First of all, don’t be afraid or put off by Botanical or Latin names.
Once you read through this article, you’ll find you know a lot of them already. For example, Chrysanthemum is the Botanical Name for most daisies. Flower names you know such as Iris, Hibiscus, and Aster are all Botanical Names, too. Moreover, thousands more aren’t exactly the words you know, but you’ll instantly “see” the familiar flower name in the Botanical version.
Lupines, for example, is the name of all Lupine species. Lilius, for lilies and Tulip for tulips is Lilius. Rosa, on the other hand, is the name of all roses. Importantly, botanical names have a good gardening purpose. You don’t need to know them all, but unless you have a layman’s understanding of them, you really can’t know your plants very well.
Plants have been classified and named for one very good reason—so we can all clearly distinguish one from another.
Common names are wonderful, and fine in your own garden, but when you order a plant or read about one, you’ll find just using the common name doesn’t work very well. What you may call Prairie Daisy in one area might be called in another. Without a mutually agreed on name, confusion is inevitable
This is why plants have been classified using a common language that can be understood worldwide, Latin. And the reason for classification in the first place is simple—to clearly distinguish one from another. With an estimated number of plants in excess of 270,000 on the planet, it’s obvious some system of nomenclature had to be devised in order to keep them straight.
As with all plants, the scientific or botanical name of wildflowers is composed of two words.
The first names the group or the “genus” and the second describes a single individual plant within the group, or a “species.” Centuries ago, when the system was devised, Latin was chosen since it is a language understood worldwide. To make matters more complicated, some genus name are Greek.
Latin and Greek genus names (the first name) are always capitalized. They are usually nouns. The second name, or species, is often an adjective. It is not capitalized. An adjective is the species name. It is used to identify a distinguishing characteristic between the plant and other members of the group. This descriptive name tells you everything about the species. It can refer to the species’ color, shape, or origin. This naming system is best illustrated in the name of Purple Coneflower, a perennial wildflower that has purple petals and a bristly-shaped, golden center. Echinacea Purpureal, the botanical name for this plant is now well-known as a medicinal. “Echinacea”, the genus name, means “a bristle”. The species name, “purpureal”, simply means “purple”.
So as you can see, botanical names tell you a lot about the wildflower you’re looking at or looking for. The list below will give you a few really interesting examples, and illustrate many of the main “types” of naming.
Another issue that gardeners face is pronunciation. Don’t worry about it. Just forget it and say the names of the plants however you want. It is a common advice in every gardening book. It’s because no one is sure how to pronounce many of the names. What’s more, you’ll find almost every “expert” pronounces them differently. Even if the expert is British the pronunciations will almost always be different than the American pronunciations. Unless you’re making a speech, it just doesn’t make any difference.
Below is a list with recognizable wildflowers, with their Latin or Greek botanical names as well as their common names with English derivations. These examples give you a good overview of how to “translate” botanical names.
Botanical Name Genus derivation Species derivation Common Name Asclepios tuberose Greek god of healing -Asclepios tuberous roots Butterfly Weed Asclepios vulgaris Greek god of healing -Asclepios common (vulgar) Common Milkweed Achillea millefolium Greek warrior-Achilles having many leaves Common Yarrow Rudbekia hirta For Swiss scientist, Olaf Runback from Greek word for shaggy Black Eyed Susan Papaver rhoeus From the Greek word for “poppy” red Red Poppy Centaurea cyanus A medicinal plant from Thessaly blue Cornflower Cichorium intybus An endive plant bitter Chicory Lobularia maritime Lobe shaped of the sea-side Sweet Alyssum Gypsophila elegans Latin for “covered with white” elegant Baby’s Breath Myosotis sylvatica shaped like a mouse ear belonging to the woods Forget Me Not Lupinus texensis of a wolf Texas Texas Bluebonnet Sisyrinchium bellum a kind of bulbous plant beautiful Blue Eyed Grass Hypericum perforate From Greek for “plant” perforated St. Johns Wort Lobelia cardinalis Lobed flowers cardinal-colored Cardinal flower Lilium canadines Lily Canada Canada Lily Rosa Carolina Rose The Carolinas Carolina Rose Helianthus annuus For Greek God of Sun: Helios Annual Sunflower Rosa officinalis Rose Official (medicinal) Apothecary Rose
Look up wildflowers by botanical name.