learning latin names of plants can be fun, useful and rewarding
Yes, Latin names are useful in plant identification. At the
start, memorizing the scientific names of farm crops and other plants
is time-consuming and difficult. This is especially true when there is
no live specimen to associate the name with.
But with regular reading and with diligence, you will discover that it’s fun. As you continue to pile the names in your memory and learn how to use them in plant identification, you will realize that the task is not as difficult as it was at the start. Eventually, you'll feel satisfaction for having done what you thought you are incapable of. And probably one day, you will just be amazed that you've become a walking encyclopedia!
Botanical names are not only convenient in communicating about plants. They are also useful in plant identification because they can often tell you something which should be obvious about the plant being referred to. The Latin names may describe the plant’s growth habit, color, texture, size, or other characteristics. For example, the "nigrum" in Piper nigrum should be a plain giveaway that there's something black about the plant given that scientific name. Indeed, the description aptly applies to the black pepper.
Listed below are some Latin words with their meaning. These words or their other forms appear in botanical plant names. For emphasis, examples of Latin names of plants are given.
- albus, alba - white. ex: Amaranthus albus (white amaranth or tumbleweed).
- amabilis - lovely. ex: Phalaenopsis amabilis (moon orchid).
- annuus - annual, for a year. ex: Helianthus annuus (sunflower).
- argenteus - silver. ex: Pipturus argenteus (native mulberry).
- asper - sharp, fierce, violent. ex: Dendrocalamus asper (apos or giant bamboo).
- aureus - gold, golden; beautiful. ex: Lampranthus aureus (vygie).
- bicolor - two-colored. ex: Sorghum bicolor (sorghum).
- capillus - hair. ex: Adiantum capillus-veneris (maidenhair fern).
- dulcis, dulce - sweet, pleasant, delightful. ex: Prunus dulcis (almond); Pithecelobium dulce (kamachile).
- esculentum, esculenta - edible. ex: Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato), Manihot esculenta (cassava or tapioca).
- giganteus, gigantium - giant. ex: Saccharum giganteum (sugarcane plumegrass); Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro cactus); Dendrocalamus giganteus (wado bamboo).
- grandis, grande - great, large, showy. ex: Platycerium grande (giant staghorn fern or capa de leon); Tectona grandis (teak).
- indicus, indicum, indica - Indian. ex: Mangifera indica (mango); Tamarindus indica (tamarind); Sesamum indicum (sesame).
- lanatus - wooly . ex: Citrullus lanatus (watermelon).
- levis - smooth. ex: Gigantochloa levis (smooth giant grass, botong, buluh betong).
- lunatus - crescent-shaped. ex: Phaseolus lunatus (lima bean or patani).
- luteus - yellow. ex: Lupinus luteus (yellow lupin).
- multiplex - composite, together, numerous. ex: Bambusa multiplex (hedge bamboo).
- nanus, nana - dwarf. ex: Ericameria nana (dwarf goldenbush).
- niger, nigrum, nigra - black, dark. ex: Piper nigrum (black pepper); Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo).
- nidus - nest, nestling. ex: Asplenium nidus (birdnest fern or pakpak lawin).
- perennis - perennial. ex: Bellis perennis (daisy).
- pinnatus - feathered. ex: Schizanthus pinnatus (butterfly flower).
- prostratus - prostrate, trailing. ex: Ceanothus prostratus (prostrate ceanothos).
- punctatus - dotted. ex: Croton punctatus (gulf croton).
- purpureus - purple. ex: Lablab purpureus (hyacinth bean or bataw).
- regia - royal, regal. ex: Roystonea regia (royal palm).
- repens - sudden, new, unexpected. ex: Agropyron repens (couch grass).
- reptans - creeping. ex: Ajuga reptans (bugle).
- rex - king, leader. ex: Begonia rex (rex begonia or painted leaf begonia).
- roseus -- rosy. ex: Catharanthus roseus (pink periwinkle, vinca, rosas de baybayon or chichirika).
- ruber, rubrum, rubra - red. ex: Centranthus ruber (red valerian).
- sativum, sativa - sown; that is sown. ex: Oryza sativa (rice); Allium sativum (garlic, bawang or ajos).
- sylvestris - growing on woods or forests, wild. ex: Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine).
- spectabilis - visible, remarkable, showy. ex: Bougainvillea spectabilis (bougainvilla).
- spinosus - spiny. ex: Amaranthus spinosus (spiny amaranth).
- tomentosus, tomentosa - with thick, short hair. ex: Kalanchoe tomentosa (panda plant)
- variegatus, variegata - variegated. ex: Pleioblastus variegatus (dwarf white-striped bamboo or variegated bamboo); Codiaeum variegatum(croton or san francisco)
- viridis - green. ex: Mentha viridis (spearmint).
- vitis - vine, grape vine. ex. Vitis vinifera (grape).
- vulgaris, vulgare - common. ex: Artemisia vulgaris (maiden wort or damong maria); Beta vulgaris (sugar beet); Sorghum vulgare (sorghum).
Words of Caution
Visitors to this site are hereby advised to exercise caution in
copying and using the scientific names of plants and other organisms provided
herein. Recent access to online taxonomic help (www.theplantlist.org and
https://itis.gov/) revealed that significant changes have happened.
For example, Coleus blumei for the plant having
the vernacular name “mayana” appears to have become a mere synonym of the
accepted Plectranthus scutellarioides (L.) R.Br.
While author took earnest effort to verify and believed in the
accuracy of the scientific name at the time that it was published, he is not an
expert in taxonomy.
In addition, there are some Latin names of species which provide information on the place of origin of some plants. Notable examples are brasiliensis, chinensis and philippinensis. Take note that these words have identical ending or suffixes.
There are also Latinized names of species which originate from names of persons. Examples are kirkii, macarthurii and wrightii.
Note: Some of the Latin names given above may no longer be the "accepted" name. If such is the case, it may possibly become a synonym. Synonyms, denoted by the abbreviation "syn." is often attached to the currently accepted name.
KIDD DA. 1957. Latin Dictionary. London and Glasgow: Collins Gem. 674 p. (1989 reprint, booklet).
WELDON OWEN PTY LTD. 2003. The Essential Gardening Encyclopedia. San Francisco, CA: Fog City Press. 608 p.
(Ben G. Bareja 2010, edited Apr. 19, 2019)
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