Botanical Names

The Arboretum is not just a pretty garden: it is a botanic garden that trials new and old varieties. Some flourish and so do not. They are not failures, but demonstrate that certain plants do not survive here.

Botanical Names

‘A rose is a rose is a rose’ according to author Gertrude Stein. While a rose continues to be a rose, that is not so for the botanical names of many other plants, thanks to research into DNA. Botanically, coleus is no longer Coleus blumei, nor Solenostemon scutellroides, its 2006 name change. As of 2012 it is Plectranthus scutellroides. Not to worry, coleus as we know it still is available at the nursery.

Portrait of Carl Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus

We owe official plant naming to Carl von Linne´(Linnaeus) who, in the 1700s, developed a binomial nomenclature to reduce the confusion of plant names (sometimes as long as 20 words!) or the same name given to several different plants. His Latin binominal classification was based on flower structure.

Over the centuries, plant names have changed. Since the development of DNA, botanists are busily reclassifying according to chromosomes. Reclassification has created new genera, divided others into smaller genera, and moved some plants into established genera. For example, Aster’s 600 species were divided into 11 different genera; Liliaceae keeps lilies, but lost onion; asparagus got its own genera; and autumn crocus joined colchicum in Colchicaceae.

For gardeners, the botanical name assures us that the plant we wanted is not another that has a similar or the same common or regional name. Catalogs beautifully picture their plants, but with so many looking alike, the only way you know for sure is checking the botanic name that is listed after the common or variety name.

The chrysanthemum is an example of a large genera. Ask for Chrysanthemum indicum for a florist mum, C. leucanthemum for ox-eye daisy and 24 other species, or C. ismelia for tricolor mum, its only species.

For a specific plant, use its botanical name. But if you just want to add beauty to your yard, enjoy it and don’t worry about its botanical name.