Plants were first classified by Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. He organized and subdivided plants according to their reproductive parts (flowers, fruits, seeds, etc.). The Latin, or botanical, name of plants always has two parts, the genus and the species.
Genus = major plant category (ex. Quercus = oaks, or Rhus = sumacs) Species = smaller groups of closely related plants within a genus (ex. Quercus alba, Q. lobata, and Q. macrocarpa are different species of oak trees). A plant species can reproduce from seed with minimal changes from its parent plants.
Note: The genus name is always capitalized, and the species name is always lower-cased, and both are shown in italic typeface: Genus species
The genus and species describe one - and only one - plant, separate and distinct from all others. Once you learn some of the basic descriptors, you’ll be on your way to understanding why plants have particular Latin names!
COLOR Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
White Oak (Quercus alba) versus Red Oak (Q. rubra)
ORIGIN Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) from Eurasia Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) from Japan Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) from Canada
FEATURES Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) shiny foliage Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) aromatic or fragrant
Want to learn more about Latin plant descriptors? Search on "plant latin" or try this UK website: The Seed Site.
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