The Difference Between Variety And Species – Here’s the Answer


Do you wonder what the difference between variety and Species is? Perhaps you weren’t sure but never really dared ask?

well, it might seem obvious to most of us, but it’s not always made clear. So I thought it would be a good idea to clarify this point for you.

The difference between variety and species is –  species is the basic unit of classification and it defines an individual organism. Species share similar traits and produce similar offspring. Whereas, variety is a taxonomic rank lower than species. Varieties often occur in nature and most varieties are true to their species type.

Species and variety are both different taxonomical ranks, given to the population of organisms that are genetically similar for example apes and humans are two different species who belong to the same family.

To make it simpler for you to grasp the differences between both species and variety, we should at least cover some knowledge about Taxonomy, the modern version of which was invented by Carolus Linnaeus, born in 1707 who refined his techniques over 70 years up to his death in 1778.

What is Taxonomy

Taxonomy is the science of classification of all living things on the face of the earth, and those who came before. The ultimate goal of taxonomy is to simplify and logically catalog relationships between organisms, both existing and extinct and linking all the organisms back to a single ancestor.

To further understand the difference between variety and species, we must dig deeper and start from the very basic definition of both.

Species

Species are defined as a group of the population having similar characteristics and reproductive features that reproduce fertile offspring of its own types, such as dog or fern.

A dog will give birth to puppies who look almost exactly like the parent dog, similarly, a seedling will grow and mature into a fern plant which is similar to the parent fern.

The organisms of one species are incapable of reproducing with another organism from another species and still produce an offspring that belongs to either species. Instead, offspring born as a result of a mating between two different species is called hybrid species. Species refer to a specific organism within a genus.

Variety

When a group of organisms develops unique traits due to geographical or environmental isolation, these unique traits are termed as varieties. Variety is a taxonomic rank used to classify plants. The comparative term for variety in the animal kingdom is subspecies.

A species can have many different types of varieties and all these varieties occur naturally. Most varieties are true to type, which means that they produce offspring which are similar to the parent plant.

In other words, when the seedlings from a variety of plant growth, they will also inherit the same unique characteristics as the parent plant.

Rank In Taxonomy

Species is the level that defines an individual organism. Species are the most basic category in the system of taxonomy followed by subspecies, varieties, type, form and races, all these ranks are inferior when compared to species.

Main taxonomic ranks – in English

  • Life
  • Domain
  • Kingdom
  • Phylum (in zoology)
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species

Variety is a taxonomical rank lower than species but above form. All the plants in this category are only slightly different from the species plant.

Nomenclature 

The name of a species is always written after the Genus name, with no capital letter, and in small letters – for example, the scientific name for redbud is “Cercis canadensis”, where “Cercis” is the Genus name and “Canadensis” is the name of species.

You can tell a species’ different aspects by its name, such as the color of the flowers, shape, and size of the leaves.

The scientific name of a variety of plants follows the Genus name with abbreviation “var.” before the actual variety name – for example, the scientific name for lesser spearwort with narrow leaves is “Ranunculus flammula var. tenuifolius.” Here, tenuifolius” is a variety name that describes the narrow leaves of the plant.

Example 

Redbud and its variety

You can further understand the differences with the help of examples. As we already mentioned earlier that one species can have many different types of varieties which all are naturally occurring variations.

These variations are not absolutely but only slightly different than the species. We will take the example of a plant called eastern redbud which grows throughout most of the eastern USA. 

eastern redbud
eastern redbud

Although most redbuds have lavender-pink flowers, there are certainly different varieties that have different colors. Redbud’s scientific name is Cercis canadensis.

There is a variety of redbud with white flowers found in nature which is called scientifically Cercis canadensis var. alba. The varietal term “alba” refers to white. 

Texas redbud is another variation of eastern redbud called Cercis canadensis var. texensis. The varietal term “texensis” refers to the place in Texas. The leaves of this plant are round and glossy.

Another variation similar to Texas redbud is Mexican redbud called Cercis canadensis var. Mexicana. Mexican redbud is smaller in stature with smaller, glossier and wave-like edgy leaves and red flowers.

If you were to germinate seeds from this variety of plants, most, if not all will show same distinct features as their predecessors, for example, if seeds of white alba are germinated, most of the plants produced would be with white flowers.

Resources

If you want to include Taxonomy into your classroom, here’s a recommended book resource Taxonomy: The Classification of Biological Organisms (Heredity and Genetics)

“This book supports the Next Generation Science Standards on heredity and biological evolution by helping students understand how mutations lead to genetic variation, which in turn leads to natural selection.”

Conclusion

I hope this has been useful in helping you understand the difference between Variety and Species.

Even as someone qualified in Ecology, I’m as guilty much of the time of using the word variety to express differences in animal species, so I think sometimes some of the phrases are interchangeable.

So if you do tend to mix them up a bit, don’t beat yourself up about it. Unless it’s for an academic study I think you’ll be forgiven!

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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