivars. In truth, if it grows well, it will last a long time; if it doesn’t grow well, no one will buy it twice. If the nurseries do not like growing it, it will quickly disappear.

What factors help keep a cultivar in circulation?

If weak growth, disease issues, and being quickly improved upon are ways to shorten the life of a cultivar, then vigorous growth, high disease resistance, and being difficult to improve upon all give a cultivar the longest life. This is one of the reasons why Cultivar Preservation is so important, the genetics of the surviving cultivars carry traits that can be very helpful to future hybridizers.