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Plant naming... explained (sorta)

Do you often get confused with which plants are what? Do you call a bergenia an elephant's ear when your friend calls it a pigsqueak? Do you ever wonder... why latin?!

Plants have latin names due to the genus and species system of naming which was invented by Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist who formalised binomial nomenclature (the modern system of naming organisms.) “Binomial nomenclature is the biological system of naming the organisms in which the name is composed of two terms, where, the first term indicates the genus and the second term indicates the species of the organism.”

To put it most simply, plants have a botanical name (scientific name which will not change) and a common name (who knows who invents these).

Botanical names are typically made up of 2 parts.

1) The Genus. This part of the name is always capitalized and is named after a person, or a description of the plant. This part of the name is usually a Greek word. In our example, this would be the word "Ficus", meaning Fig tree.

2) The Species - commonly called the epithet which will often refer to a person, place, or certain characteristic of the plant. If you pay attention to the lingo , this part will often tell you a lot about the plant.

For example, "Ficus" refers to a genus classification that includes almost 1000 different species! Botanical names are internationally used to classify plants and avoid confusion. Why latin you ask? Well, latin is a universal language so a ficus elastica in Canada will be the same ficus elastica in Spain.

Lets see if the breakdown of some common Ficus plants match their characteristics, or locations.

Llyrata (round, braod leaf).

Ficus lyrata = Fig tree + broad round leaf *Commonly known as Fiddle leaf Fig

Ficus elastica = Fig tree + rubber sap

*These plants come in many varieties, and the type of variegation is added at the end of its name. For example, Ficus elastica burgundy, or the Ficus elastica tineke. In this scenerio, the botanical plant name will actually contain 3 parts - the third part describing the variety or cultivar.

Ficus benghalensis = Fig tree + banyan (national tree of India) + ensis (sword in latin) *Commonly known as Ficus Audrey, named from the cultivar.

Do you think the characteristics of these plants match their botanical name? Let us know which one surprised you!

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