Plant Names Explained

By Mark Hoover

Have you ever seen a plant name that you really didn’t understand? Here’s a quick explanation that might help the next time you’re visiting a public garden or even purchasing your next specimen for your garden.  

Simply, plants have a common name and a botanical name. Every plant has one name given to it in Latin. You may not always see the botanical name as they’re often hard to pronounce and don’t mean much to the average person. However, they’re very important to gardeners, landscapers, nurserymen, etc. These names allow for one common name to be recognizable to everyone no matter which language you’re familiar with. Botanical names are also referred to as the species of plant which can be broken up into two parts; the Genus and the specific epithet. All plants of the same Genus are also of the same family. The specific epithet often describes the plant of that Genus and can make it easier to understand. For example, “rubrum” translates to “red” in English. Once you know that Acer is the genus for maples, it makes it easier to put the two together.  

Common names are much easier to understand, and that’s the big reason they’re used so often. However, the same plant can have many common names that are recognizable to different people. Botanical names with a name or letters in single quotations are cultivars. These plants have been selected for a characteristic that makes them superior to other varieties. Cultivars can be selected in the breeding process but can also be selected from the wild.  

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