Botanistsand gardenersfrom all over the world,
regardless of native tongue, use the same scientific name to identify a particular plant.
By consistently using scientific names we can communicate more effectively with fellow
There are specific rules regarding
how botanical names should be written. Following are some guidelines. (There are a few
rare cases where these rules dont apply.)
When writing a botanical name, the genus name is
capitalized, the species is not, and both these words are set in italics (or underlined):
Rosemary: Rosmarinus officinalis
Oregano: Origanum vulgare
Sweet marjoram: Origanum majorana
Varieties. Sometimes a population of
plants within a species differs from other members of the species in some significant
wayfor example, this population may have white flowers instead of the usual blue
flowers. This unique population is given a variety
nameadded in italics after the species nameto distinguish it from other
members of the species.
Hollyhock: Alcea rosea
Black-flowered hollyhock: Alcea rosea var.
Eastern flowering dogwood: Cornus florida
Eastern flowering dogwood with red bracts: Cornus
florida var. rubra
You may see the name written without the abbreviation
"var." inserted, but technically this should be included.
Cultivars. If a variety is created
through cultivationthat is, it doesnt occur as a natural population, but is
the results of breeding efforts by horticulturiststhen it is called a cultivar (shorthand for cultivated variety).
A cultivar is distinguished from a naturally-occurring variety by capitalizing the
cultivar name and placing it in single quotes in plain type.
Tall summer phlox: Phlox paniculata
A named cultivar of tall summer phlox: Phlox
paniculata Blue Boy
A named cultivar of eastern flowering dogwood: Cornus
florida Bay Beauty
Another way to indicate a cultivar is with the
abbreviation cv. instead of the single quotesfor example, Cornus florida cv.
are the result of sexual reproduction between different species. Hybrid plants can occur
naturally, but most of the hybrids familiar to gardeners are the result of breeding work.
(More about hybrids in Part II of this course.)
Phlox x procumbens is a hybrid resulting
from a cross between P. stolonifera (creeping phlox) and P. subulata (moss
Phlox x procumbens Variegata is
a hybrid cultivar with variegated foliage.
When listing several species within the same genus, you
can write the entire genus name once, then abbreviate it with the first letter followed by
a period for the rest of the list. For example, if you are listing a group of junipers you
could write Juniperus communis, J. horizontalis, and J. virginiana to
denote common juniper, creeping juniper, and eastern red cedar.
Remembering how to spell botanical names is a challenge,
but it is important if you want to be able to research a specific plant. Even more
challenging is to pronounce them! There are some customary pronunciationsbut even
these can vary among regions. Since Latin is a "dead" language that is written
but no longer spoken, one could argue that there is no "right" way to pronounce
names. And besides, even seasoned horticulturists get stumped with unusual names.
Remember, you can always spell out a name to avoid confusion.