Cultigen is a plant that is the result of human selection by primarily turning a wild plant into a cultivated plant (anthropogenic plant) with minor changes. Cultigens can either be grown as a cultivated plant or planted in the wild and left to multiply on their own. Specifically selected plants are grafted with other plant material to produce mixed tissue used to create hybrids.
The naming of cultigens is derived from the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. The Cultivated Plant Code has three categories for which to place the cultigens in: the cultivar, the Group, and the grex. Only the most important cultigens, those with commercial value, are named.
The study of cultigens can be traced back to ancient Greek botanists starting with the “Father of Botany”, Theophrastus (370-285 BCE). Theophrastus was concerned with the longevity of the altered plants especially when planted from seed.
The term cultigen was given to plants that had been altered from their natural state by horticulturist, botanist and cofounder of the American Society for Horticultural Science, Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954). Any plants with unknown origins were called cultigens. Each new plant had to be classified according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in order to track its origins and other beneficial information about the plant.
Cultivars should not be confused with cultigen; cultivars are plants that have been altered and can only be grown in a controlled, cultivation, method. Cultigens are of unknown origin but with similar characteristics of modern plants. The naming of these plants is governed by the Cultivated Plant Code.
Image Caption: Cobs of corn. Credit: Asbestos, Sam Fentress/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)