1.7: The Meaning of Plant Names - Biology

1.7: The Meaning of Plant Names - Biology

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Learning Objectives

  • Describe the meaning of botanical names.

Botanical names often provide a helpful description of a plant. The origins of Latin and Greek names may be classical, mythological, or commemorative, or they may relate to a place, area, or season. Descriptors for plant surface characteristics or color, habitat, growth habit, and size and shape are other common sources for specific epithets. Familiarity with their meaning is helpful for remembering plant names. References such as the Dictionary of Plant Names by Allen J. Coombes (1994) or The Names of Plants (1996) contain interesting information on the origin and meaning of plant names. Information is also available online at these links to Califlora: Plant Name Meanings and Derivations [New Tab][1] and The Meaning of Latin Plant Names [New Tab][2].

Practice Identify the meaning of each of the specific epithets using the links above to online resources.

An interactive or media element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Botanical Nomenclature Guide: The Meaning Of Latin Plant Names

There are so many plant names to learn as it is, so why do we use Latin names too? And exactly what are Latin plant names anyway? Simple. Scientific Latin plant names are used as a means of classifying or identifying specific plants. Let’s learn more about the meaning of Latin plant names with this short but sweet botanical nomenclature guide.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1Introduction to the Literature of Plant Biology
  • Chapter 2General Sources
  • Chapter 3History and Biography
  • Chapter 4Plant Evolution and Paleobotany
  • Chapter 5Ethnobotany
  • Chapter 6Ecology
  • Chapter 7Anatomy, Morphology, and Development
  • Chapter 8Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Biotechnology
  • Chapter 9Plant Physiology and Phytochemistry
  • Chapter 10Systematics and Identification

We hope you find this site useful and we welcome comments.

Diane Schmidt
Biology Librarian (Retired), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Melody M. Allison
Assistant Biology Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Kathleen A. Clark
Biotechnology Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Maria A. Porta
Assistant Acquisitions Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Pamela F. Jacobs
Associate University Librarian for Collections, Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario

List of plant genus names (A–C)

Since the first printing of Carl Linnaeus's Species Plantarum in 1753, plants have been assigned one epithet (name) for their species and one for their genus (a grouping of related species). [1] Many of these genera (genuses) are listed in Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners. William Stearn (1911–2001) was one of the pre-eminent British botanists of the 20th century: a Librarian of the Royal Horticultural Society, a president of the Linnean Society and the original drafter of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. [2] [3]

The first column below contains seed-bearing genera from Stearn and other sources as listed, excluding those names that no longer appear in more modern works, such as Plants of the World by Maarten J. M. Christenhusz (lead author), Michael F. Fay and Mark W. Chase. [4] Plants of the World is also used for the family and order classification for each genus. The second column gives either a meaning or the derivation of the word, such as a namesake or a language of origin. The last two columns indicate additional citations. [5] [6] [7] [8]


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