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The Man And Method Behind Gardener’s Latin

Ever wonder about the Latin names of the plants and flowers in your garden? Carl Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist, is the one responsible.

linnaeusgarden

Photo: Andreas Trepte

Carl Linnaeus spent a lot of his life at this garden in Uppsala, Sweden where he researched plants and flowers and worked as a Professor of Botany.

Who Created The Latin System For Naming Plants?

Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist and botanist (among many other titles), designed the system for naming and classifying plants that is still used today in the mid 18th century. Linnaeus (also referred to as Carl Von Linné ) used Latin: the language used by educated people of his day to communicate with others in different countries.

The Method And Meaning Of Gardener’s Latin

Plant names consist of the genus name in capital letters and the species name in lower case.  A capitalized name in single quotations following the genus and species names indicates a cultivar which has been produced by hybridizers and is a variety of the original plant.

The species name tells us a lot of information about the plant.  For example:

  • Noctiflorus” tell us it blooms at night.
  • Words ending in “florus” refer to the flowers, so “flore-plens” indicates numerous flowers or petals.
  • When “folius” is the ending, the word is describing the plant’s leaves: for example, “bifolius” means “two leaves.”
  • Coralliflorus” means “coral flowers”
  • Galanthus” means “white colored” as does “virginalis” which indicates “virginal white.”
  • Tardiflorus” means “late flowering” while “semperflorens” means ever-flowering.

I have been reading Bill Neal’s small book Gardener’s Latin published by Algoquin Books of Chapel Hill, where I discovered many of these latin meanings. Bill Neal’s glossary of the meanings of names of plant species is keeping me engrossed all winter. I would recommend it to anyone curious in discovering more about Gardener’s Latin.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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