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Why Latin?

Lots of time we are intimidated by things we are not familiar with or we fear the unknown. In this case it might be the scientific or botanical name given to a plant. Why do we have to bother with that nomenclature at all?

Well, the fact is that this is the very system that will save you time and money. You should perk up on that alone.

Nothing is more confusing to the gardener than expecting to purchase one thing and getting another. Common names are often regional and confusing. Even two nurseries next to each other may call the same plant different names.

The scientific name or the botanical name is "the" one and only correct name for a plant. All plants have two names. The genus is like our last name. It will be listed first and always begins with a capital. The genus will be a group of closely related plants.

The second name is the species. This will describe the habitat of a plant, or may serve as a tribute to who discovered the plant.

For example, Magnolia grandiflora. Magnolia is the genus. And, we know there are many different magnolias. The grandiflora name describes that its flowers (flora) are large (grandi).

Sometimes a third name will follow. This will be the variety. Hypoestes phyllostachya 'Pink Splash' is commonly known as the polka-dot plant.  'Pink Splash' is the variety.

And then sometimes there is a botanical name following that. A cultivated variety. Most often in hostas, daylilies, the name will be in 'cultivar variety' written form. These are hybrids.

The hybrid name is the special cultivated variety. It is especially important in the world of hostas, daylilies, roses, and iris.

Here's the big story of it all.

Every living thing on Earth either belongs to the PLANT KINGDOM or the ANIMAL KINGDOM.

Plant Kingdom                   
|  Some examples of families
| CRASSULACEAE - Succulents
Class ARECACEAE - Palms
| ROSACEAE - Roses
Order BRUMELIACEAE - Bromelaids
| ORCHIDACAE - Orchids
Family BRASSICACEAE - Cabbages
Genus SOLANACEAE - Night Shade Plants
| CACTACEAE - Cactus
Species IRIDACEAE - Iris

Pronunciations - Whoa! Here we go again. there are many software now on the market that will pronounce as the flowers are shown. Nice if you can remember sounds, but there are several books, that will explain the rules of pronunciation for Latin names. One recommendation is A.W. Smith's "Plant Name: Their Meanings and Origins".  He is suggesting that botanical names be pronounced like English words. But Latin is pronounced using every vowel. It may take some practice and regions will still stick to their cultural pronunciations. I won't even start with that.

Everyone tends to use common names. Nicknames, so to speak.

That's fine if everyone is in agreement - but, unfortunately, we are not.

There are always exceptions to the rule and the obvious is not. Even catalogs take liberties and make up a new common name just to spark our interest only to find out its an old favorite. It is a buyer beware situation.

Happy Hunting. Don't have surprise purchases because of the common name.