Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Why use Latin names?  Many different English names have been assigned to the same plant.  (Bluebells may be Hyacinthoides non-scripta or Mertensia virginica.)  It is also almost impossible to ascertain which English name may have been used first.  Common names provide no use for ID.   English names may also indicate no close affinities.  Common name proliferation occurs when there is no ordered system. Binomial nomenclature, the use of scientific names is an international language and brings order throughout the plant world. 
Untangling the maze of strange names: a very general guide for Horticulture Division entry cards.  Please refer to resource books or web sites for more specific information.

Using Rhododendron maximum or the native Rosebay Rhododendron as an example:

  (underlining shows example)


Rule 1: The botanical name should have two words - the genus and the species.

                        The botanical name MUST always have the GENUS first: 

                                                Rhododendron maximum                            



Rule 2:  Those two words may include: 1.  Species only (Rhododendron maximum)

2.  Subdivision of the Species:

A.  Species & Variety

Rhododendron maximum var. roseum
B. Species & Cultivar

  Rhododendron maximum ‘Midsummer’

C. Cultivar only:

       Rhododendron ‘Pride’s Pink’




GENUS (pl. genera) - Always a noun.  A group of plants closely related and including one or more species.  The first word in a plant’s botanical name, in Latin and always capitalized.


SPECIES - (s & pl) - The particular member of the genus, the second half of a botanical name, in Latin and in lower case.  When the species is not known, sp. may be written after the genus, i.e.  Rhododendron sp.





VARIETIES:  Varieties are found in nature; the word is Latin-like and you should use reliable references to determine varieties.


CULTIVAR:   Plants cultivated by man for a particular set of desirable characteristics, coming from a hybrid or a variant.  The cultivar name uses not more than 3 modern words, is always capitalized and set in single quotes.

                        When a cultivar name is unknown, ‘cv’ may be written in place of the cultivar name, i.e.  Rhododendron ‘cv’.



            Common names are desirable, but not necessary.  Capitalization if optional.


            Botanical name:  Rhododendron maximum

            Common name:   Rosebay Rhododendron



            One or more genera which are more or less alike, especially in flower, fruit or a combination of these and other characteristics.

            Rhododendron belongs to the family Ericacaea



            A plant resulting from a cross between two different species or two genera. 

            The use of an “x” preceding a word is a flag saying that plant is a hybrid.  A hybrid may be between two genera or  between two species and given a species name with an “x” before the species name.




Growth Habit:

            Herbaceous    - fleshy, soft tissue, dies to the ground in winter

            Woody            - maintains above-ground woody parts

                        Vine - with twining, clasping or self-clinging growth habit

                        Tree - with single central axis, 6 feet or more from the ground

                        Shrub - with several stems branched from the ground

Deciduous      - leafless part of the year

Evergreen      - having leaves all year


Hardy             - able to withstand low winter temperatures

Tender            - mostly annuals, harmed by low winter temperatures


Annual           - takes one year to complete it’s life cycle (seed to seed) and then dies

Biennial          - takes two years to complete it’s life cycle before dying

Perennial        - grows indefinitely year to year

** Plants may change with the environment.  A hardy plant may be tender in another zone or may only be an annual in other zones.




aculeatus:  prickly
adenopodus: glandular footed
aggregatus:  clustered
alatus:  winged
albus:  white
alpinus:  alpine, mountain
amabilis:  lovely
angustus:  narrow
arachnoides:  spider like, cobwebby
arborescens:  becoming tree like
arboreus:  tree like
argenteus:  silvery
atlanticus:  Atlantic regions
atropurpureus:  dark purple
atrosanguineus:  dark blood red
aurantiacus:  orange red
aureus:  golden
auritus:  eared
autumnalis:  autumnal
baccatus:  berried
barbatus:  barbed, bearded
bicolor:  two colored
bracteatus:  bearing bracts
brevifolius:  short leaved
caeruleus:  dark blue
caesius: bluish gray
campanulatus:  bell shaped
candicans:  white, hoary
candissima:  very white
cardinalis:  cardinal
carneus:  flesh colored
cereus:  waxy
cernuus:  drooping
chinensis:  belonging to China
chrysanthus:  golden flowered
cinereus:  ash colored
coccigera:  berry bearing
coccineus:  scarlet
compactus:  compact, dense
coniferus:  cone-bearing
cristatus:  crested
cupreatus:  coppery
densiflorus:  densely flowered
densifolius:  densely leaved
dentatus:  toothed
dissectus:  dissected, deeply cut
divergens:  wide spreading
diversifolius:  variable leaved
echniatus:  prickly
elegans:  elegant
erectus:  erect, upright
fastigiatus: close, erect branches
filifera:  thread bearing
flavus:  yellow
floribundus:  free flowering
floridus:  full of flowers
foliatus:  with leaves
fruticosus:  shrubby, bushy
fulvus:  tawny yellow
fuscata:  brown, dusky
geniculatus:  jointed, kneed
glaucus:  bluish green
globosus:  globular
gracilis:  graceful
grandiflorus:  large flowered
griseus:  gray
guttatus: spotted, speckled
hirsutus: hairy
hispidus:  bristly
horizontalis:  horizontal
hybridus:  mixed
incanus:  hoary
involucratus:  with a whorl of small leaves
ionanthus:  violet flowered
japonicus:  of Japan
junceus:  rush like
laciniatus:  cut or slashed into narrow lobes
lactea:  milk white
lactiflorus:  milk colored flowers
laevis:  smooth
lanatus:  woolly
lanuginosus:  woolly, downy
laricifolius:  larch leaved
latifolius:  broad leaved
leucanthus:  white flowered
linifolius:  flax leaved
lucidus:  bright, shining, clear
luteolus:  yellowish
luteus: yellow
macranthus:  large flowered
macrocephalus:  large headed
macrophyllus:  large leaved
maculatus:  spotted
magnificus: distinguished
major:  greater, larger
marginatus:  margined
masculus:  male
maxiums:  largest
microphyllus:  small leaved
minimus:  least, smallest
minor:  smaller
mitis:  mild, gentle
mollis:  soft, soft hairy
multiflorus:  many flowered
nanus: dwarf
neglectus:  overlooked
niger:  black
nitidus:  shining
nobilis:  famous, renowned
nudicaulis:  naked stemmed
nudiflorus:  naked flowered
nutans: nodding
obtuse:  blunt, rounded
occidentalis:  western
odoratus:  fragrant
odorus:  fragrant
officinalis:  medicinal
orientalis:  oriental, eastern
ovalifolius:  oval leaved
ovatus:  ovate
palmatus:  divided or lobed
palustris:  marsh loving
paniculatus:  borne in panicles
pannosus:  ragged, tattered
parvus:  small
patulus:  sreading
pendulus:  hanging
pinnatus:  feathered
pentaphyllus:  five leaved
persicaefolius:  peach leaved
pictus:  painted
plumarius:  plumed
plumosus:  feathery
polyphyllus:  many leaved
pratensis:  of meadows
procumbens:  lying on ground
prostratus: lying flat
prunifolius:  plum leaved
pumilus:  dwarf
pungens:  sharp pointed
purpureus:  purple
quinquefolius:  five leaved
racemiflorus:  raceme flowered
radians:  radiating
radicans:  rooting
repandus:  with wavy margin
repens:  creeping
reptans:  creeping
reticulatus:  netted
roseus:  rosy
rubella:  reddish
ruber:  red, ruddy
rugosus:  wrinkled
salicifollius:  willow leaved
sanguineus:  bloody, blood red
sarmentosus:  bearing runners
saxatilis:  found among rocks
scaber: rough
scandens:  climbing
semperflorens:  ever flowering
sempervirens:  evergreen
serpentinus:  of snakes, runners
setaceus:  bristle like
spathulatus:  spoon shaped
speciosus:  showy, good looking
spectablilis:  remarkable, showy
spicatus:  with spikes
spiralis:  spiral
splendens:  splendid
sterilis: infertile
stolonifera:  bearing runners that take root
strictus:  strict, upright
stylosus:  with style
subulatus:  awl shaped
superbus:  proud
sylvestris:  of woods or forests
tenuis:  slender, thin
terminalis:  at the end of a stem or branch
ternatus:  in threes
tinctorius:  belong to dyers
triacanthus:  three spined
trichosanthus:  hairy flowered
tricuspidatus:  three pointed
trilobus:  three lobed
tuberosus:  shortened underground stem
tubiflora:  trumpet flowered
umbellatus:  flowers in a cluster
umbrosus:  shaded, shade loving
vagans:  wandering
variegatus:  variegated
vernus:  of spring
versicolor:  variously colored
viridis:  green
viridissimus:  greenest
viscosus:  sticky, viscid
vulgaris: vulgar, common
zonatus: banded


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