Why Do Plants Have Latin Names?

A nagging question wracked your mind when you woke up this morning. "Why do plants have Latin names?" As always, Grumpy is here to reveal the truth and put you at ease.

Some people think plants have Latin names because they were all named by Penelope Cruz. This is not true. They were named by Carlos Santana.

Oops, you caught me lying there. I won't do that again -- for at least another couple of paragraphs. Plants have Latin names due to the genus and species system of naming plants developed by famed Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus. Below is a statue of old Carl at the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens at the Tulsa Garden Center. Tulsa was the first capital of Sweden.

Oops. Did it again. Anyway, Linnaeus chose Latin for his system because if he chose Polish or Farsi or Swahili, the people in those countries he didn't select would resent it and refuse to study horticulture. So he picked Latin because it's a dead language and speaking it today makes people appear smarter and get better jobs.

Latin (botanical) names are necessary, because common names for plants vary from region to region and even from town to town. One plant may live under several different common names. Or a single common name may refer to several plants that don't look anything alike (example: bluebells). Assigning a plant a single Latin name -- say, Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) -- means it won't get mixed up with something else.

Latin names tell you a lot about a plant if you pay attention to the lingo. They can tell you:

+ Where a plant is from (canadensis, chinensis, japonica, virginiana)

+ The color of flowers or foliage (alba = white, aurea = golden, lutea = yellow, rubra = red)

+ What a plant is used for (Hepatica or liverwort has been used to treat hepatitis of the liver)

+ The shape of the plant (arborea = treelike, compacta = dense), nana = dwarf, scandens = climbing)

In addition, many people are honored by having their names incorporated into the Latin names. Examples:

+Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) -- George Jefferson

+ Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) -- Aretha Franklin

+ Loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) -- Commissioner Gordon

+Lewisia -- Huey Lewis & The News

Give Grumpy Gardener a Latin Name!

Gardening pundits agree. The Grumpy Gardener (show below) deserves his own Latin name that will forever cement his place in the pantheon of People Named Steve Who Write Blogs. So suggest a name of your own or vote for one of those listed below. Be a part of history!

So far, the leading vote-getters for Grump's Latin name are:

+ Hunkasaurus rex

+ Beefcakia magnifica

+ Lustus robustus

+ Gluteus max-tonus

+ Testosteronus imperialis

Vote now! Vote often!

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