What's in a Name?

Most people donbt study Latin in school any more, but all romance languages are based on it.B For example, if you have a basic understanding of Spanish or French, you can undoubtedly read and understand some Italian and Portuguese.

Carl Linnaeus

Latin is the language used all over the world to name plants and animals.B My simplistic explanation of the naming of plants is that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, in the 1700bs, developed a system to categorize all known plants that describes basically smaller and smaller similarities in morphology (physical and reproductive structure).B The hierarchy looks like this, from broadest grouping to smallest grouping.

  • Kingdom (plant or animal)
    • Phylum (basically further divisions based on related vascular systems b think difference between moss and trees)
      • Class (groupings of similar leaf types, flowers or growth habits)
        • Order (smaller groupings of similarities)
          • Family (etc.)
            • Genus (etc.)
              • Species (the most closely related members, think sisters and brothers)

Flower in the Rosaceae family.

Think of the relationships in your family as in your family name bSmithb.B For example there is a large family called Rosaceae for roses.B Simple enough?B But the pronunciation is daunting with all those vowels at the end.B The ending b-eaeb I pronounce as beeeb followed by a long bDb, so the word becomes rose-D-see-D.

Linnaeus refined the naming system into basically a two-word description of the plant, using primarily genus and species.B The next name describes the species within the genus b think relatives within your family, sisters, brothers; there may be many members of the Smith family, but only one Wendy or Bob.

Rosa minutifolia

Rosa minutifolia

The species name also often indicates something about the physiognomy of that relative.B For example, sp. Albaflora describes a plant with white flowers.B Alba = white, flora = flower.B Following the same naming structure, Rosa sempervirens would be Evergreen Rose and Rosa minutifolia would have minute leaves.B The species name may also reflect where the plant is from, as in the case of Rosa Carolina, Carolina Rose.

Images from Wikimedia.

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