You are a gardener; you’re enamored with gardening, with flowers, with plants. People describe you as an ‘avid gardener’, ‘obsessed with gardening’. They may even refer to you as a gardening geek.
But to reach that next level of “gardenerd”, you have to embrace botanical names for a happier life, at least for a happier gardening life.
Yes, I’ve heard the excuses of why some gardeners don’t like to use the botanical names of plants.
Shall we go through those excuses and eliminate them?
You are afraid you’ll mispronounce the botanical names and everyone will gasp and point and laugh at you. How do you know your way of pronouncing these names isn’t the right way? Or maybe a name can be pronounced more than one way? I’ve heard my own last name pronounced three different ways. Even with ‘the family’ there are some who pronounce the name one way, and others who pronounce it a completely different way. No one laughs, it’s okay.
You think the botanical names are too hard to remember. Well, yes, some botanical names don’t just roll off the tongue and do take some effort to remember. You could help your memory by keeping a plant catalog so you can look up the botanical names, or just write them down somewhere, or just practice saying them and memorize them.
You think you’ll sound pretentious. You won’t sound pretentious to real gardeners. You’ll sound like someone who loves plants and wants to be sure you get the right plants for your gardens.
Now that we’ve removed the excuses, let’s review some good reasons to learn the botanical names of plants.
– Using the botanical name ensures that you’ll always get the plant you want when you go shopping (providing the seller labeled it correctly).
– Knowing the botanical name sometimes tells you something about the plant.
– Learning botanical names will give you more confidence as a gardener, and make it easier to talk to other gardeners, since you are using a common language.
– Embracing botanical names will lead to a happier gardening life.
To help you embrace botanical names, here a tiny bit of information on botanical names to get you started.
All plants are classified into families and family names generally end with ‘aceae’. You’ve heard of some of them, like Asteraceae is the Aster/Daisy family.
Within each plant family there are genuses (or genera if you prefer) and within each genus there are species. The botanical names that most of us learn are the genus and the species.
The genus name is usually a noun, and the species is usually an adjective that tells you something about the plant.
The correct way to write a plant name is to capitalize the Genus name and italicize the name in print or underline it if handwritten. For example, Helianthus is a genus in the Asteraceae family and an example of a species is annuus. That’s the common sunflower, which has the botanical name Helianthus annuus.
If there is a cultivated variety of a plant, it can be part of the name, too, and is put in quotes in plain text, following the botanical name, like Helianthus annuus ‘Monet’s Palette’.
Now, when two plants of the same genus are crossed to create a hybrid, the hybrid name is noted with an “x” between the genus and species, like Helianthus x multiflorus, which is the result of a cross between Helianthus annuus and H. decapetalus
Whew! That’s enough info to start embracing botanical names. If you aren’t quite sure you want to embrace them, you might be bleary-eyed by now.
But there’s more to know!
To make sure that a plant has only one official botanical name, there is actually an International Code of Botanical Nomenclature that can only be changed by the International Botanical Congress. And, to make sure they don’t rush into any botanical name changes, they only meet once every 6 years and require a 60% or greater majority to make a name change.
If you really are afraid to say a botanical name out loud, for fear of mispronouncing it, there are some websites that pronounce them for you like Fine Gardening and others that spell them out phonetically, like Botanary on Dave’s Garden. Or you can buy one of dozens of books on botanical Latin, such as Botanical Latin by William T. Stearn.
If you are already embracing botanical names, and some of my favorite gardeners are, you can help other do the same by never correcting their pronunciation of a botanical name in public; you should help them with it in private, but remember, they could be right!
If you are a gardener who is a still timid about using botanical names, give it a try, embrace the name, say it loudly, with confidence, and I promise, no one will laugh.
Embrace botanical names for a happier life!