Posts: 7
Joined: 06 Feb 2022, 18:44

Provenance and variety names

I think there should be some discussion of issues like variety names and provenance as there is quite a lack of understanding in most gardeners. As I had a seed farm and am a vegetable breeder I may have more of a beef with things that happen in the seed saving and selling industry.

The reason I am bringing this up is that on Facebook today there was someone showing off a tomato variety that I am pretty sure is misnamed by a seedling seller. Some seed and plant sellers are well known for misnaming seeds and plants just so they can market them as exclusive to them (looking at you Diggers), but what many people don't realise that many old seeds are renamed and called F1 hybrid even when they aren't just for exclusivity reasons too. This has been happeing for more than a hundred years but it seems to be getting worse the last couple of decades.

I belive that looking at provenance (beginning and history) of any variety is very important to stop the problem of some varieties having a heap of names, which is a big problem with tomatoes and beans in particular, and the problem of deliberately misnaming is really disrespectful to the breeder of that variety.

There has always been accidental misnaming by gardeners when they get seeds from their aunt, friend etc and since they don't have the correct name they just call it 'Aunt Jessicas blue tomato', and when they share seeds they write that on the packet and other people think that is the corect name. This is how the variety gets a dozen names over time and gardeners end up with three of the same variety when they go and buy seeds from a few different companies.

When a gardeners puts a heap of work and time into developing a new variety only for a seed company to rename it and stop people from understanding where it comes from originally. We independent breeders don't make money from or put legal restrictions on our varieties but we are proud of them and want people to know about our efforts.

I'm not sure that home gardeners care but the issues with renaming do sread and make it hard for everyone. All I want is for people to be a bit more carefull with their seed saving, and where they get their seeds from.
Bega Liz
Posts: 62
Joined: 15 Nov 2021, 06:21
Location: Bega Valley, NSW
Contact: Website

Re: Provenance and variety names

I agree that it can be frustrating and confusing when different names are applied to the same thing. But I don't have any useful ideas on how to fix it.
I have lost track of the number of varieties that have come in to our seed saving group with a story about who grew it, how long they've had it, but no idea about what the original name was.
Then years later I've seen the same thing elsewhere, or at least what appears to be the same thing, but under a different name. They often don't know the source of the name either. And then I find it again somewhere else with another name again. How do we work out what the original name should be?
In the meantime we've given the variety some kind of local name. And it doesn't seem to matter how long or short the time is with that local name, it sticks. We put the 'right' name on it and people still come and ask for it by the local name.
So perhaps we shouldn't be giving names to things we don't know the original name for - so no more 'Millie's parsnip' because it came from Grandma Millie's garden after her death. But that makes it difficult to share that seed. And we may never find the original name.
Then there is the argument that after many seasons of growing and selecting in a location that we've bred a subtly different variety that suits the local conditions and that maybe having a different name is a good idea. I think some of the differences are so subtle they aren't worth labelling.
I wonder how many 'name unknown' varieties I'd end up with in my garden and how confusing that would be if we didn't put any name we weren't sure of on them...?
It might help to have a visual record of varieties to help people who do want to work out what they have.
Posts: 7
Joined: 06 Feb 2022, 18:44

Re: Provenance and variety names

I think there isn't a lot that can be done on a big scale but I think it's something that can be brought up in conversation when appropriate just to make people aware. Generally, most gardeners have probably just never thought about it.
MBMSS - Lloyd
Posts: 8
Joined: 15 Nov 2021, 00:01

Re: Provenance and variety names

Renaming for marketing purposes is not a very new or uncommon practice - Vilmorin while being the most important European seed supplier for more than a 100 years made a habit of it by constantly re-marketing a great deal of their seed varieties - both developed by them and sourced from other places and companies. They often would release the same seed with a new name over several years until it 'stuck' and people accepted it or it became fashionable.

There are lots of issues with trying to force naming rights and standards on food varieties as now happens with point of origin naming rights.
Recent examples being the use of the Maori Aotearoa word 'Manuka' by Australian and other honey producers.
The whole situation with this area of law atm is just bizarre and illogical.

Given the obsession with the idea of 'terroir' there seems little crossover in business and food discussion with all the other food types that are made or grown uniquely in different countries, climates, environments, soils etc.

And plants and foods are often named very differently based on whether they are/were considered weeds, poisons or desirable food items and how you use them.
Classic example here in Australia of Salvation Jane/Pattersons curse.

And historically there are lots of plants that have some very odd naming - often based on a likely mispronunciation like 'Girasole articiocco' ( Sunflower that tastes like artichoke) being changed to ' Jerusalem artichoke'.

I also understand the desire to have legal naming rights and controlled reproduction rights such as the PBR 'Plant breeders rights' systems.

But there is essentially a long history of intellectual property that shows that these types of systems usually end up with major issues and side effects that create many other unintended problems - especially with First Nations peoples.

As seed savers I think we should try and clarify where possible the naming history of what we grow - but essentially with the change over time of many years of growing in many locations you are likely going to end up with different results genetically after even a few generations.
Thats why we have speciation and new varieties.

Varieties like colloquial spoken language will change and be made to adapt.
I've seen very different results from named varieties of seeds grown and sourced from different locations over time regardless of size of the growing - private small gardens and large agro-seed companies.

I think that's ok as long as people don't try and overtly misrepresent what they are growing or selling and buyers don't think that plants/seeds won't change.

But that's also why this type of interchange and discussion is so important between growers - to help clarify what's going on.

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