A cultivar is a type of plant that people have bred for desired traits, which are reproduced in each new generation by a method such as grafting, tissue culture or carefully controlled seed production. Most cultivars arise from purposeful human manipulation, but some originate from wild plants that have distinctive characteristics. Cultivar names are chosen according to rules of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP), and not all cultivated plants qualify as cultivars. Horticulturists generally believe the word cultivar was coined as a term which means "cultivated variety".
Popular ornamental garden plants like roses, camellias, daffodils, rhododendrons, and azaleas are commonly cultivars produced by breeding and selection or as sports, for floral colour or size, plant form, or other desirable characteristics. Similarly, the world's agricultural food crops are almost exclusively cultivars that have been selected for characters such as improved yield, flavour, and resistance to disease, and very few wild plants are now used as food sources. Trees used in forestry are also special selections grown for their enhanced quality and yield of timber.
Cultivars form a major part of Liberty Hyde Bailey's broader group, the cultigen, which is defined as a plant whose origin or selection is primarily due to intentional human activity. A cultivar is not the same as a botanical variety, which is a taxonomic rank below subspecies, and there are differences in the rules for creating and using the names of botanical varieties and cultivars. In recent times, the naming of cultivars has been complicated by the use of statutory patents for plants and recognition of plant breeders' rights.
The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV – French: Union internationale pour la protection des obtentions végétales) offers legal protection of plant cultivars to persons or organisations that introduce new cultivars to commerce. UPOV requires that a cultivar be "distinct, uniform", and "stable". To be "distinct", it must have characters that easily distinguish it from any other known cultivar. To be "uniform" and "stable", the cultivar must retain these characters in repeated propagation.
The naming of cultivars is an important aspect of cultivated plant taxonomy, and the correct naming of a cultivar is prescribed by the Rules and Recommendations of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP, commonly denominated the Cultivated Plant Code). A cultivar is given a cultivar name, which consists of the scientific Latin botanical name followed by a cultivar epithet. The cultivar epithet is usually in a vernacular language. For example, the full cultivar name of the King Edward potato is Solanum tuberosum 'King Edward'. 'King Edward' is the cultivar epithet, which, according to the Rules of the Cultivated Plant Code, is bounded by single quotation marks.