Sunday, 10 January 2016

What’s in a name?

I much prefer to use Latin plant names rather than common names; Latin names avoid confusion and give lots of additional information about a plant’s habit or colour, where it came from or who discovered it. Common names often vary between locations and the same one can be used for more than one plant. For example, elephant’s ears is a common name used for Bergenia, Colocasia and Ligularia. The leaves of each plant might resemble an elephant’s ear, but they are very different plants with very different growing conditions.
Ligularia dentata Britt-Marie Crawford, common name Elephant's ears, which was found growing in her garden by a general practitioner who was a keen gardener. Before she could propagate it she died suddenly in her sleep. Her family ensured that the plant became commercially available and named it after her.

I suspect that a major reason why people avoid using Latin plant names is a fear of mispronunciation. If you simply say what you see you will get most plant names right, and it really doesn’t matter how you pronounce it as long as people know what plant you are talking about. 
Lamprocapnos spectabilis Gold Heart, formerly Dicentra, also known as Bleeding heart, Dutchman's breeches and Lady in the bath. 

If you want more information there are several publications that give the phonetic spellings. Here are some basic hints and tips. 

In the following phonetic examples, italics indicate the part to emphasize, for example Cotoneaster is ko-to-nee-as-ter

anything with a double “i” at the end is pronounced ee-eye, so Clematis Armandii is klem-a-tis ar-mand-ee-eye

Some other common tricky ones:
Kniphofia is nif-of-ee-a
Saxifraga is sax-ee-fra-ga
Silene is si-le-nee
Sisyrinchium is sis-e-rink-ee-um

You get the idea.

Hakonechloa macra Aureola and Ajuga reptans Burgundy Glow

Next, understanding the list of words that make up a Latin plant name is easier than you might imagine. The first word will be the genus, which is the name given to a group of plants that share a range of general characteristics, for example Acer, Cornus and Primula. The genus is always written with a capital first letter and italics.

Second you will find the species name, which groups together plants within each genus by more specific characteristics. For example Acer palmatum, Cornus mas and Primula vulgaris. The species name is written in lower case italics. The species name often describes a particular plant characteristic or where it comes from.

Acer palmatum means it has leaves like a hand
Cornus mas means it has masculine qualities
Primula vulgaris means it is a commonly found plant

Acer palmatum

Next there might be a cultivar or variety. This is the name given to it by a plant breeder and often gives a clue to its leaf or flower colour. The cultivar does not have italics and is often given single quote marks. Modern cultivar names do not contain Latin words. Some plant names will omit the species and go straight to the cultivar where its parentage is unclear.

Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’, a modern name to indicate the leaf colour
Cornus mas ‘Variegata’, a Latin cultivar to indicate that the leaves are variegated
Primula vulgaris ‘Alba Plena’, a Latin cultivar which indicates that the plant has white, double flowers

So to recap: Genus species Cultivar
example: Lavandula angustifolia Hidcote
translation: Lavender, narrow-leaved, named after Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire

Some common Latin words used in plant names

canandensis – from Canada
japonica – from Japan
napaulensis – from Nepal
orientalis – oriental/eastern
sibirica – from Siberia
sinense – from China

Primula Inverewe, named after the Scottish garden where it was found

People’s names
Bowdenii (bow-den-ee-eye) - the British surveyor, Athelstan Hall Cornish-Bowden, who sent Nerine bulbs from South Africa to Britain in 1899
Dalavyi (del-a-va-i) - Père Jean-Marie Delavay, a French missionary, explorer and botanist 
Sieboldii (see-bold-ee-eye) - Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German botanist and traveler
Veitchiana (veech-e-a-na) or Veitchiorum – nurserymen of Chelsea
Wilsonii – Dr Henry Wilson, English plant hunter
Wallichiii (wol-lich-ee-eye) – Dr Natahniel Wallich, Danish botanist and plant hunter

Chionodoxa forbesii pronounced ky-on-o-doks-a, common name Glory of the Snow, named after someone called Forbes but I'm not sure who!

Plant characteristics
capitata (kap-it-a-ta) – flowers clustered in heads
diphylla (dif-il-la) – two–leaved
elata (e-la-ta) or elatus – tall growing
elegans (el-ee-gans– elegant
flore pleno (flor-ee-plee-no) or plena – double flowers
floribundus (flor-ih-bun-dus) – very free-flowering
formosa (for-mo-sa) – handsome/beautiful
fragrans (fra-granz) – fragrant
fragrantissima (fra-gran-tis-sim-a) – most fragrant
fruticans (froo-tih-kanz) - shrubby
glaucum (glaw-kum) – glaucous or blue-green
gracilis (gras-il-is) – slender
grandiflorus (gran-dih-flor-us) – with large flowers
humilis (hu-mil-is) – low growing
illustris (il-lus-tris) – brilliant, lustrous
lanceolata (lan-se-o-la-ta) – spear-shaped leaves
longifolia (long-if-ol-ia) – long-leaved
macro - used in compound words to denote long or large
macrantha (mak-ran-tha) – large-flowered
odorata (od-or-a-ta) – sweet-scented
officinale (of-fis-in-a-le) – of the shop, herbal
palustris (pal-us-tris) – of marshes
peltatum (pel-ta-tum) – shield-like
polyphylla (pol-if-il-la) - many-leaved
procumbens (pro-kum-benz) - prostrate
reptans (rep-tans) – creeping
rivularis (riv-u-lar-is) – of river sides
sempervirens (sem-per-veer-enz) – always green
speciosa (spes-e-o-sa) – showy
spectabilis (spek-tab-il-is) – spectacular, showy
splendens (splen-denz) - splendid
sylvestris (sil-ves-tris) – of woods
versicolour (ver-sik-ol-or) – changeable colour
vulgare (vul-gar-e) or vulgaris (vul-gar-is) - common, many forms of

The plant name might describe its habit by reference to another plant, for example
jasminoides (jas-min-oy-dez) – jasmine-like
aquilegifolium (ak-wil-e-jif-o-le-um) – aquilegia-like foliage

Primula capitata

alba – white
aurea - golden
coccinea – scarlet
lutea – yellow
nigra – black
purpurea - purple
rubra – red

More simple than you thought? Now there is no excuse to avoid using Latin plant names and you can amaze your friends with your in-depth plant knowledge! 

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