What’s in a name? I’m often asked why I use so many long-winded Latin names instead of sticking to the common ones?
The answer is to be precise and avoid confusion.
The botanical version identifies a specific plant anywhere in the world, whereas common names can vary between regions.
Several examples of this are to be found in Richard Maybey’s Flora Britannica, the most obvious being dandelion, the English name being derived from the French term dent-de-lion, meaning lion’s tooth.
This plant is also variously recognised throughout the UK as pittley beds, tiddle-beds, wet-the-bed, old man’s clock, peasant’s clock, fairies’ parachutes and swine’s snout, but internationally it is known as taraxacum. The use of Latin to identify plants originates with Roman writers of the first century AD.
It remained the language of international scholarship throughout the great plant-hunting period of the 16th to 18th centuries, then in the mid-1700s, Linnaeus introduced the binomial (two-word) system simplifying the naming of flora and fauna.
First came the genus name, then the epithet that represented the species, such as rosa gallica.
But worldwide agreement on a set of rules for naming plants was not reached until 1952 with the publication of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.
This has been revised several times since as developing technology reveals more about the DNA structure of specific plants.
This makes a significant difference to those who publish horticultural journals and gardening writers generally.
It means a small change for gardeners when the butterfly bush (buddleia) suddenly becomes a buddleja, but is perhaps more significant when montbretia becomes a crocosmia.
It’s several years since we were informed that chrysanthemums, the favourite cut flower of summer and autumn gardens, flower shows, and winter pot culture, should really be called dendranthema.
What do you call yours?