How Plants Are Named?

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Those long names given to plants seem complicated and strange but there is a method to the madness. Official plant names are in Latin and consist of two primary parts (Acer rubrum for example is Latin for Red Maple). Acer = Maple genus; and rubrum = Latin for red.

1- Genus – Defined as a group of related plants 2- Species – Defined as a specific plant within a genus.


  • The genus is capitalized
  • The species is not

Both the genus and the species are usually either printed in italics or underlined.

As more plants are discovered or developed, some species are then divided into groups called cultivars. Cultivar names are generally Capitalized and enclosed in ‘single quotes’. An example could be white flowered Zinnias which would be written as: Zinnia angustifolia “White Star’.

How Plants Are Named?

The accepted system using Latin to name plants was developed by Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) around 1750. It has made identifying plants universal and consistent. Confusion can occur by using only a plants common name because names vary from region to region. For example: The White Water Lily has over 200 different common names around the world.

By using the scientific name, along with the common name, you can be certain a plant is identified correctly. One reason among many you want to know the scientific name is that one plant sharing a common name may require completely different growing and conditions and care than another bearing the same name.

The next time you buy plants you’ll understand why there is that interesting Latin name attached to the common name.