Botanic Names

Botanic names – so important to a complete understanding of plants! Potowmack Chapter member, Margaret Chatham, has written an educational and entertaining series of articles to illuminate the subject.

BOTANIC NAMES: It’s About Time

Some plants’ botanic names note activity at an unexpected time. So our Black Cherries that bloom and fruit later than cultivated cherries are named Prunus serotina (Prunus: Latin for plum; serotina: late) … Read more

BOTANIC NAMES: Made a Little Less Mysterious

Botanic or Latin names: love them or hate them, you can’t get away from them. But learning a few translations can make them a lot easier to remember, and may add to your understanding of the plants named. I love the way that once I can identify a new (to me) plant, I start seeing it all over. My level of knowledge definitely shapes what I see … Read more

BOTANIC NAMES: They’re All Greek To Me

Well, not all, but while we often speak of botanic names as “Latin names,” they are derived from many sources, and  Greek is well-represented. So for example twinleaf is Jeffersonia diphylla for Jefferson’s plant with two (di) leaves (phylla) … Read more 

BOTANIC NAMES: The Leaves Have It

Many plants’ specific epithets describe their leaves, ending in folia (leaf in Latin) or phylla (leaf in Greek). We may immediately recognize the broad-leafedness of plants named “latifolia.” Typha latifolia is common cattail; Kalmia latifolia is mountain laurel …  Read more

BOTANIC NAMES: Some of these plants are like one another; some of these plants are kind of the same

Or at least some plants are named after other plants. Specific epithets (the second words of binomial names) that end in “oides” often call attention to similarities to another genus of plants. So Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) is named after the Sycamore genus PlatanusRead more

BOTANIC NAMES: A Hairy Subject

How many words does a botanist have to say a plant is hairy? Canescent, ciliate, hirsute, hispid, lanate, pillose, pubescent, tomentose, villose: this is not a complete list, and most of these can be modified – but to take these in alphabetical order: … Read more

BOTANIC NAMES: They’re a Real Zoo

A wide variety of animals find their way into the botanic names of familiar plants, sometimes because of a similar shape or appearance, sometimes because of the way the plants were used. Some of these are echoed in the plants’ common names, … Read more

BOTANIC NAMES: Hedgehogs or Sea Urchins?

The Greek word “echinos” is sometimes translated as “hedgehog,” sometimes as “sea urchin.” Either way you look at it, where the word occurs in botanic names, look for a flower group or seed head that is round and prickly … Read more


Our English word “panic” goes back to Pan, the goat-footed Greek god of nature, so I had always thought that the grasses of the genus Panicum shared that derivation. By extension, I thought the term “panicle” … Read more

BOTANIC NAMES: On the (Leaf) Edge

Some plants’ botanic names describe edges, mostly of their leaves. Smooth leaf edges are termed “entire” and rarely find their way into botanic names. … Read more