Thursday, June 21, 2012

Delosperma and why plant trademark names are bad for everyone

Warning: I like scientific names. This post contains a lot of them and for good reason. Many of my future posts will be the same way.
Delosperma 'P001S'
I was at a local garden center a few months ago when they got in their spring shipment of plants. Surprisingly they had a lot of Delosperma species, a cold hardy South African succulent. Delosperma is a member of the Mesembryanthemaceae family, which if you know succulents, is also the same family as lithops or "living stones." Neat, huh? There's a lot of interesting facts about this genus, but I'm saving it for a later post.

Anyway, I decided I had to have what was labeled as Delosperma Firespinner (TM).

Written smaller on the bottom of the tag was also Delosperma 'P001S', which is somewhat of a working title until the plant is properly named. When I buy something I like to know everything I can about it. After some research I found out this is possibly a new species introduced through an organization called Plant Select. Panayoti Kaleidis of the Denver Botanic Gardens seems to be the one that discovered this plant from what I can tell so far, but there is no official write up for the fact that it's a species yet. That's about the most accurate information I could find.

Delosperma 'P001S' the day I bought it.
That's about a 1 gallon container as these are sold in large chunks as groundcover plants.
Delosperma flowers from spring through summer and is hardy down to zone 5
The Firespinner (TM) was throwing me off. How can you trademark a name for a plant? Plants aren't named that way. Everyone who took basic Biology class knows plants are named scientifically. Plant growers know at least the genus and species and that's what we refer to the plant's name as. Cultivar names are in between '' marks, etc. I though this is just the way it's done, and I was right, kind of....

Here's where it gets annoying. Yes, you can trademark a name for a plant (that already has a genus, species, and cultivar name too.) Yet by doing so you violate part of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, US Trademark Law, and possibly also the rules of the US Federal Trade Commission. Also, if your trademarked name becomes the common term to people use to refer to the plant, your trademark becomes invalid. If anyone took you to court over your trademark, you would probably lose. So why trademark a plant? It seems to be for the initial sales and marketing dollars and trying to get the public to think that your name for the plant is the plants name. No one is standing up to the companies that do this, so they get away with it.

So now you're asking me why should I care, who does this hurt at the end of the day? Unfortunately this hurts everyone from growers to the consumers. Confusing names, multiple names, invalid names, all hurt communication about the plant in question and is an unethical business practice. An international naming code exists for a reason. When everyone is on the same page we can talk or write about a particular plant and everyone will understand. This is the only way we can share knowledge effectively. Isn't that in everyone's best interest? Here's a well written article that explains further, and with more detail, why trademarking plants is a terrible thing. The author has much more knowledge than I on the subject so I'll let him explain, if you are at all interested in further reading, The Misuse of Trademarks in Horticulture

So thanks pretty little Delopserma, I learned a lot and got kind of pissed off about something I had never even though about before. About a week ago someone gave me a piece of Delosperma floribundum Starburst(TM). For any future posts I might make about that one, I'll just leave off the "Starburst(TM)" and go with the genus/species combo, and not go on a plant naming rant again. Out of protest, I won't be referring to Delosperma 'P001S' with it's trademark name either, seeing as how it would be illegal for me to use Firespinner (TM) for anything I propagate from it anyway.


  1. Congratulations on your site, Melody!

    This is going to be great, getting more insight and education about plants, their culture and propagation, and the myriad of things we normally take for granted or don't even question at all. I hope this blog will inspire others as you've inspired me. There are no "smiley faces" to place here, but I'm smiling!

  2. Thanks a lot Paul! I appreciate your support. Less commonly grown plants are difficult to research, as there's just as much worthless or wrong information out there is anything valuable. I can only hope some of whatever I end up posting about helps others. So many times online I see people getting discouraged because of what they've seen, been told, or read about a particular plant so I'd like to try and change that where I can. So many people are afraid to even try to grow a Phalaenopsis, and they're one of the easiest!

    I tend to be a bit opinionated and outspoken about things, so when stuff is newsworthy (at least in my opinion) I'll be sharing what I can here.

    I was having an issue last night getting threaded comments to work, so hopefully this comment shows up as a reply to yours.

    1. It does show up. I just had a bit of looking around to do, so I could post my congrats to you. No big deal. It got to you. It'll be fun, watching the list grow!

  3. Hi Melody,

    An excellent blog. Keep on being outspoken!

    1. Thank you Luther!

      I've been following your blog for a while. Your posts are always interesting and fantastic pictures! I haven't gotten a chance to put together an order yet, but everything looks fantastic so that's only a matter of time.