Hello, friends! I hope this post finds you all doing well and doing something incredibly AWESOME. Well, maybe not right this second because you are reading posts, but you know what I mean.
I decided to write this post about understanding and writing scientific names of plants. Pronouncing them is a different problem, but on the pages to the right, for the ones that are finished, I include the pronunciation as well. I started writing this post on October 20th. I am serious! There are a lot of plant on the list to the right that aren’t finished and some are used in this post. I had to finish them before I could publish this post.
I have re-read this post many times and each time I find out I need to add something else. It is times like this when I really do think I am crazy!
WHAT IS IN A NAME AND WHY IS IT IN LATIN?
Many plants have many common names which vary from location to location. There are also many plants with the same common names. Each country has many plants with common names in their language. Swedish botanist Carl von Linnaeus, who is considered to be the father of botany, chose to use Latin names for all plants because the use of Latin as a scientific language had already been widely used in Europe. Many people say he named most of the plants, but truthfully, a lot of them already had Latin names, especially those used for herbal remedies. It is also interesting that Linnaeus stated that there were fewer than 10,000 species of plants in existence. We now believe there are more than 400,000 different species of flowering plants alone. Well, that’s what the Wikipedia says anyway…
The Latin name for a plant is unique to that plant. The genus and species both have Latin names so they can be better categorized into groups. The genus name, which is the larger of the two groups, would be similar to the use of our last names and the species name would be similar to our first name. Latin names can tell you 1) where the plant is from, 2) the color of the flowers or foliage, 3) what the plant is used for, 4) the shape of the plant, etc. Some plants are named in honor of a person. SO, combining the genus and species names we can tall a lot about the plant. The genus name is a noun and the species name is descriptive.
Someone once said, “Botany is the science in which plants are known by their aliases.” Indeed, the study of botany includes learning the scientific names of plants. The origin of the word botany came from the Greek word botane, which means “grass” or “pasture.” I found that online…
From the Wikipedia:
Botanical nomenclature is the formal, scientific naming of plants. It is related to, but distinct from taxonomy. Plant taxonomy is concerned with grouping and classifying plants; botanical nomenclature then provides names for the results of this process. The starting point for modern botanical nomenclature is Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum of 1753. Botanical nomenclature is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN), which replaces the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). Fossil plants are also covered by the code of nomenclature.
Within the limits set by that code there is another set of rules, the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) which applies to plant cultivars that have been deliberately altered or selected by humans. If you want to read more from the Wikipedia, click HERE.
<<<<NORMAL UNCOMPLICATED NAMES:>>>>
IN biology each living organism has been classified using a scientific name of two words. This is called binomial nomenclature, Latin in form and usually from Latin or Greek roots.
The genus name is ALWAYS capitalized and is written first and is always italicized or underlined. Well, I can’t underline on WordPress or even italicize in some places (like on the list to the right and the title).
The species name is written second and is never capitalized and are always underlined or italicized. The species name is also called a specific epithet.
Example: Agave americana
Following the species name is an abbreviation or name of the author. This means when someone finds a plant, gives it a name, then writes about it in a publication, it becomes official. (Well, that depends on the publication and other criteria because there are rules). In this case, the letter L. is used to indicate that Carl von Linnaeus first described this plant in Species Plantarum in 1753. The author’s abbreviation is not italicized. He also named the genus. Now, folks, Carl von Linnaeus named many plants but I am not sure how many he actually discovered, if any. I need to check that out.
Example: Agave americana L.
The Latin meaning of Agave is “noble or handsome”. The meaning of americana is “of the Americas”.
I was given this plant as a pup by the owner of K & K Nursery in Cleveland, Mississippi in August 2009 so I named it ‘K & K’. You can give your plants whatever name you choose just as you would name your children, pets or whatever. That is allowed. I don’t mean you can give then whatever genus or species name you want. That is NOT allowed. LOL! Seriously, folks, we are all Homo sapiens with many names.
To read more about this beautiful Agave on its own page, click HERE.
Before I go on I need to say a word about synonyms. A synonym is when a plant has, or had, other names besides the current accepted scientific name. The other names, besides the currently accepted name, are called synonyms. They are synonymous with the accepted name. They are all the same plant…
A friend of mine in Mississippi, Kyle Hall, was always bringing me cuttings or something of plants he found while walking around town. He is also the one who brought me my first Aloe, a pup from his grandmothers, which I named ‘Kyle’s Grandma’ because I didn’t know what it was at first. That was in 2009! Anyway, one day he brought me a few pieces of this cactus he found growing in a fence row. Of course, I put them in soil and they rooted. Finding the names of cactus back then was a terrifying ordeal, so I sent a photo to the owner of Big Foot Collections... He immediately replied with the name. The list of synonyms for this species of cactus on his site was staggering… It was first named Opuntia salmiana by Antoine Auguste Parmentier and Louis (Ludwig) Karl George Pfeiffer in Enumeratio Diagnostica Cactearum in 1837. The name was changed to Austrocylindropuntia salmiana (Pharm. ex Pfeiff.) Backeb. when Curt Backeberg described it as such in Die Cactaceae in 1941 (or 1942 depending on what site you are on). The Plant List (although unmaintained) says Austrocylindropuntia salmiana (Pharm. ex Pfeiff.) Backeb. is an unresolved name even though it lists SIX synonyms. The Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms) says it is the accepted name. TheCactusGuide says that Opuntia salmiana is STILL the accepted name…
Synonyms of this cactus include: Opuntia salmiana, Cylindropuntia salmiana, Platyopuntia salmiana, Salmonopuntia salmiana, Opuntia spegazzini, Opuntia albiflora, Opuntia ipatiana, Austrocylindropuntia ipatiana, Salmonopuntia salmiana f. rosea, Austrocylindropuntia salmiana var. albiflora, Austrocylindropuntia albiflora, Salmonopuntia salmiana f. alba, Austrocylindropuntia salmiana var. spegazzinii, Austrocylindropuntia spegazzinii, Opuntia salmiana var. spegazzinii, Opuntia spegazzinii, Salmonopuntia salmiana f. glauca… I think I missed at least one.
Just think, a while back, some of those were accepted names at the same time in various publications. One more interesting thing to point out is the reason I used this plant as an example… It was once in the Opuntia genus which is mainly a genus of Prickly Pears. Even though The Plant List is unmaintained and not updated since 2013, I need to use it as a reference here because there is no better site for someone with a research disorder. According to The Plant List, in 2013, there are/were 194 accepted species (plus another 32 accepted infraspecific names). There are/were a total of 387 synonyms (THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SEVEN) and another 389 that ARE/WERE STILL UNRESOLVED! Most, folks, are Prickly Pear! Well, the cactus in the above photo is definitely NOT a Prickly Pear.
If you have a plant that you know the genus name but not the species name simply write the genus name followed by “sp.” or “species”. Italicize or underline the genus name but not the “sp.”.
EXAMPLE: Oxalis sp.
This Oxalis species was growing wild in my yard at the mansion in Mississippi. It didn’t even mind being in a pot. I searched the many Oxalis species online and couldn’t find an exact match although some were very close. Some species are variable from one place to another and makes identification nearly impossible. This one has pink flowers with a dark throat with no white inside…
Oxalis in Latin means, “Sour, referring to oxalic acid in leaves and roots”.
<<<<WHEN NAMES CHANGE>>>>
When you do plant name research, you can tell when a name has changed because the previous author’s name is in parenthesis. For example, this plant’s current scientific name is Stenocereus pruinosus (Otto ex. Pfeiff.) Buxb.. That means there was a previous known name that was replaced. SO, Mr. Buxbaum decided to change the species name. Now, sometimes even the genus name changes, which is the case of this plant. First of all, in the beginning, this plant was named Echinocactus pruinosus Otto ex. Pfeiff. by Christoph Friedrich Otto and Louis (Ludwig) Karl George Pfeiffer in 1837. Ummm, this gets complicated… Stenocereus was considered a subspecies of the Cereus genus and was documented as such by Alwin Berger in 1905. BUT, Vincenzo Riccobono decided it was its own genus in 1909. It wasn’t until 1961 the currently accepted name became Stenocereus pruinosus. SO, the accepted genus name is currently and correctly Stenocersus (A.Berger) Riccob. because it also changed. GEEZ! What if we had to write all that out and even go back farther? How long would it be? How about Stenocereus (A.Berger) Riccob. pruinosus (Otto ex Pfeiff) Buxb.?
Now, if there are no parenthesis in the name, it means they have been that name always, BUT… If a synonym has no parenthesis, it means someone named this plant and didn’t realize it was already named by someone else. For example, if someone is out in the wild and sees this plant and realizes it is a Stenocereus but doesn’t realize it has already been named… Say be calls it Stenoceraus mexicaulus or something. His name is Jim Ruebush so he names this plant Stenocereus mexicaulus Rub. and describes it in a scientific plant publication. Well, since it was already named Stenocereus pruinosus, his name is a synonym… If his name replaced the other name, it would be written Stenocereus mexicaulus (Buxb.) Rub. Sorry, Jim if I misspelled your name.
One other thing… When I bought this plant in 2016, the label said it was Lemaireocereus pruinosus. VERY FUNNY!!! Come to find out that was the third name…
To read more about the Stenocereus pruinosus click HERE.
NOW, this can get interesting. The subspecies… What is a subspecies? Sometimes a plant will decide to mutate IN NATURE and some of its offspring will produce individuals of different colors, sizes or growth habit. In other words, they go their own way and do their own thing. If they produce offspring just like they are, then a new subspecies has been created. They are the same species, but now have their own subspecies name because of they only have a few different characteristics. That doesn’t mean that someone else down the road won’t come along and try claim it is a completely different species.
Example: Agave americana subsp. protoamericana Gentry
Some authors name is not abbreviated as with Mr. Gentry’s. The word or abbreviation for subspecies can be written as “subsp.” or “ssp.” and is NOT italicized. The subspecies name is ALWAYS italicized or underlined.
At one point, this Agave was listed online as Agave protoamericana and in a few catalogs but it was never an approved species (it is not on any “list”). Howard Scott Gentry was the first to document this Agave as a subspecies of A. americana in Agaves of Continental North America in 1982. There are several websites that are a little screwy… They have photos of Agave americana subsp. protoamericana for Agave americana and visa versa. SO, other than their photos their descriptions were good. I was SO CONFUSED! You can clearly see the difference… The older leaves of the Agave americana curl downward and the leaves have smooth lines. Notice the leaves of the Agave americana ssp. protoamericana… As the leaves start to form, they are wrapped up so tight that they develop patterns on the leaves and the older leaves do not curl under either. Pretty neat, huh? Photos of their leaves are on their specific plant pages.
I bought my Agave americana ssp. protoamericana from an Ebay Seller in the spring of 2009. It was listed as Agave americana ‘Blue Monster’. Well, it is not an Agave americana and I haven’t seen any other Agaves with the name ‘Blue Monster’ even though that is a very good name. You can read more about this AWESOME Agave on its own page, click HERE.
The label on this plant said Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ when I bought it from Lowe’s in Greenville, Mississippi in 2012. The name ‘Pictum’ on the label made it sound like a cultivar name. There are several cultivars of the Japanese Fern as well as this variety, but “pictum” is a recognized scientific “variety” not a cultivar. Athyrium niponicum by itself is a Japanese Painted Fern but this variety has some differences whose offspring continued the traits. That isn’t the only confusing thing about this plant but that is saved for its own page… I apologize for using a blurry photo but that is the best I can do. Every photo I took of this plant was screwed up.
Up to this point, we have learned about genus, species and subspecies names. The genus name represents the genus as a whole. The species names represent that one single species as it is different from all the other species in the genus. The subspecies name represents a child that went their own way. Now, we are getting into names that represent individual plants in those species, what sets them apart from other members of the species. Ummm… Isn’t that what a subspecies is? I have read some whacky and confusing answers to “what is the difference between the two”. I read this article written by Z. J. Kapadia and published by the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (iapt) in 1963… I read it several times and was still somewhat confused. In Zoology there is no classification below the subspecies anymore. They consider “varieties” as outdated synonyms for subspecies. Apparently, in botany, a variety differs from a subspecies in that the variety does not differ as much from the species as a subspecies does. GEEZ!!! If I am incorrect, someone please correct me!
A variety name is given when a mutation occurs in nature (in the wild). If it occurs in cultivation, with the help of humans, it would be called a cultivar. SO, after the species name, the abbreviation for variety is written (var.) and is NOT capitalized. Then the variety name is written and only capitalized if the name is a proper noun. I have grown over 400 different plants and none have a variety name that is a proper noun… The variety name is always underlined or italicized.
Example: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Maxwell) Fraser-Jenk.
The 2013 updated version of The Plant List says that the name of this plant changed to Anisocampium niponicum (which I never even heard of). SO, I had to check that out. Apparently, based on a phylogenetic analysis done in 2011, they found out this plant’s true history. However, no website is in agreement, not even The Missouri Botanical Garden’s website, which is Tropicos. Tropico’s and many other organizations contributed to The Plant List. SO, how do I say the Japanese Painted Fern is Anisocampium niponicum when one of the worlds leading authorities is still saying it is Athyrium niponicum? What about the 2010 version of The Plant List when they said the accepted name was Athyrium brevisorum? The Latin word “niponicum” means “of or from Japan”. The Latin word for brevisorum means…. UM, “no results found”. SO, if the name Athyrium niponicum var. pictum is good enough for the Missouri Botanical Garden, then it is good enough for The Belmont Rooster.
To read more about the Japanese Painted Fern on its own page, click HERE.
(NOTE: I just looked up Anisocampium niponicum on the new Plants of the World Online and it says “no results”. No results for Athyrium brevisorum either).
<<<<FORM (forma) NAMES:>>>>
Some of the most spectacular plants in the cactus and succulent world are the mutations… Monstrous, cristate, spirals, all caused by an injury to the plant’s stem. Whether it be from insects or something in nature or from man in cultivation, they hardly resemble their true species…
Some mutations aren’t so drastic and may just be a different flower color, longer leaves or maybe a stripe down the center. The word “forma” or the abbreviation “f.” is used to say the mutation is a form and is NOT italicized. The word following the “f.” is italicized but not capitalized. The form name signifies what form it is.
Example: Austrocylindropuntia subulata f. cristata hort.
Well, so much for a “not so drastic” example. There are many species of cacti that do this weird crested mutation. Seldom are any mutations cited with any abbreviation besides “hort.” because that signifies that “it ain’t natural”.
When I bought this plant in 2012 the label said Opuntia subulata f. cristata. FIRST, it was named Pereskia subulata by F. Muehlenpfordt in 1845. The scientific name was Pereskia subulata Muehlempf. Then, in 1883, Georg (George) Englemann changed the name to Opuntia subulata. Then it was written Opuntia subulata (Muehlempf.) Engelm. Curt Backeberg changed the name in 1942 then it became Austrocylindropuntia subulata (Muehlempf.) Backeb. When you have a period at the end of an abbreviation, do you add another period if it also the end of a sentence? SO, if the name changed in 1942, why was it still being marketed under the name Opuntia subulata in 2012?
To read more about this AMAZING cacti, click HERE.
Mutations occur outside of nature from human influence, but not by crossbreeding. Could be from applying mutagens or through certain propagation methods that I don’t understand or even though selection. The abbreviation “cv.” is used to say the mutation is a cultivar and is written after the species name and is NOT capitalized, underlined or italicized. The cultivar name comes after “cv.” and IS capitalized but NOT italicized. It can be written inside single quotes but not necessarily.
When I bought this cactus from Lowe’s in 2010, the label said Cereus peruvianus monstrose cv. ‘Rojo’. Actually, the name of this cactus can be written several ways because it is also a monstrose mutation…
Cereus peruvianus monstrose cv. ‘Rojo’, Cereus peruvianus f. monstrose cv. ‘Rojo’, Cereus cv. ‘Rojo’ or even… GEEZ! Maybe they feel like I do… I don’t care what you call me as long as you call me to dinner.
BUT… In this case, the name changed. The species was formerly Cereus peruvianus but it changed to Cereus repandus. SO, the cultivar name is supposed to be transferred to the new name although I have never seen it listed that way online. The species name, peruvianus, changed because it is NOT from Peru even though this cactus is still very well known by that name.
Example: Cereus repandus monstruosus cv. ‘Rojo’
The name could be written Cereus (L.) Mil. repandus (L.) Mil. f. monstruosus hort. cv. ‘Rojo’. BUT actually, if we were describing a plant that has always been known as Cereus repandus, we wouldn’t need to use the (L.) because the species name didn’t change. Only when we are describing Cereus peruvianus as a synonym of Cereus repandus would we need to use the (L.) after the species name. I think I just confused myself AGAIN…
NOW, if you look online for Cereus repandus (or Cereus peruvianus) monstrose, you will see many photos that look nothing like ‘Rojo’ because it a mutation due to human influence… The Cereus repandus monstrose mutations in nature do NOT look like this because something else was added by man.
The history of the two names goes all the way back when Carl von Linnaeus himself listed both species as Cactus peruvianus and Cactus repandus in Species Plantarum in 1753, as TWO separate and accepted species. Then, in 1768, Philip Miller changed both of their names and described them as Cereus peruvianus and Cereus repandus. SO, their scientific names were then written as Cereus peruvianus (L.) Mill. and Cereus repandus (L.) Mill….. How many periods? I don’t know when it was decided that Cereus peruvianus became a synonym of Cereus repandus but the industry still markets this species under the name Cereus peruvianus. That is probably because no one knew the name changed for all these years.
To read more about the Cereus repandus monstruosus cv. ‘Rojo’, click here.
When I bought the above plant from Lowe’s in 2009, the label said Cereus forbesii monstrose ‘Ming Thing’. The name Cereus forbesii changed and it took me on a long and confusing hunt to find the currently accepted scientific name. It is another example of how human involvement pretty much made a plant that is not visually recognizable. It is probably a Cereus because the breeders were there when it happened but do not resemble any naturally occurring Cereus monstrosa forms in the wild. SO, what is its true name? I STILL have no idea. What The Plant List says is accepted, Llifle says is a synonym. What Dave’s Garden says, The Plant List and Llifle says is a synonym. The Cereus genus has really been screwed over and many species have been transferred to other genera, leaving behind a group that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Personally, I love this mutation whatever its name is!
To read more about the Cereus forbesii monstrose ‘Ming Thing’, I mean, Cereus validus monstrosa ‘Ming Thing’, NO, WAIT! I mean Cereus hankeanus monstrose ‘Ming Thing’ click HERE.
I bought this AWESOME little succulent from Lowe’s in 2013. It is part of the HUGE and widely variable Euphorbiaceae (Spurge) Family which includes species of succulents, perennials, annuals, trees. I think they all secrete a white, milky sap (latex).
To read more about the Euphorbia flanaganii f. cristata, click here.
<<<<NOW for HYBRIDS:>>>>
When we think of hybrids, we usually think of someone crossing two species of the same genus or two different cultivars to get a specific result. BUT, it also occurs in nature. Like when us humans… I better skip that example.
There are several ways to write scientific names when it comes to hybrids. Let’s look at the beautiful and AWESOME Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’. This plant is a cross between Salvia nemorosa and Salvia pratensis and occurred in nature. Salvia x sylvestris is commonly known as a Wood Sage and was even recognized and described by Carl von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753. So this hybrid is actually an accepted “infraspecific” name and has been unchallenged since 1753. That’s almost a miracle in itself! This name is an example of a name created where neither parents name was used.
The name can be written:
Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’
Salvia x ‘Mainacht’
The genus name Salvia comes from the Latin word salveo meaning to “save or heal”. The hybrid name sylvestris comes from the Latin word meaning “forest or wood”.
The cultivar ‘Mainacht’ was selected for improved performance and is a multiple award winner including the 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year and the Award of Garden Merit (RHS). It is also marketed under the name of ‘May Night’ in the US, as well as Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’ or ‘Mainacht’.
To read more about the beautiful Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’, click HERE.
This Catmint, Nepeta x faassenii “Walker’s Low’, is a good example of a created hybrid developed by J.H. Faasen. It is a sterile cross between Nepeta racemosa x Nepeta nepetella. The hybrid was named after Mr. Faasen. There are websites that say ‘Walker’s Low’ is a cultivar of Nepeta racemosa.
To read more about the Nepeta x faassenii/Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ click HERE.
There are many intergeneric crosses when it comes to plants. Normally, the seeds are sterile. The plant databases list all these such hybrids with an “x” before the name. The more common examples of intergenetic succulents are xGasteraloe (Gasteria x Aloe), xGraptosedum (Graptopetalum x Sedum), and xGraptoveria (Graptopetalum x Echeveria).
I have only grown three different xGasteraloe (xGasteraloe cv. ‘Green Gold’, xGasteraloe cv. ‘Flow’ and xGasteraloe cv. ‘White Wings’) and one xGraptosedum. Well, the latter was somewhat controversial. When you write the genus name alone, it is italicized or underlined. But, when adding the cultivar name it is not. I have a list of the various species of Aloe and Gasteria species that have been used in creating the many xGasteraloe cultivars. Their names can be written at least two ways…
Example: xGasteraloe cv. ‘Green Gold’ or xGasteraloe ‘Green Gold’
WHAT DID I LEARN WITH THIS POST?
I learned that Arthyrium niponicum is now supposedly Anisocampium niponicum .but no one is using that name.
I learned about phytogenetic analysis.
I learned that I have no idea if the ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint is a cultivar of Nepeta x faassenii or Nepeta racemosa.
I also learned that The Plant List spelled faassenii wrong instead of every other website, including myself since I was using the spelling on The Plant List. When I sent an email to the editors of The Plant List, I learned that it was no longer maintained. The man who replied to my email about the spelling informed me of a new website being built and maintained by Kew Gardens called Plants of the World Online.
I finally settled my confusion about the difference between a subspecies and variety names.
I found out what causes a mutation in nature.
I found out that even though, in my settings, “comments allowed” is checked, it only works for posts. When I make a new page, however, I have to publish the page, then click on edit, then click on more options, then click on allow comments. EVERY TIME… SO, MOST of the pages to the right have to be edited to allow comments. GEEZ!!! Now I have to remember to do that on close to 400 more pages.
NOTE TO YOU: Folks, I must admit I do like to have a little fun when I write but there are some things I am serious about. Several times I mentioned being confused, but that rarely happens… (I laughed when I wrote that).
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did writing it. I always like to learn something when I write a post and I did this time. I am sure I will think of something I forgot, too.
SO, until next time, stay happy, healthy and prosperous. As always, GET DIRTY when you get a chance!