October 16th, 2012

Intimidated by Latin Names

The plant names written in Latin are so confusing. Why don’t you just call everything by its regular English name?

blog-dougThere are several good reasons for using botanical nomenclature when identifying plants. For one, scientific names are an international language, so each species of plant (or other living creature) is identified by the same name throughout the world. Scientific names also reveal relationships among plants by grouping those with similar characteristics and evolutionary paths into the same order, family, or genus. The two-word name given to a species, such as Vinca minor or Ginkgo biloba, is called a binomial or scientific name. It’s often written in italics with the first of the two words capitalized.

In contrast, common names of plants can be imprecise. “Snowball bush” can refer to several types of viburnum or hydrangea; “bluebell” can be the English bulb of meadows, the wildflower of North American woodlands, or any of several summer-blooming perennials. The plant I call beebalm (Monarda didyma) you may know as Oswego tea or wild bergamot.

There’s nothing wrong with using common names, but knowing the scientific name of a plant will help you to search for more information about it online or to find a retailer that sells it. If you are unsure of how to pronounce those Latinized names, do what a botany professor told me years ago: Whether you know the correct pronunciation or not, always say scientific names in a strong and authoritative voice, and everyone else will think they’ve been saying them wrong.  —Doug Hall

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Comments

    My parents had a snowball bush and it was so big and beautiful. I must have gotten my love for growing things from them.
    http://www.growingmicrogreens.com

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