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Some Names of Fruits, Vegetables Are More Appealing Than Others

March 11, 2000|From Associated Press

With only a name to go on, would you grow a Supersonic or Oxheart tomato? If the name Oxheart seems a bit gruesome, make a choice between Supersonic and Ponderosa. Probably most gardeners would choose Oxheart or Ponderosa for a tomato and Supersonic for an airline. So, why was the name Supersonic given to one of today's tomatoes? Many old-time names of vegetables--Oxheart and Ponderosa for example--were a lot more appealing than some of the newer names. It could even be that a good name is part of the reason a fruit or vegetable of yore still appears in today's catalogs.

These names are "cultivar" names or what were once called "variety" names. The word "variety" can have two meanings with respect to plants. To avoid confusion between a cultivated variety and a botanical variety, the word "cultivar" was adopted in 1958.

A cultivar is a cultivated variety of plant. A botanical variety is one subdivision below the species level. Cabbages and broccoli are different varieties of one species. But Calabrese is a cultivar of broccoli.

Many old-time cultivars have interesting names sometimes for no other reason than because the rationales behind them are not immediately obvious. For example, why would anyone name a parsnip the Student or an apple Missing Link? Such names could not have helped sales.

Some of the old cultivar names have a nice ring to them. Who can resist growing a corn called Country Gentleman or a bean called Red Valentine? Which cultivar name sounds more appealing: Red-Cored Chantenay carrot or Six-Pack carrot? Calabrese broccoli or Packman broccoli? Six-Pack carrot and Packman broccoli are newer cultivars.

Before lovers of Supersonic or Jetstar tomatoes get their hackles up, remember that we're talking about names, not flavors. In fact, appealing names often were assigned to cultivars of dubious merit in the past. The old-fashioned Sops of Wine apple is more mouth-watering than the modern Jonagold in name only. The same goes for Maiden Blush apple--beautiful name and beautiful fruit--but mediocre eating quality.

As you peruse garden catalogs in the coming weeks, think about what makes you choose one cultivar over another.

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