Intraspecific names

Does iNaturalist use “variety” and “subspecies” synonymously.

No, they are separate ranks on iNaturalist.

For animals specifically, the rank variety isn’t a formally accepted rank, only subspecies is.


For example, there are varieties of domestic wheat or maize, or even cattle. They are different, but are not subspecies. Canola could possibly be considered a subspecies of rapeseed, but I’m just spitballing.

Under the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) variety and subspecies are different formally accepted ranks.

ICN Shenzen code article 4 Article 4 (
iNat doesn’t always display the rank properly (for names under ICN) but does recognise them as different.

Perhaps this is too much information :)
iNat assigns a numeric value to each rank in its taxonomic hierarchy alongside the string value. For both “variety” and “subspecies” the value is 5. Not sure how that affects their use.

There is a lot of debate about var. vs. subsp. in plants. I think, if you follow the code properly, you would never have a subspecies unless you already have a variety. It’s a rank to put in-between variety and species if you need an extra rank, just like you would never have a subfamily without a genus. Lots of people ignore that though. There is a faction of botanists that treat subspecies the way the rest treat variety, and treat variety the way the rest treat form. There are some reasonable arguments for this, particularly to make it consistent with animal taxonomy. Because of this inconsistency though, variety and subspecies in plants are often equivalent but not always. The iNaturalist value of 5 mrtnlower mentioned presumably reflects that.

For plants (etc) if you follow the link to the relevant article in the code (that I listed above) you will see the formal ranks are listed in descending order and variety is subordinate to subspecies, not the other way around, and neither are they equivalent. Either can be used (as can forma). Their uses in formulating names is impacted by the fact that under ICN only trinomials are recognised, not quadrinomials etc. i.e. there can be no such name as, ‘Aus beus subspecies deus variety eus’.
Article 24 (
The use of any extra ranks is permissible but is a statement of classification and is not part of the formal name. The use of subspecies versus variety varies amongst groups. So for fungi it is far more common to see varieties, not subspecies, and for plants it is subspecies not varieties. I believe the formal differences in interpretation applied to these ranks originally dates back to different usage between North America (under the ‘American code’) and the rest of the world, before a single nomenclatural code was (re)adopted.

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Agastache pallidiflora ssp neomexicana var neomexicana is my favorite example of a quadrinominal

“Specifically, aren’t subspecies a coarser (vs. finer) rank compared to variety for applicable taxa like plants?”

That depends. If both subspecies and variety are being used as formal subspecific taxa within one species, the variety is lower ranked, a category within the subspecies.

Some people specify that subspecies have some geographic coherence and varieties live in different habitats, perhaps with overlapping ranges. Most botanists are just confused by that.

Many botanists use only subspecies or only varieties within a species. Which one? That follows local usage. In the PNW of North America, varieties are often used, I think because the influential authors of Flora of the PNW used them. In Europe, most people use only subspecies and find varieties a bit mysterious, thinking they are cultivars.

I think, hope, that botany is s-l-o-w-l-y drifting toward the use of only subspecies. Stranger things have happened.

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Here’s an abstract from an interesting paper that essentially sums up subspecies and varieties in plants. It’s an older paper buts seems to hold true.

Your terminology was fine. Sometimes I like to lecture even when the material was already covered well. Sorry about that.

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