Garden Clippings: Plant Names

Understanding plant names.

| July 2005

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    LABELS: Plant labels at botanical gardens and arboretums give visitors a lot of information about the plant, including the genus, species, and the variety or cultivar.
    Mike Lang

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Patient Lucy, Busy Lizzie and Sultana are the names for a very common garden plant. Some gardeners will recognize one or more of these names and the plant that they refer to, while others may not recognize the names at all and refer to this plant as impatiens.

Names that we commonly call plants can vary according to geographical location or by what age generation a person is a part of. I have rarely heard of impatiens referred to as anything but impatiens, but more seasoned gardeners may still use one of the other monikers that describe the plant.

Because there are numerous common names for many of our garden plants, it is important for a gardener to understand how the Latin, or botanical, naming system works. This is especially important if you buy mail-order plants and seeds, in order to ensure that you receive the plant you wanted.

Other than the Latin words, plant nomenclature is really quite easy to use and understand, and it can give you insight about the properties of a plant that you may not be familiar with, by the group of plants it belongs to. Although botanical naming can be an in-depth process, for the average gardener, all the naming we need to use is the genus, the species, and the variety or cultivar of the plant.

The plant genus refers to a group of plants that all have similar properties, much like a family's last name. In the case of the impatiens, the genus name is impatiens.

Plant species, or specific epithet, is the name for plants in a family that have distinct characteristics from others within the same family or genus. For the impatiens, the species name is wallerana. So the name is written as impatiens wallerana. This name will tell you that it is the bedding plant that is so common and not impatiens x hybrida, which is the New Guinea impatiens.



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