What is the difference between a cultivar and a hybrid?
A hybrid is the result of cross-pollinating two plants with different DNA. Every seedling that grows from a cross is a hybrid – if multiple seedlings come from the same seed pod they are in fact the same hybrid, technically, until they are selected or named. There are over 600 seeds in most Begonia seed pods, and most seedlings will be thrown away by the hybridizer, never making it to the cultivar stage.
A cultivar is one plant selected from multiple hybrid seedlings. It will have some unique quality that makes it more interesting than all the other seedlings growing around it, but that quality has to be reliable; in other words, the quality must duplicate and carry forward when you propagate the plant. The selected plant must be given a cultivar name, otherwise it will remain just another hybrid seedling.
For more info read our article Species, Hybrids, Cultivars & Varieties.
Who makes hybrids?
Anyone who wants to learn how! There are professional plant breeders and hobbyist hybridizers all over the globe. Hybrids also occur in nature and are called natural hybrids, or hybrid species. For more info on this subject, click on this article: Natural Hybrids and Varieties
Why are cultivars created?
Most often they are made to improve a plant over older varieties, or to highlight some novelty. Ornamental hybrids of begonias are created to improve disease resistance, improve flower size/color/number or create more attractive foliage, and if successful and marketable they will become cultivars. Once a cultivar is selected, hopefully it is chosen because it represents the best qualities of the hybrid.
Why do cultivars have to be propagated clonally?
When a hybrid is the combination of two plants with different DNA, it means that there is a mixture of DNA inside the hybrid plant. When you try to grow it from seed every seedling will be somewhat different, and that is not good when you want your plants to be 100% uniform.
So instead hybrids are usually reproduced by taking cuttings (or clonal propagation) and this allows each new plant to be genetically identical to the mother plant.
Check our article on Vegetative Propagation to learn more about clonal propagation
A SPECIES is a natural grouping of similar plants that can interbreed and reproduce by seed.
A NATURAL HYBRID occurs between 2 species.
A VARIETY or FORM appears naturally within a species, but it has some distinctive trait which sets it apart.
MAN MADE HYBRID GROUPINGS like B. ×tuberhybrida, B. rex cultorum, and others are often confused with species.
A MAN-MADE HYBRID can be a mix of hybrid and/or species genetics.
A CULTIVAR is an individual named seedling, with distinctive characteristics.