better outdoor living at home spring

How Plants Are Named

Common names of plants may be familiar but not their scientific name. Scientific names keep order of every living thing from the dinosaur to a flower. It’s good for homeowners to know the exact name of the landscape or garden plants they install in case they should ever need to buy more.

Remember high school biology class, where we had to learn about the animal and plant kingdoms, not to mention fungi and the amoeba. Oh yes, it seems like just yesterday! Whether or not we realized it at the time, we were learning about scientific nomenclature, or scientific names, by which all living organisms are classified.


Amelanchier x grandiflora (scientific name), Apple Serviceberry (common name – this common name was given for it’s orange-red fall color). The cultivar Apple Serviceberry is a cross between two other serviceberries – Amelanchier arborea and Amelanchier laevis.



In the 1700’s a Swedish scientist (Carl Von Linne) devised a system whereby each living thing would be classified according to the specific characteristics and descriptive features it possessed, uniquely unto itself. Each living thing belongs to a specific species and is given a two word Latin name that is used worldwide to identify it, i.e. Danaus plexippus is the scientific name for the monarch butterfly. This system eliminates any confusion and mistakes that may arise by the use of common names. In this example, monarch butterfly is the common name. Common names can differ from one geographic region to another, but the scientific name does not.
Naturally, this scientific nomenclature is used in the study of plants (botany), as well. As an example, Cornus florida is the scientific name for flowering dogwood. The first word, Cornus, denotes the genus, and both words together denote the species. Sometimes plants are cultivated, by plant breeders, to produce a cultivar, a hybrid, or a cross, for a specific characteristic, such as deep red flowers, or greater disease resistance. For example, a cultivar of the Cornus florida would be Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’, written with single quotation marks or cv. before the cultivar name. The common name is Cherokee Chief Flowering Dogwood.



What is the Importance?


Why is it good for homeowners to know the names of the plants they install? Since our yards are full of plants, this naming system comes in handy. Have you ever had to replace one of the shrubs from a row or group of matching shrubs, only to realize a year later that it looks different from the shrubs it was supposed to match? It’s because it was different, and so was the scientific name. The replacement shrub may have looked similar to you at the nursery, but its different growth habit or other physical characteristics has become more apparent. The nursery industry must use the scientific names to maintain correct identification, because a lot of the time young plants of the same genus can look very much alike.


It is a good idea to save one of the tags from each different plant that you purchase, whether it is a tree, shrub, or perennial, for both its scientific and common name. Then in case you need to replace one or need to buy a few more, you’ll know exactly what plant to purchase. Also, make note as to where that particular plant is located in the yard, so you know what tag belongs to which plant.


Many homeowners may not realize that the tags on the plants they buy can serve as a reference when selecting more of that same plant in the future. Then you can ask the guy at the local nursery if they carry that specific plant.





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