Gardening with Deb Babcock: Botanic names are a better way to identify your plants |

Gardening with Deb Babcock: Botanic names are a better way to identify your plants

Deb Babcock
Deb Babcock

Scientific names offer clues about your plant

Here are a few of the Latin botanical names with their English descriptions:

albus - white

aureus - golden

azureua - sky blue

cereus - waxy

discolor - two colors

purpureus - purple

rubens - red

folius - foliage or leaves

angustifolius - narrow leaves

acerifolius - maplelike

salicifolius - willowlike

altus - tall

contortus - twisted

elegans - elegant, slender, willowy

nanus - dwarf

repens - creeping

scandens - climbing

alpinus - of the Alps

australis - southern

chinensis - of China

japonicus - of Japan

littoralis - of the seashore

montanus - of the mountains

riparius - of riverbanks

saxatilis - living in rock

flora - having flowers

phyllus - leaves

densi - dense

fruticosus - shrubby

fulgens - shiny

grandi - large, showy

maculatus - spotted

mollis - soft

platy- broad

plumosus - feathery

rugosus - wrinkled, rough

sagittalis - arrowlike

— On a visit to the Betty Ford Garden in Vail a few summers ago, I found a plant called Dusty Miller that I thought would be perfect for my home garden. When looking up this plant in the catalogs, I found that Dusty Miller is a common name for several plants with silvery leaves. What I really wanted was Artemesia “Silver Brocade.”

If I had asked for this plant by its common name, I might have gotten Centaurea cineraria or Lychnis coronaria or even Senecia vira-vira — all of which are also commonly called Dusty Miller but are not the plant I wanted.

Plant common names can be confusing and misleading as many plants share the same common name, and many plants have more than one common name.

That’s why you’re more likely to obtain the exact plant you want when you use the botanic, or scientific, name for it. To help you out when we write about plants in this column, we generally attempt to provide the plant common name followed by its botanic name.

The other advantage of botanic names is that they are often quite descriptive of the plant. The first part of the name is the genus (Artemesia) and the second part is the species and/or its hybrid or cultivar name (Silver Brocade).

The genus might consist of just one species or over 1,000 species. Often when several plants of the same genus are being cited, the genus name is abbreviated to its initial letter, such as A. lactiflora for Artemesia lactiflora.

The plant’s second (species, hybrid or cultivar) name is often easy to decipher and describes some aspect of the plant. In the example of A. “Silver Brocade,” the second name describes the silvery color and ornate pattern of the foliage.

Variations of species created by gardeners are known as cultivars or hybrids. Often you’ll find a cultivar name in quotation marks such as Artemisia absinthium “Lambrook Silver.”

When two species are involved in the parentage of a new plant, a hybrid is created. In those cases, generally only the genus is indicated followed by a modern language name in quotations like the rose varieties R. “Heritage” or R. “Autumn Sunset.”

Some Latin botanic names are so close to the English translation that it’s easy to decipher the meaning. For example, the nomenclature “azureus” describes the color blue or azure, “purpureus” means purple, “arboreus” means treelike and “compactus” means compact or dense.

Sometimes the species name describes where the plant comes from such as “africanus” from Africa or “borealis” meaning northern. Other species names describe plant peculiarities such as “edulis” meaning edible or “macro” meaning large or “officinalis” meaning medicinal or “fragrans” meaning aromatic or fragrant.

Because botanists throughout the world use the same system of naming plants, gardeners can identify and describe plants from anywhere without confusion by using the scientific names. Also knowing the botanic names of your plants can help in understanding the conditions in which they will flourish in your garden.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Questions? Call 970-879-0825.

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