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What’s in a Name?

There is more to plant names than meets the eye. How many times have you had a conversation about Geraniums and someone ask “do you mean the herbaceous perennial or the bedding plant (Pelargonium)?” Common names are easy to remember, but can be very confusing when it comes to plant identification, as they can vary dramatically from place to place. A fine example is Aqueligia vulgaris, which goes by the common names Columbine, Cock’s Foot, Granny’s Bonnets and Sow Wort, to name but a few. During the mid-1700s, a revolutionary Swedish botanists called Carolus Linnaeus set about developing a standardized way of naming and classifying plants. He created The Binomial System, which continues to be used to this day. This simple, yet ingenious system uses two names for each plant, e.g. Aqueligia vulgaris. The first name is the genus, which is always spelt with an initial capital letter. This is followed by the species, which is always written in lower case. Species that are related fall under the same genus, for example Aqueligia vulgaris and Aqueligia formosa. If you follow the theory of evolution, then think of the genus as the name for the ancestor from which the species vulgaris and formosa evolved. Plant names go further than just a means of identification, they can also tell you something about their particular species. Among the many things they convey, they can describe the look of the plant, its habit or its origin. vulgaris, for example, means common, chinensis means from China, Hirsutum means hairy ~ Creative Landscapes Team