Plant names
Flora's plant names.
Portland, OR : Timber Press, 2003.
This unusual dictionary lists 20,000 common plant names alphabetically with their botanical name so that gardeners and horticulturists in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand can accurately locate plants in catalogs or at nurseries and garden stores. Plants with common names of more than one word are included under both the standard and inverted forms of their names (e.g., Polypodium glycyrrhiza is listed under licorice fern and fern, licorice). The book can also be used as a companion to Flora: A Gardener's Encyclopedia. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
100 flowers and how they got their names
Diana Wells ; illustrated by Ippy Patterson.
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.
From baby blue eyes to silver bells, from abelia to zinnia, every flower tells a story. Gardening writer and historian Diana Wells knows them all. Here she presents one hundred well-known garden favorites and the not-so-well-known stories behind their names. Not for gardeners only, these flower stories tell of human striving - stories of ambitious explorers, clever hucksters, arbitrary monarchs, and patient scientists. To compile 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, Diana Wells delved deep into horticultural history, etymology, and lore to uncover myths, legends, folk beliefs, and stories of the intrepid botanists who searched the world's far corners for new and unusual flowers.

Name that Plant – using its biological nomenclature could be a quiz show for avid gardeners, but only experts might win.  Botanists, horticulturalists, garden historians, and master gardeners have an understanding of how and why many plants are named.  To the rest of us, it may seem puzzling.

Plants are given a binomial or two names, a genus and a species.  The species is the basic unit of plant classification. Variations, hybrids, and cultivars are all subdivisions of the species.  A similar group of species forms the genus.  The genus designates the group of closely related plants.  It is estimated that there are a quarter of a million plant species on earth.

The Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) developed a system to give each plant a genus name and a species name.  This eventually became the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in 1906. His system had such flexibility that it could accommodate the many modifications to plants in later years.
Linnaeus first practiced as a physician, hence his knowledge of Latin.

International Code of Botanical Nomenclature

The names are usually written in Latin, printed in italics, with the genus names first and capitalized.  The species name is next, written in lower case letters.  Plants are named for people, places, mythological characters, associations with animals, body parts, and much more.  The Missouri Botanical Garden has a research website, The Unseen Garden, where one can find information about plants and projects from all over the world.

Hybrid species of plants are called nothospecies.  They are named using either a hybrid formula of their parents’ names, or a binomial with a multiplication sign.  There are also the many common names that have no rules and which may change from region to region or vary at one time or another.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff