The Lowdown on Plant and Gardening Terms
Gardening is a blend of horticulture and botany and because of this the names can get very confusing. Whether you’re looking at plant anatomy or simply want to know what to call a plant, understanding a bit about naming conventions can help you wade through the aisles, ask better questions, and treat your plants right.
When you’re talking about plants, knowing how they’re named can help you avoid getting tangled up in the Latin terms and phrases that are alien to you. Generally, when looking for plants and flowers, you encounter two types of names — botanical and common.
Botanical names are the correct or scientific name of a plant. They consist of two parts: the genus name and the species name. The species name is similar to your own first name (except it comes last in a plant’s botanical name). The genus name is more like your family name or surname (except in botanical names, it comes first). For example, in the plant name Hosta undulata, Hosta is the genus name, and undulata is the species name. Hosta describes an entire genus of famous, mostly shade-loving plants named hostas, and undulata describes the type of hosta it is — a hosta with an undulating leaf shape.
Occasionaly the botanical name has a third name, right after the species name, known as the variety. A variety is a member of the same plant species but looks different enough to warrant its own name, such as Rosa gallica var. officinalis. Still another botanical name that sometimes comes up is the cultivar, or cultivated variety. Cultivars are usually named by the people who developed or discovered them, and they’re often maintained through cuttings, linebred seed propagation, or tissue culture. In other words, they’re cultivated (humans grow, improve, and develop them). An example is Lychnis coronaria ‘Angel’s Blush.’
A hybrid plant is the result of the cross-pollination between two genetically different plants, usually of the same species but different varieties. This combination can happen because of cultivation, or it can occur naturally through bee pollination between two different plants.
Botanical names are more common with some types of plants than others. For instance, you frequently run into them with herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs but much less so with roses, annuals, and vegetables. You can find botanical names on the labels and in many garden references.
Common names are what you’re most likely to encounter when shopping for plants to put in your garden, and they’re what you mostly encounter in this book. You can find these names prominently displayed on seed packets or on seedling trays of plants that are for sale. They’re kind of like botanical nicknames that gardeners use to describe a certain type of plant without going into a great amount of detail. For example, the Hosta undulata fits into the genus Hosta, so most gardeners merely refer to these plants under the common name of hostas. And you may know that Hemerocallis is actually the genus name for the common daylily, but chances are that most gardeners you encounter just call them daylilies.