Archive for Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Learning Latin may help you label your garden

April 2, 2008


One of the biggest challenges for gardeners is remembering the names of all the plants they stick into the ground each year.

Describing something you remember from the previous growing season as a "large purple posy" or "striped red tomato" just doesn't get it when you're wandering among the hundreds of plant trays at your nearest nursery.

That's where horticultural Latin comes in, or at least the binomial naming system designed by Carl Linnaeus in the mid-18th Century.

Linnaeus tried making plant identification an easier and more certain exercise by designating a "Genus" (group, always capitalized) followed by a descriptive "epithet."

When paired, they describe a specific plant family as well as individuals within that family, as in Armoracia rusticana or horseradish and Lupinus subcarnosus or Texas bluebonnet.

Here are some examples, courtesy of the Iowa State University extension service:


¢ Ebenus: Ebony

¢ Erythro: Red

¢ Lacteus: Milky

¢ Purpureus: Purple

¢ Rosea: Rose


¢ Contorta: Twisted

¢ Globosa: Round

¢ Prostrata: Creeping


¢ Brevi: Short

¢ Grandi: Large

¢ Mega: Big

¢ Micro: Small

¢ Mono: Single

¢ Multi: Many


¢ Alpinus: Alpine

¢ Canadensis: Canada

¢ Chinensis: China

¢ Japonica: Japan

¢ Montana: Mountains

¢ Sibirica: Siberia


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