Plant Terminology

Latin vs. English

Sometimes it can sound like experienced gardeners are speaking a foreign language. Well, actually, they are: Latin. Learning the Latin names of plants can save you a lot of trouble. For one thing, many plants don't have an English name. A petunia is a petunia in Latin OR English. But a rose is not a rose is not a rose. If you didn't know the Latin and asked for moss rose you might be surprised by what you'd get.

The Latin name is usually written like this: Coreopsis verticillata `Moonbeam'. The name of the genus comes first and is capitalized. Then comes the name of the species, lower-cased. Finally comes the particular variety, which is usually a descriptive name in English, and is in quotes.

Unfortunately, official Latin names of plants change often enough to keep even expert botanists on their toes trying to keep up with them. But don't be afraid, there is no need to memorize a lot of plant Latin. Just try to remember the names of your favorite plants, so if you want to find out more about them or recommend them to a friend, you'll be sure which plants you're talking about.