Friday, January 8, 2010

What's In a Name?

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at

Not since the dawn of the new millennium has there been so much controversy about a new year. When the year 2000 was approaching corporate America spent millions of dollars on the possible effect of ‘Y2K’. Additionally there was the discussion which year began the new millennium; 2000 or 2001.

With this year many pose the question ‘Is it Twenty-ten or Two Thousand Ten?’

I first heard this discussed on a news talk show the first day of our New Year. I found it hard to believe that a complete segment of the show was dedicated to this query inclusive of the standard man on the street questioning. The results were split with many commenting that they actually didn’t give it much thought.

As gardeners we come across many names; botanical/Latin or scientific and common. Personally I switch between the botanical and common. Common names often vary from region, country to country.

Allow me to sigh while I promise myself to learn the proper botanical name or more correctly how to pronounce. This is my biggest obstacle. The need to speak in ‘botanical’ was most evident when I recently had a couple from the England attend a few of my gardening classes. Ornamental plants are rarely referred by their common names in the United Kingdom other than the most common, such as rose. When I used the common name and their eyes met mine with a questioning plea, I had to delve into my brain and attempt to pronounce the botanical correctly.

In an effort not to bore you or me I will share the over view of what’s in a plant’s name. Simply, botanical names of plants are recognized worldwide as established by a group of very smart and passionate people who established the "International Code of Botanical Nomenclature”. Believe me when I say I will most likely never utter the name of this group. Until today I didn’t know the definition of nomenclature. For those like me, sorry, but you will need to look it up yourself.

In plant speak often the genus name is commonly used such as ‘Delphinium VS ‘Larkspur’. When was the last time you heard ‘False Spirea’ in referring to Astilbe? Sedum often trumps stonecrop. More often, the common name is spoken, Foxglove’ VS Digitalis, Coral Bells in place of Heuchera

The family name is the first part of the botanical name. More commonly for discussion, the Genus receives first billing.

Genus: Plants of the same genus will possess some certain characteristics. The name may be taken from mythology, literature, a person, place or something a plant resembles.

Species: May refer to the place where the plant is native, first discovered or the plant’s appearance (shape of leaf, original foliage or bloom color) or the name of the person credited with its discovery.

Variety: The variety will follow species. Varieties are naturally occurring or mutations creating a change in the plants appearance, most often the flower color; alba (white), purpurea (purple), rubra (red).

Add Cultivar to the mix and things become a little more detailed. Cultivars occur naturally but can only be replicated by propagation and human intervention.

Lastly, who among us can neglect the term hybrid? These are the human created varieties produced by cross pollination. Naming the hybrid is usually the honor of the creator proceeded with an ‘x’.

Let’s pull this together with one of my favorite plants, the Coneflower, most notably the ‘Purple Coneflower’: Family: Asteraceae; Genus: Echinacea; Species: purpurea. This hardy perennial owes its name to the Greek term for hedgehog,"echinos". Who doesn’t just love touching the ‘cone’ at maturity? I can envision a small brown hedgehog curled in a little ball. I digress; purpurea (purple) represents the native blossom color. Today, with all the new varieties, the coneflower is anything but purple. “Magnus

So, what will you call this year and the remaining years of the 21st century? I’m going with twenty-ten. Did you ever recall saying ‘One thousand nine hundred ninety –nine’ when referring to the final year in the last millennium? I thought as much.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
January 8, 2010

1 comment:

David said...

KCB: My experience at Skillins tells me that it's a mixed bag when it comes to Latin names versus common names. A customer may not have heard of a coneflower, but when I say "echinacea," they probably recognize it as a nutritional supplement. Astilbe and Heuchera are probably as common as False Spirea and Coral Bells. When you learn that Russian Sage is Perovskia, you might realize that it's not a true sage. This past year we organized the perennials by Latin name, and it sure made it easier to find things. So brush up on your Latin: it does come in handy!