Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Plant Vendors Reach New Lows, A Rant

Some of you may know that I am a stickler when it comes to plant names. One of the hazards of being a "type A" plant geek and aspiring garden curator. More than that, I don't like people or practices that try to trick customers.

Recently I came across a pair of listings for lily bulbs on the website of a plant vendor who shall remain nameless. It's the kind of vendor you get five catalogs from, all under different names but with identical, or nearly identical offerings from the same supplier. You know the type, bearing a coupon for some percent or amount discounted if you spend so much money. I've become somewhat inured to the failings of these types of companies to list real cultivar names and their inappropriate use of trademarks and other marketing names. These listings, however, sunk to new lows.

Flinching from the pain of seeing a registered trademark in single quotes (a big no-no in plant names and misinformation besides), I saw two identical pictures, flipped horizontally and cropped slightly differently, of the same lily being sold under two different names. Clicking on "more details", I saw that the botanical name was listed as "Lilium oriental." At least they got the genus right, even if it isn't in italics. One had just the bogus binomial while the other continued to sport the criminal registered trademark "cultivar" name.

Continuing to read through the descriptions, I noticed that even those were practically identical. The only notable difference being that one of the lilies being sold was shorter than the other. This is a feat that can be achieved through the use of plant growth regulators, chemicals that are applied to many plants, usually to make them more compact and bushier. Given that the photos were literally mirror images of each other, I think it safe to assume these are the same plants. One has simply been treated so that it grows shorter. What really gets me about these kinds of shady dealings is that the unsuspecting customers have no idea that they may be buying the same thing twice. By the second year, the plant growth regulators will have worn off and there will be absolutely no difference between the two lilies. At least the shorter one is slightly cheaper than the full-sized version. If you wanted to save some money but wanted the taller version, you could just buy the cheaper short one and wait until the next growing season. Presto!

Out of curiosity, I asked my friend TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System), who works at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, if the name was even actually a registered trademark. Turns out this company is even lying about that. I wonder what kind of trouble this company could get into for using a registered trademark owned by another company?

Is it that hard for a company like this to do a little bit of research to make sure they are using plant names correctly? I wish it was only the blame of cheating money-makers, but uncaring consumers are just as much to blame. If you don't want to fall prey to these underhanded attempts to steal your money through false advertising, please educate yourselves and do some research. Understanding the difference between scientific names, cultivars, and marketing names (trademarked or otherwise) can help you save yourself from buying the same thing twice and will help you in your quests for those cool plants you're dying to track down, without becoming a victim to schemes like this one. Bad enough that these companies frequently use bogus names to try to sell the same thing they offered in previous years or in a different catalog. Trying to pass off the same plant, in the same year, on the same website, as two different varieties just because one is treated to grow shorter really is sinking to a new low!

I'd love to blow the whistle and warn my fellow gardeners about this company, but I'd rather avoid any potential legal situations. I hope this tale inspires some of you to become more informed so you can recognize rip-offs like this one.

And that's my rant. For returning with a tirade after several weeks of silence, please accept this gratuitous photo as an apology. I'm going to try to shake off my winter lethargy to find some interesting things to post about more frequently. Since everything outside is buried in snow, I might try to go back to my task of sorting through photos of past garden adventures. I'm so ready for spring.

Corylopsis 'Winterthur' (originally posted as C. glabrescens 'Winterthur', my bad) with Metasequoia glyptostroboides in the background, at Longwood Gardens.

10 comments:

  1. The world needs Type A Plant Geeks, if only to remind us that fraud is everywhere and the business of plants is as cut throat as any. I wish there was a way to report such dishonesty.
    The Corylopsis glabrescens helps lower my blood pressure after it went up reading your post :-)

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    1. I wish there was a way to report these kinds of things, too, and someone to enforce it. Oops, I messed up on the name of the Corylopsis. It's actually Corylopsis 'Winterthur', no glabrescens. It's a hybrid of uncertain parentage. I forgot temporarily.

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  2. Nothing like a good rant to clear the sinuses...and maybe spread the word in the process.

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    1. Now that you mention it, I am breathing a little easier. ;)

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  3. Off your chest and off to help others ;)

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    1. I needed to rant about something today. How convenient I happened upon that website and could rant about something constructively!

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  4. I'm glad for your rants and that you are out there! Absolutely we need to educate ourselves, sometimes it takes a while but have patience, we'll get there. If you want to tell me which companies to avoid, I welcome that information - email me!

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    1. Ah! I thought I replied! Obviously not. Sorry about that. If you send me your email address I can give you the specifics on this particular case, at least.

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    2. you can reach me at lucyandhobbes@gmail.com ...thanks, Evan!! Tamara

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