- Why did linnaeus choose latin?
- Taxonomy is the science of finding describing and
- How to Write Scientific Names of Plant and Animal Species in Journal Manuscripts (Part 1)
- International Codes of Nomenclature
- Binomial Name
- Animal Kingdom
- Plant Kingdom
- Terminology: genus and species
- Natural Resources Conservation Service
- Plant Classification
- Weirdest species names
- A beginner’s guide to naming species in Latin
- Rules of Taxonomy
- Scientific Names
- Different Ways
- Related Video…
- Changing Times
- Common Confusion
- Learning Latin
- Whad Ya Say?
- Botanical Nomenclature Guide: The Meaning Of Latin Plant Names
- What are Latin Plant Names?
- Why Do We Use Latin Plant Names?
- Meaning of Latin Plant Names
- Plant Classification and How It Works
- International Plant Names Index (IPNI)
Why did linnaeus choose latin?
Linnaeus and other scientists used Latin because it was a dead language. No people or nation uses it as an official language.
Many other languages may have Latin bases but don’t use all of it. So he would not insult any country when he began to name organisms although you will see that he did one time to a person he did not like.
Before Linnaeus, species naming practices varied. He did study to be a doctor of medicine but was attracted to botany as many medicines at the time were from plants.
Many biologists gave the species they described long, unwieldy Latin names, which could be altered at will; a scientist comparing two descriptions of species might not be able to tell which organisms were being referred to.
For instance, the common wild briar rose was referred to by different botanists as Rosa sylvestris inodora seu canina and as Rosa sylvestris alba cum rubore, folio glabro.
The need for a workable naming system was made even greater by the huge number of plants and animals that were being brought back to Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
After experimenting with various alternatives, Linnaeus simplified naming immensely by designating one Latin name to indicate the genus, and one as a “shorthand” name for the species. The two names make up the binomial (“two names”) species name.
The sexual basis of Linnaeus’s plant classification was controversial in its day; although easy to learn and use, it clearly did not give good results in many cases.
Some critics also attacked it for its sexually explicit nature: one opponent, botanist Johann Siegesbeck, called it “loathsome harlotry”. (Linnaeus had his revenge, however; he named a small, useless European weed Siegesbeckia .)
Taxonomy is the science of finding describing and
At the species level 10.What is the most specific taxonomic grouping in which all three cats are the same?The Family 11.What is different about the way the genus and species names are writtencompared to the other taxa?They are written italics 12. The genus and species names are collectively referred to as the scientific name. It is written in a form known as binomial nomenclature , a two- term Latin naming system. There are three rules for writing a scientific name using this system. Analyze the information in Model 2 to complete the rules below: Rule 1: The scientific name is always written in __2__ parts, with the genus name written ______first____ and the species name ____second______. Rule 2: The scientific name is always written in _____ italics _________. If it is handwritten, it is written in cursive or underlined. Rule 3: The first letter of the genus name is a _________Capital__________ letter. 13.This system is used all over the world. Why do you think Latin is used instead of a more modern language?Latin is used because it is a dead language and it isn’t going to change 14. Using this system, would it be possible for two different species to have the same name? No, 2 species would have different names 15. In Linnaeus’s time, classification was based on the appearance of organisms. Think about the appearance of organisms such as tadpoles and frogs, sharks and dolphins, and penguins and eagles. What are the limitations of classifying organisms by only their appearance? If you just grouped by appearance you wouldn’t group whales, bats, humans, dogs, and platypuses as one group, but they are one group they are all mammals.
How to Write Scientific Names of Plant and Animal Species in Journal Manuscripts (Part 1)
The format for writing scientific names of animals and plants is standardized and internationally accepted. “Scientific nomenclature” refers to various names according to a specific field of study. This article is the first in a series on scientific nomenclature within specific kingdoms.
Usually, animals & plants are identified by common and scientific names.
Common name: These are used locally and may vary by region or country.
Scientific name: These are unique names used by the scientific community to accurately and universally identify species.
International Codes of Nomenclature
Taxonomists have established several “codes” for scientific nomenclature. These codes are universal and are periodically updated by consensus. The protocol for naming species was invented in the 1700s by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus created the system of “binomial nomenclature,” which uses only two designations–genus and specific epithet as the species name.
In the mid-1800s, scientists agreed on an expanded system of nomenclature. The following codes are used today:
- International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants.
- International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
- International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria recently changed to International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes.
- International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.
- International Code of Phytosociological Nomenclature.
- International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses–publishes several reports including How to Write a Virus Name.
Common names of species can vary by geographic region but a universal protocol helps avoid ambiguity and ensures consistency.
Known as the “taxonomic hierarchy,” the system consists of several groups of species based on genetic and phylogenic characteristics. The highest level is the “kingdom.” The first kingdom comprised only two types of living organisms—animals and plants. We have seven classifications within the kingdom domain—Bacteria, Archaea, Protozoa, Chromista, Plantae, Fungi, and Animalia.
Note that the designations are in Latin. This could be challenging for some who are not familiar with that language; however, the terms are globally consistent. There is no need to interpret them or translate them into another language.
The levels from highest to lowest classification are as follows:
Using this system, the gray wolf, for example, would be identified as follows:
The binomial name consists of a genus name and specific epithet. The scientific names of species are italicized. The genus name is always capitalized and is written first; the specific epithet follows the genus name and is not capitalized. There is no exception to this.
From above example, note that the classifications go from general (Animalia) to specific (C. lupus). A species, by definition, is the combination of both the genus and specific epithet, not just the epithet. For example, we can use the term gray wolf but we cannot use just Canis or lupus to describe this animal. Canis lupus is a species.
When writing, we use both the scientific name and the “common” name on the first mention. We then choose which to use throughout and make it consistent.
- Gray wolf (Canis lupus) is native to North America and Eurasia.
In subsequent references, we can use either the common or scientific name. If we use the scientific name, we need only to use the first letter of the genus followed by a period and the specific epithet. For example:
- In North America, the gray wolf was nearly hunted to extinction.
- In North America, C. lupus was nearly hunted to extinction.
It is also common to refer to several species under one genus when you want to point out some similar characteristics within a genus. For example:
- All species of Canis are known to be moderate to large and have large skulls.
You could also write this same information another way as follows:
- Canis spp. are known to be moderate to large and have large skulls.
In this case, “spp.” is an abbreviation for “several species” (“sp” is the designation for one species) in the genus. Either of the above is acceptable. If you are focusing on a few species in particular, you would refer to the species name of each one.
You might also see a scientific name followed by an initial or abbreviation. This would denote the person who discovered or named the species. For example, in Amaranthus retroflexus L., the L (not italicized) refers to the original name given by Linnaeus.
There are a few exceptions to some of these rules. First, the entire genus name must be spelled out if it begins a sentence, even if a subsequent reference:
- Canis lupus was nearly hunted to extinction in North America.
Second, when more than one species has the same genus initial but come from different genera, the genera names are spelled out to avoid confusion:
- Both the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the beaver (Castor canadensis) are native to North America.
In this case, it is best to use the common name after the first mention, but either format is correct.
Related: Do you have questions on manuscript drafting? Get personalized answers on the FREE Q&A Forum!
Titles and Headers
In titles, it is appropriate to write the entire scientific name of animals in uppercase letters. For example:
- A Study of the History of CANIS LUPUS in North America
In an italicized header, the species name can be written in non-italic style. For example:
- Canis lupus is nearly extinct in North America
Plant names also follow binomial nomenclature (similar to animal names).
- Royal grevillea (Grevillea victoriae) is found in New South Wales and Victoria.
In the plant kingdom, classification after species is subspecies (subsp.) and variety (var.). For example, there are three subspecies of Grevillea victoriae.
- Grevillea victoriae subsp. victoriae
- Grevillea victoriae subsp. nivalis
- Grevillea victoriae subsp. brindabella
When the species of a plant is unknown, a plant can be referred as Grevillea sp.
Moreover, when we collectively want to refer few or all species, we use Grevillea spp.
Similar to animal names, it is common to see a specific epithet that refers to a geographic area or the person who discovered it. For example, Grevillea victoriae F.Muell. Although these are proper nouns, they are still written in lowercase font. Be mindful that some word processors might attempt to capitalize these references.
This is something to check when proofreading your text.
Cultivar names are dictated by International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants
When writing, the cultivar name is added after genus or specific epithet and is put in single quotes without italicization. For example,
- Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’
- Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘Rosy Posy’
One of the basic rules of scientific writing is consistency. Regardless of your choice of scientific or common name, you must maintain consistency. Always check the author guidelines when preparing manuscripts. Formats for citations and references, headings, and section placement can be different. Be assured that the format for writing scientific names is internationally consistent regardless of the intended journal. The rules presented above will help.
In the next article in this series, we will discuss tips on writing bacterial species in names in journal manuscript.
You see that the common name of the species you are studying has several variations depending on the geographic area. Which do you use and why? What other challenges do you face when using scientific nomenclature? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
Terminology: genus and species
Lets start by discussing what is meant by the terms genus and species. An easy way to remember these terms is to note that genus refers to the “generic” name, and species refers to the “specific” name.
A genus is a group of related plants. The similarity among members of a genus may or may not be obvious. But taxonomists have determined that, due to certain features, these plants are related and thus classify them in the same genus. Genus names are often derived from Latin or Greek words, mythological figures, or plant characteristics.
The species name is the basic unit of classification. It describes one kind of plant within the genus, and is almost always an adjective. By itself, the species name is meaningless. For example, Digitalis purpurea is the botanical name for foxglove, while Echinacea purpurea is the name for purple coneflower. The species name, purpurea, indicates only that some part of the plant is purple; by itself it gives no clue to the identity of the plant.
Just what criteria are used to separate out individual species? This is a difficult question to answer precisely. Generally speaking, a species is a type of plant having certain characteristics that differentiate it from other members of the genus, and which retains these distinctions through successive generations. Individuals of different plant species often cannot interbreedthough, unlike for animals, this is not a reliable criterion for defining a species in the plant world.
Information on the thousands of plant groups and hundreds of thousands of species continues to accumulate. As a result, plant classifications are sometimes modified to reflect new information about plant relationships. In addition, it is often up to individual botanists to determine when a group of plants is different enough from others in the genus to constitute designation as a unique species.
Lets look at one interesting plant species: Brassica oleracea.
Youve probably grown some of what are commonly referred to as the brassicasespecially since this group of plants has been in the news for its reputed health-promoting properties.
So, which type of brassica does Brassica oleracea refer to? Broccoli? Cauliflower? Cabbage? Kale? Collards?
Well, the answer is “yes.” All these vegetables are classified under the same species name. They have common ancestry in a type of wild mustard, and have been bred by horticulturists to the various forms they now have. This brings us to an important point. If plant classification of wild plants is a confusing matter, it is even more so with highly-bred, domesticated crop plants. Through careful cross-breeding and selection, horticulturists have “created” all these familiar vegetables from the same wild ancestor.
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Plant taxonomy or classification is the science of naming organisms and placing them in a hierarchical structure, each level being given a name (e.g., kingdom, division (phylum), class, order, family, genus, species). Taxonomic units at a given level are termed taxa (singular taxon). Names of higher order taxa (e.g., kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus) are uninominal (i.e., each name is a single word). Names of species are binomial (e.g., Magnolia virginiana), and names of taxa below the rank of species (e.g., subspecies, varieties) are comprised of three or more words (e.g., Panicum virgatum var. cubense). Any given organism can be classified throughout the hierarchy. For example, the species sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is in the genus Magnolia, the family Magnoliaceae, the order Magnoliales, the class Magnoliopsida, the division Magnoliophyta, and the kingdom Plantae. Arranging scientific plant names in a hierarchical classification allows related organisms to be classified close together (e.g., all true pines are in the genus Pinus), and this assists with information retrieval.
The PLANTS Database has several tools that permits users to search plant names throughout the classification hierarchy.
- Symbols for Unknown Plants
Weirdest species names
Species names may sound formal, but look further and you’ll see the joke. By Wes Judd • March 12, 2014 • Reading Time: 3 Minutes Sharing The Agra species of Amazonian beetles have some amusing names, such as Agra vation and Agra cadabra. Image credit: Photo illustration by Karolyn Darrow Advertisement
APPLYING SCIENTIFIC NAMES to species may seem like a conventional, formal process, but it can also be the chance for researchers to have a bit of fun.
While we may associate common names of animals with amusement (who came up with the ‘wombat’ or the ‘booby’ anyway?) scientific names can often be inspired by an in-joke, or an ode to personal hero – even if it’s hidden in Latin words.
And with around 15,000 new species discovered every year, there are many examples of interesting scientific names. But there are rules.
“Every proposed name needs to conform to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature,” says Dr. Pat Hutchings, senior principal research scientist at the Australian Museum.
For example, it must only use the letters of the Latin alphabet, it must be unique, and it must be published.
Most name their species after the location where it was found or some related attribute, says Pat. But this becomes increasing difficult with so many new names added every year. So every now and then, scientists have a bit of fun naming their species.
Australian Geographic has compiled a list of the strangest and most interesting binomial (Genus species) names.
Entomologist Arnold Menke named this Australian wasp in 1977. The story goes, Menke was in a debate with another research group over the validity of the species, and when he finally provided the definitive evidence, he exclaimed, “Aha ha!”
While not nearly as fast or famous, scientists named the newest breed of Australian sea horse Parlapiscus in honour of 20th century Australian champion racehorse Phar Lap. Unfortunately, the short, snout-nosed sea horse was recently adopted into the existing Hippocampus genus.
Neal Evenhuis is something of a legendary comedian in the entomological community. He has used his sense of humor to name everything from Phthiria relativitae, as a pun on the theory of relativity, to Carmenelectra, after the famous model Carmen Electra. But perhaps what he’s best known for is the punny genus Pieza, which he named in 2002. This type of mythicomyiid fly must have made him hungry, because there is Pieza pi, Pieza rhea, and Pieza kake.
Bittium is well known genus of small sea snails and mollusks that are found all across the globe. So what name did scientists choose when they discovered a genus of mollusks? Ittibitium.
It’s hard to imagine anyone could ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed in Fiji, but when scientists discovered this snail on the remote Pacific island, they opted to name him after the crankiest man in literature, Ebeneezer Scrooge.
Because we’d like to be mature, we will leave it up to you to sound this one out. Let it suffice to say that entomologist Arnold Menke must have been stung by this Central American wasp one too many times.
What do you name a small, oval, shiny beetle? Well, the food it most resembles, of course. Say Gelae bean out loud and it should become immediately evident. Other species in the Galae genus include Gelae rol, Gelae fish, Gelae belae, and Galae donut.
Although the first description of Kamera lens, previously known as Monas lens, is dated to 1773, little was known about this single celled organism until just a few decades ago. It was in 1991 when scientists must have thought, “Hey, we should use a camera lens to see this species better.”
In 2010, a new species of mushroom found in Malaysia surprised scientists with its spongy appearance so much so that they couldn’t help themselves and name it after everyone’s favorite resident of Bikini Bottom.
With nearly 600 species of Amazonian beetles in the Agra genus, acclaimed entomologist Terry Erwin, who is responsible for naming of over half the genus, decided to put his punning ability to the test. There’s the intolerable Agra vation, the magical Agra cadabra, the scary Agra phobia, the abominable Agra sasquatch, or its sister species Agra yeti, and the headless Agra ichabod.
Richard Owen, a famous 19th century biologist, originally placed this massive Pleistocene era turtle skull in the Megalania genus. But in 1992, scientists decided this incredible fossil deserved a slightly more interesting name. The proceeding paper explained the reclassification as: ” ‘Ninj’ after ‘Ninja’, in allusion to that totally rad, fearsome foursome epitomising shelled success, and ’emys’ from the Latin for turtle.” Oweni refers to Richard Owen, so the rough translation is “Owen’s Ninja Turtle”.
The name Vini vidivici, which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered”, is slightly ironic given that this Pacific parrot became extinct somewhere between 700-1,300 years ago. They must have forgotten the concur part.
Don’t worry, there’s no clever meaning that surfaces after you say this name out loud. At 42 characters, this small Indian fly has the longest scientific name of any species.
A beginner’s guide to naming species in Latin
Every living thing on earth needs a name to identify it. There are many common names for animals (almost a different in every language) so that gets confusing quickly. For example, the house sparrow is called Haussperling, Town sparrow, Huismossie, Domovoy Vorobey, 家麻雀, Gorrión común, and so on. The Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus solved this problem in 1753 by creating a universal code to identify any species.
This code is called binomial nomenclature because it has two parts. The first word is the genus which identifies a group of closely related species, the second word is to distinguish a particular species. This combination is unique for each living organism. Latin was the language of science in Europe at the time, which is why most of the words are Latin (though Greek is also used). The species name is always italicized when it appears in text. The genus name is capitalized while the species name isn’t. For example, the human species is called Homo sapiens.
The endings for the names are specific to gender, for example –us is masculine, -a is feminine, and –um is neutral. The suffix –is can be masculine or feminine and –e is neutral. Endings might vary around a core word. Therefore, actual species names may be a bit different from the forms listed below. Sometimes the words can be used on their own or as a prefix/suffix.
Whoever names a species (usually a biologist or scientist) can decide what they would like to name it. The most typical names are where the species originates from, a trait, a person, or miscellaneous origins.
Where they come from
One common way to name a species is by where they are found. This is, of course, an important trait that can differ between members of a genus.
Often species are named after the country/continent that they come from. Some are self-explanatory, like africanus, brasiliensis, europaeus, madagascariensis, and americanus. Some are a little less intuitive, such as indicus referring to species from India, japonica and nipponensis to Japan, and sinensis and chinensis to species from China. Aedes aegypti is the yellow fever mosquito from Egypt. Species can also be named after a more local area, such as a river, cave, or town.
This hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, lives in Europe. Image credits: Lars Karlsson.
Living organisms could also be named for the habitat that they are from.
agrestis: from the field
alpinus: from the alps or alpine region
aquaticus: found near water
arena: having to do with sand
hali-, halio-: related to the sea or salt
hortensis: from the garden
The broad-leaved anemone, Anemone hortensis, is named such because it is very easy to cultivate. Image credits: Alexandre P.
pallidus: from the marsh
silvestris: from wood or the forest
domesticus: from the house, domestic
troglodytes: a cave dweller
tropicalis: from tropical regions
Additionally, species can be named after a cardinal direction that they are found in. Borealis refers to the north, while australis or notos- refers to the south. Occidentalis refers to the west while orientalis refers to the east.
The oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis), is originally from around the Caspian and Black Seas. Image credits: gailhampshire.
A notable characteristic
One of the most common ways to name a species is based on some special characteristic that they have. For example, their colour, size, shape, or anything else that is noteworthy. They are many different possibilities and combinations, so here are a few of the most common.
Pigmentation is distinctive and can often be used. Interestingly, many of the names for colours in Latin aren’t so similar to their English counterparts, though some you may know from other languages or names.
argentum: silver (you might know this from argent in French)
aurantius, aurantiacus, cirrhus: orange
The golden jackal, Canis aureus, is named after the colour of its coat. Image credits: Prabukumar8 .
caeruleus: blue (you might know this from cerulean)
cyano: blue-green (you might know this from cyanobacteria)
erythro, ruber, rubr- , rufus: red
flavus: golden, yellow
fuscus: dark-coloured, dark brown
leuco-, leuc-: white (you might know this from leucocytes)
mauro-, melano-, niger: black, dark
Size & Shape
The way an organism looks, such as its size or shape can also be a way to distinguish it.
parvus, micro: small
tenuis-: thin slender, fine
Slender rush, Juncus tenuis, is named for its thin stem. Image credits: USDA.
brachy-, brevi-: short
dolicho: elongated, long
There are many different features that can set a species apart. They can have to do with appearance, texture, smell, taste, and so on. There are many, many possibilities so this is just a little taste of what is out there.
lineatus, striatus: striped
The almond, Prunus dulcis, is called so because of it flavour. Image credits: antcaesar.
floridus, flor-: flowery
mephitis: bad odor
For example, the striped skunk is called Mephitis mephitis (Smelly smelly). Image credits: USFWS Mountain-Prairie.
Many of these characteristics can be used in conjunction with a noun to offer more description. For example, it could be used with folium or phyllus which mean leaf, such as Eriophorum angustifolium, narrowleaf cottongrass. Other examples that often have descriptors attached are noton which means back and odon which means tooth.
An important person
Another popular choice to name a species is after a person. Here there is a lot of leeway. It could be the original discoverer of the organism, someone who has contributed a lot in the field, a celebrity, or even a husband/wife or another family member. Sometimes species are named after notable figures due to admiration or resemblance. They can help to attract media attention to the species. For example, a moth was recently named Neopalpa donaldtrumpi because its scales on the top of its head resembled Mr. Trump’s hairstyle. On the other hand, Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist and documentarian, has been honoured with the most species (9) named after him in recognition for his work. They include the plesiosaur, Attenborosaurus conybeari, a wingless beetle Trigonopterus attenboroughi, and the flower genus Sirdavidia.
Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, do you see the resemblance? Image credits: Dr. Vazrick Nazari.
Some organisms are named after mythological figures. For example, one genus of dung beetles is named Sisyphus after a king who was eternally damned in Hades to roll a heavy boulder uphill, to have it roll down every time. The wolf fish (Hoplias curupira) is named after Curupira, a character in Brazilian legends that protects the forest in the form of a small child with feet facing the wrong way so that it is hard to track. The fish got this name because it was extremely difficult to obtain enough material to describe it and it took almost 18 years.
This Sisyphus is also required to roll an object indefinitely. Image credits: Thomas Huntke.
Pop culture can also be inspiring. There are a number of species named after Star Wars and Harry Potter, including a mite with a resemblance to Darth Vader called Darthvaderum greensladeae, and a spider species named after its resemblance to the sorting hat, Eriovixia gryffindori. A crab was named doubley after the fantasy series, Harryplax severus as “an allusion to a notorious and misunderstood character in the Harry Potter novels, Professor Severus Snape, for his ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected” as the authors wrote in their paper. A snapping shrimp was named after the rock band Pink Floyd, Synalpheus pinkfloydi, for its loud sound, hot pink claw, and the researchers love for the band. There are other interesting names as well.
These are just a taste of the species names out there, but knowing the meaning or origin of them can help remembering them.
Rules of Taxonomy
Every known living organism on Earth is classified and named by a set of rules. Those rules are used by all scientists around the planet. The names are called scientific names, not common names. Common names are the ones you might use when talking with your friends. You call your pet a dog or a cat (the common name). Scientists call those animals by a set of several names like Canis familiarus. That’s a dog.
Scientific names follow a specific set of rules. Scientists use a two-name system called a Binomial Naming System. Scientists name animals and plants using the system that describes the genus and species of the organism. The first word is the genus and the second is the species. The first word is capitalized and the second is not. A binomial name means that it’s made up of two words (bi-nomial). Humans are scientifically named Homo sapiens. You may also see an abbreviation of this name as H. sapiens where the genus is only represented by the first letter.
The taxonometric way of classifying organisms is based on similarities between different organisms. A biologist named Carolus Linnaeus started this naming system. He also chose to use Latin words.
Taxonomy used to be called Systematics. That system grouped animals and plants by characteristics and relationships. Scientists looked at the characteristics (traits) that each organism had in common. They used the shared derived characteristics of organisms. Scientists were then able to find the common ancestry of the organisms. So if you had a nose, scientists would trace back all creatures that had a nose. Then they thought that you were related to them (because you all had noses). Organisms are now organized by a combination of observable traits and genetics, not one superficial trait (like a nose).
Over the years there have been different ways of grouping the living things on Earth. Some scientists have used something called a Phenetic System that uses phenotypic similarities. Phenotypic means “physical.” Scientists compared what animals looked like, not their genetics. Also, organisms were grouped according to their similarities. For example, a dolphin could be more like a fish than you, because they swim and have fins. But in reality, they are mammals and have more similarities to you than to any fish.
As an aside, there is something called genotypic similarities that are genetic in nature, like the number of chromosomes you have.
Scientists also used a Cladistic System when they used phylogenic similarities. The phylogenic system uses evolutionary similarities to group organisms. So birds might be related to dinosaurs, which are reptiles, because scientists think that birds evolved from early dinosaurs.
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Encyclopaedia of Life (London Nat. Hist. Museum Video)
All living organisms are classified into various groups with different degrees of relatedness. In the plant kingdom, the various levels of classification include class, order, family, genus and species. The genus and species names together comprise the scientific name that every plant (and animal, too) is given when first described by a scientist. These species names are recognized by botanists, horticulturists and gardeners no matter where you go in the world.
Salvia splendens (red flowers) with castor bean (Ricinus communis) and Alternanthera.
A botanical name consists of two words, and is therefore referred to as a “binomial.” By convention, the name is printed in italics. The first word represents the larger group the plant belongs to, the genus (plural genera, NOT genuses), and the first letter is always capitalized. The second word is the species (both singular and plural; specie is not a word in botany) and is always lowercase. There can not be more than one identical species name in each genus. The species name is often (but not always) descriptive of some aspect of the plant. For example, splendid scarlet sage is Salvia splendens, northern red oak is Quercus rubra, and the hawthorn Crataegus missouriensis was named after the state of Missouri.
The genus name can be used alone when discussing a group of plants, but the specific epithet is NEVER used by itself.
Once the genus has been used in a paragraph, or is understood, it can be abbreviated, such as S. splendens. An unspecified (or unknown) species in the genus Salvia would be written as Salvia sp. To denote more than one species in the genus, it is written Salvia spp., with two p’s.
Common morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea.
In more technical publications there may also be a person’s name after the genus and species — the last name of the person that described the plant. Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist who first invented the binomial system of nomenclature in 1753, described and named thousands of species of plants and animals; if he described the species, the author name is typically just the abbreviation “L.”, but any other name is spelled out. If another scientist later decided that plant really belongs in another genus, then the original author’s name is placed in parentheses and the person who changed the classification follows. For example, Linneaus originally named the common morning glory Convolvulus purpureus in 1762, but it was renamed numerous times by taxonomists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Albrecht Roth finally assigning it the currently accepted name Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth. When the name change is relatively recent and/or a large genus with many familiar members, both names may be written to clue the reader to the revision: Ipomoea (=Convolvulus) purpureus.
Other additions to the basic binomial name include subspecies, varieties and cultivars. A subspecies (preceded by the abbreviation “subsp.”) is a geographically separate population within a species that is almost, but not quite, a separate species. A botanical variety (preceded by “var.”) is a distinct variant occurring in the same populations as ordinary examples of a species. A cultivar (CULTIvated VARiety), or selection, is a type that is maintained in cultivation (is not naturally occurring). Cultivar names are a word or words in a modern language (NOT Latin) set off in single quotes and capitalized, but not italicized, such as S. splendens ‘Bonfire’.
Hybrids, or crosses between different species, are given unique names that are preceded with an x, indicating that this plant is a hybrid between two species — but, unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us which two species. For example, you’d never know that the common garden perennial Salvia x superba is a hybrid of S. sylvestris and S. villicaulis, unless you look up that relationship somewhere. Sometimes that “x” inadvertently gets dropped along the way; this plant is often listed as S. superba.
Chrysanthemum or another genus now?
When botanists make taxonomic name changes as a result of advances in botanical knowledge (e.g. the Chrysanthemum genus was recently split into eight different genera, including Dendranthema, Tanacetum, and Leucanthemum) it may take years for the horticultural industry to adopt them. New names generally become widely accepted in botanical literature and serious garden writing but many catalogues and seed packets stick to the old names, resulting in inconsistencies in the names of plants.
Many nurseries offer trademarked products (a trademark is legally defined as a word(s) or symbol which identifies the place of origin of a product, designated ® or TM) that can not be sold as such without permission (cultivar names must remain free for everyone to use). These were first devised as a marketing tool to sell good plants that had bad cultivar names. Sometimes trademark names are misused as cultivar names, even though this violates both trademark specifications and nomenclatural rules. For example, Acer rubrum Red Sunset® is ‘Franksred’, but it is sometimes incorrectly designated in catalogs as ‘Red Sunset.’ And some nurseries have intentionally given new introductions poor cultivar names and great trademarked names to make it harder for their competition to market the same plant. To complicate things further, certain cultivars are marketed under different trademark names: Rosa ‘Korlanum’ is marketed under the three different trademark names Surrey, Sommerwind, and Vente D’ete. The end result is people end up associating the trade name with a particular plant name rather than the cultivar name. No wonder even the experts can get mixed up over which is a cultivar name and which is simply a marketing name!
While it’s quite appropriate to use common names when everyone knows what you mean, often it’s much better to use the proper botanical name. By their very nature, common names are only given to common plants. But common where? Plants common in one place aren’t common in another. Also, many plants have more than one common name. In England the white waterlily (Nymphaea alba) has 15 common names, and if you include the common German, French, and Dutch names, it has over 240 names!
Abutilon: flowering maple isn’t a maple.
Some common names are used to refer to several different species. A plant in Georgia called ironweed is in the genus Sidai, whereas in the Midwest ironweed refers to a plant in the genus Vernonia. And what’s a bluebell? This common name refers to several plants belonging to completely different families, including Boraginaceae, Campanulaceae and Liliaceae.
Using a general name doesn’t provide a lot of information about that plant. Ask for a sage plant — is that a culinary one, an annual ornamental or a perennial; which of about 400 species of Salvia do you mean? Common names also may be misleading. Yellow flag is an Iris; Spanish flag isn’t (it’s Mina (=Ipomoea) lobata, related to sweet potato). Flowering maple (Abutilon sp.) isn’t a maple, but is related to Hibiscus (and velvetleaf). And creeping gloxinia isn’t a gloxinia (it’s Asarina erubescens, family Scrophulariaceae, while true Gloxinia is in the family Gesneriaceae) — even the misnamed “Gloxinia” of the florist industry are really hybrids of Sinningia speciosa, and unrelated to this genus.
And finally, some plants, especially those that are rare, don’t have common names. Therefore common names are not as reliable as botanical names for identification purposes.
Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis.
Latin is the international language used by scientists all over the world to name plants and animals. That’s because when Linnaeus devised his system for classifying plants, he wanted to use a language that would be understandable to the largest number of people, and Latin was a language that most educated people knew in the 18th century. You don’t have to know Latin to grow beautiful plants, but it can be quite helpful to know a little bit about plant names when discussing with others, reading about, or shopping for a plant.
Since the specific epithet describes some characteristic of the plant, botanical names often give clues about what to expect from the plant (but these references may be rather cryptic). The name may indicate the color of the flowers, the height of the plant, whether the leaves are long and thin or short and fat, whether the plant is prickly, geographically where it comes from (which often is related to how hardy it is), the habitat it occurs in naturally, whether it’s a creeper or climber, is deciduous, has a bulb, is edible, or something else noteworthy about it. If aurea is in the name, the foliage or flowers or are probably yellow. Something named canadensis is likely to survive our winters.
The table below lists many commonly used descriptive terms. (To simplify things, mainly feminine endings are included; the same word, but ending in -us or -um, means the same thing. Like many other languages, Latin assigns genders to all its nouns, and adjectives have to agree with the gender of the noun they describe. In plant names, therefore, those that are deemed masculine end in -us, while those that are feminine end in -a, and those that are neuter end in -um. And plurals end in -i.
What Does That Mean?
|arvensis||of the field|
|australis||from the south (not necessarily Australia)|
|campanulata||campanulate, like a bell|
|campestris||of the field|
|capensis||from the Cape, South Africa|
|digitata||(leaves) like a hand, with 5 lobes|
|flora plena||with double flowers|
|foetida||with an unpleasant smell|
|longiflora||with long flowers|
|longifolia||with long leaves|
|macrophylla||with large leaves|
|macrorrhiza||with large roots|
|maritima||near the sea|
|microphylla||with small leaves|
|millefolia||with many (thousands of) leaves|
|officinalis||with herbal uses|
|parvifolia||with small leaves|
|paucifolia||with few leaves|
|pinnata||with pinnate leaves|
|polyphylla||with many leaves, leafy|
|praecox||early, of spring|
|tenuifolia||with thin, narrow leaves|
|umbellata||flowers in an umbel|
Learning and using Latin names seems to intimidate a lot of people, but it really shouldn’t. In fact, you already use many Latin names: Begonia, Clematis, Crocus, Delphinium, Forsythia, Gardenia, Geranium (the hardy one, not Pelargonium), Ginkgo, Hibiscus, Hosta, and Iris — or ones that are really close to the scientific name, such as Heliotrope (Heliotropium), peony (Paeonia), or rose (Rosa).
Leaves of Japanese maple, one of many plants in the genus Acer.
Think about it like learning the name of a new friend. Just like people, plants have two names (not counting cultivars, etc.), but their last name comes first (just like in the telephone book). The genus is kind of like our family name and the species the given name. So, the plant commonly called red maple, is maple, red in Latin — Acer rubrum. In the same “family” (equivalent to people families, not botanically speaking) are paperbark maple (Acer griseum), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and about 115 other species.
You can gradually learn botanical names by reading them in plant books or seed catalogues, where the Latin name and common name are side by side. Try to interchange one for the other at times, especially at nurseries or in public gardens where the plants are labeled. Try to only do business with seed and plant companies that provide you with the botanical name of the plant. If they don’t know what they are selling how are you supposed to know what you are growing?
When first learning botanical names, don’t worry about what the names mean (plant names don’t always tell you something useful about the plant anyway). Just add these words to your vocabulary and use them when you can, just like any other word. You wouldn’t worry about what “Joe Smith” means — you just remember his name and what he looks like.
Don’t be too concerned about the endings of the adjective words; remember the root of the word, and you can figure out the other part by comparing it to the ending of the genus. For example, sibirica, sibiricum and sibiricus mean the same thing (from Siberia), but are applied to the feminine, masculine and neuter genera, respectively: Achillea sibirica, Geranium sibiricum, Leonotis sibiricus.
As you’re memorizing these names, keep in mind that every botanical name refers to one and only one plant. When you use these word combinations, other gardeners will generally understand what you mean, even if you don’t get the name exactly right.
Whad Ya Say?
Now we come to the issue of pronunciation, which probably scares more people away from the use of botanical names than anything else. Everyone feels unsure, or possibly embarrassed at times, trying to pronounce botanical names in the company of others — especially if the other(s) is perceived as more knowledgeable. (If you think Latin is difficult to pronounce, try English. How is ‘ough’ pronounced? As in thought? Through? Enough?) But you really shouldn’t worry so much about it.
After all, Latin is a dead language, and we don’t have any ancient Romans around to correct us! Just proclaim it with confidence. If the person you’re talking with understands what plant you mean, your pronunciation is good enough.
Clematis: a pretty flower no matter how it’s pronounced.
Most languages evolve over time, so there really can’t be any truly ‘correct’ pronunciation, just different pronunciations at different times (and places). And with an increasingly mobile and global society, interactions with other cultures influence the way we speak. Thirty years ago, few Americans would say “CLEM-atis,” but now so many have heard English garden lecturers say it that way, that they reject “cle-MAT-is” as substandard – despite the fact Americans have been saying that for 150 years.
There are “official” ways to say Latin words. You can read the rules, but memorizing them may end up being more work than it’s worth. (For a quick and easy lesson by a Maryland MG, see the web article Latin for Gardeners: a Brief Pronunciation Guide.)
For gardeners, I think the most important rule is to pronounce every letter and in the correct order. Unlike English, with all those silent vowels and dipthongs and whatnot, just separate the word into syllables and say it like it sounds. You might want to say each syllable separately, then string them together so you don’t leave anything out or mix up the sounds (as people do when they pronounce “anemone” as “anenome”). As long as you say all the letters, the listener should be able to figure out what you mean, even if your pronunciation differs from theirs. They might even think you know something they don’t!
Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rules. Names that are commemorative in derivation (named in honor of a person) should be pronounced the way the person’s proper name is spoken. For example, Halesia, a genus of small trees with white pendulous flowers, was named after Dr. Stephen Hales. Thus the pronunciation should be “Hales – EE – ah” not “Ha – LEE – see – ah” like you’d think. This becomes difficult when those commemorative names are Russian or Chinese – or you don’t realize the word is someone’s name – so all you can do is try your best.
Also, even if you’re following the rules of Latin pronunciation, be aware of what the word might sound like. I doubt many Americans would pronounce the genus for pine (Pinus) as “Pee – nus” — even though this is technically the correct pronunciation in Latin — for the embarrassing coincidence with male anatomy.
So sound it out, use some common sense, and start saying those botanical names!
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
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.
What are Latin Plant Names?
Unlike its common name (of which there may be several), the Latin name for a plant is unique to each plant. Scientific Latin plant names help describe both the “genus” and “species” of plants in order to better categorize them.
The binomial (two name) system of nomenclature was developed by Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus in the mid 1700s. Grouping plants according to similarities such as leaves, flowers and fruit, he founded a natural order and named them accordingly. The “genus” is the larger of the two groups and can be equated to the use of a last name like “Smith.” For example, genus identifies one as “Smith” and the species would be akin to an individual’s first name, like “Joe.”
Combining the two names gives us a unique term for this person’s individual name just as combing the “genus” and “species” scientific Latin plant names gives us a unique botanical nomenclature guide for each individual plant.
The difference between the two nomenclatures being, that in Latin plant names the genus is listed first and is always capitalized. The species (or specific epithet) follows the genus name in lowercase and the entire Latin plant name is italicized or underlined.
Why Do We Use Latin Plant Names?
The use of Latin plant names can be confusing to the home gardener, sometimes even intimidating. There is, however, a very good reason to use Latin plant names.
Latin words for the genus or species of a plant are descriptive terms used to describe a specific type of plant and its characteristics. Using Latin plant names helps to avert confusion caused by the often contradictory and multiple common names an individual may have.
In binomial Latin, the genus is a noun and the species is a descriptive adjective for it. Take for example, Acer is the Latin plant name (genus) for maple. Since there are many different types of maple, another name (the species) is added to for positive identification. So, when confronted with the name Acer rubrum (red maple), the gardener will know he/she is looking at a maple with vibrant red fall leaves. This is helpful as Acer rubrum remains the same regardless of whether the gardener is in Iowa or elsewhere in the world.
The Latin plant name is a description of the plant’s characteristics. Take Acer palmatum, for example. Again, ‘Acer’ means maple while the descriptive ‘palmatum’ means shaped like a hand, and it is derived from ‘platanoides,’ meaning “resembling the plane tree.” Therefore, Acer platanoides means you are looking at a maple that resembles the plane tree.
When a new strain of plant is developed, the new plant needs a third category to further describe its one-of-a-kind characteristic. This instance is when a third name (the plant’s cultivar) is added to the Latin plant name. This third name may represent the developer of the cultivar, location of origin or hybridization, or a specific unique characteristic.
Meaning of Latin Plant Names
For quick reference, this botanical nomenclature guide (via Cindy Haynes, Dept. of Horticulture) contains some of the most common meanings of Latin plant names that are found in popular garden plants.
|Origins or Habitat|
|amur||Amur River – Asia|
|occidentalis||West – North America|
|orientalis||East – Asia|
|Form or Habit|
|Common Root Words|
While it isn’t necessary to learn scientific Latin plant names, they may be of significant aid to the gardener as they contain information regarding specialized characteristics among similar plant species.
Plant Classification and How It Works
Class divides plants into the two large groups, Dicots and Monocots.
A. Dicotyledons (Dicots are plants with two seed leaves. This huge group, with approximately 2/3 of all flowering plants, includes most all wildflowers. Dicots have “net-veined” leaves, which means they have the familiar leaves with center vein plus branching veins running from it.
B. Monocotyledons (Monocots, plants with one seed leaf, are the grasses and other simpler plants, and make up about 1/3 of all flowering plants. Monocots have parallel-veined leaves.)
II. Subclass (Not used with all species.) A group of related plant families classified in the order in which they are believed to have developed their differences from a common ancestor. There are six “superorders” with each one’s name ending in “idae.” III. Order (Not used with all species.) The classes are further sub-divided into “orders” whose names end in “ales.” IV. Family Each order is divided into families. Each member of a plant family shares many botanical features. This is the highest classification group normally referred to. Modern classification assigns a type of plant to each family as an example of that family’s characteristics as distinguishable from other families. The names of families end in “aceae.” V. Sub-Family (Not used with all species.) A sub-division of a family in which plants are grouped according to botanical differences within the same family. Sub-families end in “oideae.” VI. Tribe (Not used with all species.) A further family division based on less significant botanical differences. Tribes end in “eae.” VII. Sub-Tribe (Not used with all species.) A further division based on even smaller botanical differences, usually only recognizable by professional botanists. VIII. Genus This is the part of plant nomenclature that is the most familiar. For example, Papaver is the genus for Poppy. Plants in a genus are easily recognizable as belonging to the same group. The name of the genus should always be capitalized. Example: Red Poppy is Papaver rhoeas. IX. Species
This is the level of classification that defines the individual plant. Here some aspects of the plant are more specifically defined — color, leaf shape, or place where or by whom it was discovered. The use of the genus and species names together always refer to only one plant. The species name is written after the genus and is never capitalized. Example: Rudbeckia hirta X. Variety (Not used with all species.) To receive this added piece of nomenclature, a plant must be only slightly different from a certain species, but not different enough to be granted its own species name. When used, the Variety name follows the Genus and Species names with the abbreviation, “var,” followed by the full variety name in small letters. The wildflower Scarlet Flax is a good example: Linum grandiflorum var rubrum. In Latin, this tells you that this is a Flax (linum) with large flowers (grandiflorum) that happen be red (rubrum). (Most of the family is not red-flowered.) Most wildflowers do not have this extra little added-on name, (for example, Rudbeckia hirta does not.) but it’s important when needed.
International Plant Names Index (IPNI)
Welcome to the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) produced by a collaboration between The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, The Harvard University Herbaria, and The Australian National Herbarium, hosted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. IPNI provides nomenclatural information (spelling, author, types and first place and date of publication) for the scientific names of Vascular Plants from Family down to infraspecific ranks. You can search for plant names, authors or publications in the search box above. Click the down arrow for advanced search options. New records are added daily, and the IPNI team are continuously working to improve data standardization.
IPNI provides links to protologues in online articles or page scans from the Biodiversity Heritage Library as well as links to taxonomic data (synonymy and native distribution) through the Plants of the World Online.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback the team would be happy to hear from you by email at [email protected]