Learning Latin Names of Plants Can Be Fun and Useful

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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.

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.

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.

  1. albus, alba – white. ex: Amaranthus albus (white amaranth or tumbleweed).
  2. amabilis – lovely. ex: Phalaenopsis amabilis (moon orchid).
  3. annuus – annual, for a year. ex: Helianthus annuus (sunflower).
  4. argenteus – silver. ex: Pipturus argenteus (native mulberry).
  5. asper – sharp, fierce, violent. ex: Dendrocalamus asper (apos or giant bamboo).
  6. aureus – gold, golden; beautiful. ex: Lampranthus aureus (vygie).
  7. bicolor – two-colored. ex: Sorghum bicolor (sorghum).
  8. capillus – hair. ex: Adiantum capillus-veneris (maidenhair fern).
  9. dulcis, dulce – sweet, pleasant, delightful. ex: Prunus dulcis (almond); Pithecelobium dulce (kamachile).
  10. esculentum, esculenta – edible. ex: Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato), Manihot esculenta (cassava or tapioca).
  11. giganteus, gigantium – giant. ex: Saccharum giganteum (sugarcane plumegrass); Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro cactus); Dendrocalamus giganteus (wado bamboo).
  12. grandis, grande  – great, large, showy. ex: Platycerium grande (giant staghorn fern or capa de leon); Tectona grandis (teak).
  13. indicus, indicum, indica – Indian. ex: Mangifera indica (mango); Tamarindus indica (tamarind); Sesamum indicum (sesame).
  14. lanatus – wooly . ex: Citrullus lanatus (watermelon).
  15. levis – smooth. ex: Gigantochloa levis (smooth giant grass, botong, buluh betong).
  16. lunatus – crescent-shaped. ex: Phaseolus lunatus (lima bean or patani).
  17. luteus – yellow. ex: Lupinus luteus (yellow lupin).
  18. multiplex – composite, together, numerous. ex: Bambusa multiplex (hedge bamboo).
  19. nanus, nana – dwarf. ex: Ericameria nana (dwarf goldenbush).
  20. niger, nigrum, nigra – black, dark. ex: Piper nigrum (black pepper); Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo).
  21. nidus – nest, nestling. ex: Asplenium nidus (birdnest fern or pakpak lawin).
  22. perennis – perennial. ex: Bellis perennis (daisy).
  23. pinnatus – feathered. ex: Schizanthus pinnatus (butterfly flower).
  24. prostratus – prostrate, trailing. ex: Ceanothus prostratus (prostrate ceanothos).
  25. punctatus – dotted. ex: Croton punctatus (gulf croton).
  26. purpureus – purple. ex: Lablab purpureus (hyacinth bean or bataw).
  27. regia – royal, regal. ex: Roystonea regia (royal palm).
  28. repens – sudden, new, unexpected. ex: Agropyron repens (couch grass).
  29. reptans – creeping. ex: Ajuga reptans (bugle).
  30. rex – king, leader. ex: Begonia rex (rex begonia or painted leaf begonia).
  31. roseus –– rosy. ex: Catharanthus roseus (pink periwinkle, vinca, rosas de baybayon or chichirika).
  32. ruber, rubrum, rubra – red. ex: Centranthus ruber (red valerian).
  33. sativum, sativa – sown; that is sown. ex: Oryza sativa (rice); Allium sativum (garlic, bawang or ajos).
  34. sylvestris – growing on woods or forests, wild. ex: Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine).
  35. spectabilis – visible, remarkable, showy. ex: Bougainvillea spectabilis (bougainvilla).
  36. spinosus – spiny. ex: Amaranthus spinosus (spiny amaranth).
  37. tomentosus, tomentosa – with thick, short hair. ex: Kalanchoe tomentosa (panda plant)
  38. variegatus, variegata – variegated. ex: Pleioblastus variegatus (dwarf white-striped bamboo or variegated bamboo); Codiaeum variegatum (croton or san francisco)
  39. viridis – green. ex: Mentha viridis (spearmint).
  40. vitis – vine, grape vine. ex. Vitis vinifera (grape).
  41. vulgaris, vulgare – common. ex: Artemisia vulgaris (maiden wort or damong maria); Beta vulgaris (sugar beet); Sorghum vulgare (sorghum).

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.


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.

Click to read pages related to Latin names:

Common Plant Names Can Mislead

Plant Names and Classifications of Farm Crops

Agricultural Crop Classifications

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Ben Bareja

Ben Bareja, the owner-founder-webmaster of CropsReview.com. This website was conceptualized primarily to serve as an e-library for reference purposes on the principles and practices in crop science, including basic botany. Read more here

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