I like quizzes, games, and puzzles and hope you do too. Hereâ€™s one I made up. What do the following plants have in common: hosta, allium, phlox, crocus, magnolia, geranium, fuchsia, astilbe, clematis, anemone, gladiolus, hibiscus, iris, impatiens, begonia, canna, dahlia, forsythia, zinnia, petunia, cosmos, wisteria, hydrangea, delphinium, rhododendron? Click on â€œmoreâ€ for the answer.
All of these plants are well known, popular, and easily recognized. I have many in my garden and would guess most of you have at least one, too. What sets them apart is they are best known by their botanical and latin names without referencing a â€œcommon nameâ€. Take the last three plants: Hydrangea, Delphinium, and Rhododendron. These are not easy or intuitive names. Itâ€™s our familiarity that allows us to pronounce and spell them, although the silent â€œhâ€ in Rhododendron used to trip me up long ago.
What prompted me thinking about this is a recent article by a local columnist. A common plant, a native, was being discussed. In a backhanded way, the author was making fun of its botanical name. I agree that it has a long and challenging name. Phonetically spelling its name and explaining why it was chosen for the plant would have been helpful but wasnâ€™t offered. Here is a link to a pronunciation guide.
Plants are not given their names by whimsy, capriciousness, or to trip up anyoneâ€™s tongue. Some names are given as honorifics. Care to guess whom Washingtonia, Franklinia, and Jeffersonia – palms, a tree, and spring woodlanders – were named after? Others denote place of origin. Californica, idahoensis, missouriensis, and pensylvanicum are named after states. Japonica = Japan, sinensis and chinensis = China, nepalense = Nepal and taiwanense = Taiwan for countries in Asia. Kathyâ€™s Colchicums can be included here, being named after ancient Colchis, an area on the Black Sea.
A name often describes a plantâ€™s feature. The sizes, margins, shapes, colors, and surfaces of leaves and flowers all have specific words expressing an attribute. Names are sometimes given that show a physical relationship to other plants. Ones I have run across include references to the leaves (folia) of Alders = alnifolia, Birch = betulifolia, Horse Chestnut = aesculifolia, Elderberry = sambucifolia, and Elm = ulnifolia.
My favorite is a name that describes a plantâ€™s growing environment, a real help for deciding placement in the garden or if Iâ€™m going to have success with it. Examples include: alpestris and alpicola = from mountains, palustris = from marshes, sylvestris = of woods, saxatillis = of rocks, montana = from mountains, glacialis = from cold areas, and arenaria = from sandy places.
Plants are occasionally renamed based on rules that can be found here. I gnash my teeth when this happens, as the changes discourage the names from common usage. Cimicifuga is now Actaea and Solenostemon has replaced Coleus. Most American species of Asters have been shuffled into Almutaster, Canadanthus, Doellingeria, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oligoneuron, Oreostemma, and Sericocarpus with new alternate spellings for some species. Many of the commonly grown garden Asters are now in Symphyotrichum. Iâ€™m having a hard time changing.
I usually memorize all of my plantsâ€™ botanical names â€“ I am such a plant nerd – but there are some that I prefer the common name to the latin. Snapdragon, Hollyhock, and Daffodil come immediately to mind. And even I think horticulturalists who insist on using Lilium, Rosa, and Tulipa are being picky.
Bonus: If you arenâ€™t completely bored and have the time, visit this page. Why are the zoologists having more fun than the botanists?