The Naming Process of Plants: A Dive into Latin and Common Names

For Plants

February 23, 2024

Have you ever wondered how plants get their names? Why is a rose called a rose, and why does it also have a Latin name like Rosa damascena? This article will explore the fascinating process of naming plants, specifically delving into the origins of Latin and common names.


The Binomial Nomenclature System

First, let’s talk about the Latin names. The scientific names of plants, also known as Latin names, are based on a system called the binomial nomenclature system. This system was developed by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century.

Each plant is given a two-part Latin name, the first part is the genus (which is always capitalized), and the second is the species.

The genus name is a general classification, grouping similar species together. The species name, on the other hand, is specific to that plant and often describes a distinguishing attribute of the plant.

For instance, consider the Latin name for the common sunflower: Helianthus annuus. “Helianthus” is the genus name and it is derived from the Greek words “helios” meaning sun and “anthos” meaning flower. “Annuus” is the species name, meaning “annual” in Latin, indicating that this type of sunflower completes its life cycle in one year.


The Process of Naming Species

So, how is a new species named? When botanists discover a new plant species, they follow a set of international rules called the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN).

The botanist must provide a detailed description of the plant in Latin and specify a type specimen (an example of the plant) that resides in a recognized botanical institution. They then publish this in a peer-reviewed journal. Once this is done, the name becomes official.


Common Names of Plants

Moving onto common names, these are the names you’re likely more familiar with. Common names can vary greatly depending on the region or language. They’re often based on some obvious characteristic of the plant, such as its appearance, its use, or someone it’s associated with. For example, the daisy got its name because it resembles “day’s eye,” referring to the sun. However, unlike Latin names, common names are not internationally recognized, which can sometimes cause confusion.

The process of naming plants is an intricate one, steeped in tradition and scientific classification. While the Latin names follow a strict system and rules, the common names are more regional and flexible.

Both, however, add to the rich tapestry of botany and our understanding of the plant kingdom. So, next time you see a plant, whether it’s a Rosa damascena or a simple daisy, remember there’s a story behind its name.

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