Understanding Botanical Names

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201608010A.jpgIf you garden and want to communicate with other gardeners, common names just don’t cut the mustard. The same plant can have so many of them and they change all over the world, in fact even within the same language. I mean, if Americans and Brits can’t even agree on what plant the word daisy refers to (it’s Leucanthemum vulgaris or oxeye daisy for Americans and Bellis perennis or English daisy in Great Britain), how useful can a common name be?

Fortunately botanical names, also called Latin names, are universal. Although they may seem complicated at first, they aren’t as daunting as you may think, especially when you have picked up a bit of botanical Latin.

Each botanical name is composed of two parts, the genus name, which is shared among related plants and is a bit like a surname, and the epithet, which makes it clear exactly which plant is being mentioned. For example, there are many related plants in the genus Helianthus, but the epithet annuum indicates a specific species, Helinathus annuum, the common annual sunflower.

List of Botanical Epithets

Here are some of the more common botanical epithets. Note that the ending changes depending on the gender of the genus name, which is why the same stem can end in –is, -e, –us, -a, -um, etc.

How many of these do you already know or have you already figured out? You’ll be surprised!

  1. acaulis, e = without a stem
  2. acer, acris = acrid
  3. acutifolius, a, um = with sharp leaves
  4. affinis, e = related
  5. alatus, a, um = winged
  6. albus, a, um = white
  7. alpestris, e = alpine
  8. alpinus, a, um = alpine
  9. amabilis, e = beautiful
  10. amoenus, a, um = attractive
  11. angustifolius, a, um = with narrow leaves
  12. annuus, a, um = annual
  13. arborescens = tree-like
  14. arboreus, a, um = tree-like
  15. argenteus, a, um = silvery
  16. arvensis, e = found on cultivated land
  17. atropurpureus, a, um = dark purple
  18. atrosanguineus, a, um = dark red
  19. aurantiacus, a, um = orange-red
  20. aureus, a, um = golden
  21. autumnalis, e = flowering in autumn
  22. azureus, a, um = sky-blue
  23. barbatus, a, um = bearded
  24. bicolor = of two colours
  25. biennis = biennial
  26. bipinnatus, a, um = twice-pinnate
  27. borealis, e = from the North
  28. bracteatus, a, um = bearing bracts
  29. bulbosus, a, um = bulbous
  30. caeruleus, a, um = sky-blue
  31. caespitosus, a, um = tufted
  32. campanulatus, a, um = bell-shaped
  33. candidus, a, um = white
  34. capillaris, e = hair-like
  35. capitatus, a, um = having a head
  36. carneus, a, um = flesh-colorured
  37. caudatus, a, um = with a tail
  38. caulescens = with a stem
  39. chrysanthus, a, um = with golden flowers
  40. ciliatus, a, um = fringed with hairs
  41. cinereus, a, um = ash-coloured
  42. citrinus, a, um = citron-yellow
  43. coccineus, a, um = scarlet
  44. coeruleus, a, um = sky-blue
  45. columnaris, e = columnar
  46. communis, e = common
  47. compactus, a, um = compact
  48. cordatus, a, um = heart-shaped
  49. cordifolius, a, um = with heart-shaped leaves
  50. cornutus, a, um = horned
  51. coronarius, a, um = used for making garlands
  52. corymbosus, a, um = corymbose
  53. crispus, a, um = with curled or wavy margins
  54. cristatus, a, um = crested
  55. cuspidatus, a, um = ending in a sharp, stiff point
  56. cyaneus, a, um = dark blue
  57. decumbens = with prostrate stems, the tips ascending
  58. densiflorus, a, um = with dense flowers
  59. dentatus, a, um = toothed
  60. diffusus, a, um = loosely spreading
  61. discolor = of different colours
  62. divaricatus, a, um = widely spreading
  63. diversifolium, a, um = with variable leaves
  64. elatior, ius = taller
  65. elatus, a, um = tall
  66. elegans = elegant
  67. erectus, a, um = erect
  68. esculentus, a, um = edible
  69. excelsior, ius = noble
  70. excelsus, a, um = tall
  71. falcatus, a, um = shaped like a sickle
  72. farinosus, a, um = mealy
  73. fastuosus, a, um = proud
  74. ferox = very thorny
  75. ferrugineus, a, um = rust-coloured
  76. filifolius, a, um = with thread-like leaves
  77. fistulosus, a, um = tubular
  78. flaccidus, a, um = weak
  79. flavus, a, um = yellow
  80. flexuosus, a, um = tortuous, winding
  81. flore-pleno = with double flowers
  82. floribundus, a, um = free-flowering
  83. foetidissimus, a, um = very foetid
  84. formosus, a, um = beautiful
  85. fragilis, e = brittle
  86. fragrans = sweet-scented
  87. frutescens = shrubby
  88. fulvus, a, um = reddish-yellow
  89. germanicus, a, um = from Germany
  90. giganteus, a, um = huge
  91. glaber, bra, brum = smooth
  92. glandulosus, a, um = glandular
  93. glaucus, a, um = covered with a greyish bloom; blue-grey
  94. globosus, a, um = spherical
  95. glomeratus, a, um = clustered in a round mass
  96. glutinosus, a, um = sticky
  97. gracilis, e = graceful
  98. gramineus, a, um = grass-like
  99. grandiflorus, a, um = with large flowers
  100. grandis, e = large
  101. guttatus, a, um = spotted
  102. hastatus, a, um = spear-shaped
  103. hederaceus, a, um = ivy-like
  104. helianthus, a, um = sun-flower
  105. herbaceus, a, um = herbaceous, not woody
  106. heterophyllus, a, um = with leaves of different kinds
  107. hirsutus, a, um = hairy
  108. hispidus, a, um = bristly
  109. hortensis, e = of the garden
  110. humilis, e = low-growing
  111. hybridus, a, um = hybrid
  112. imperialis, e = imperial
  113. inermis, e = unarmed, without spines
  114. inodorus, a, um = scentless
  115. integrifolius, a, um = with entire leaves
  116. laciniatus, a, um = divided into narrow lobes as though torn
  117. lactiflorus, a, um = with milk-coloured flowers
  118. laevigatus, a um = smooth
  119. laevis, e = smooth
  120. lanatus, a, um = woolly
  121. lanceolatus, a, um = lance-shaped
  122. lanuginosus, a, um = woolly
  123. latifolius, a, um = with broad leaves
  124. linearis, e = linear
  125. littoralis, e = from the sea-shore
  126. lobatus, a, um = lobed
  127. longiflorus, a, um = with long flowers
  128. longifolius, a, um = with long leaves
  129. luteus, a, um = yellow
  130. lyratus, a, um = lyrate
  131. macranthus, a, um = with large flowers
  132. macrocarpus, a, um = with large fruit
  133. macrophyllus, a, um = with large leaves
  134. maculatus, a, um = spotted
  135. magnificus, a, um = magnificent
  136. major, us = great
  137. marginatus, a, um = margined
  138. maritimus, a, um = found growing on the coast
  139. marmoratus, a, um = mottled
  140. matronalis, e = belonging to a married woman
  141. maximus, a, um = largest
  142. medius, a, um = intermediate
  143. melliferus, a, um = bearing honey
  144. meridionalis, e = found towards the South
  145. micranthus, a, um = with small flowers
  146. microcarpus, a, um = with small fruit
  147. minimus, a, um = smallest
  148. minor, us = small
  149. mirabilis, e = wonderful
  150. mollis, e = soft
  151. monstrosus, a, um = monstrous
  152. montanus, a, um = found in mountainous places
  153. moschatus, a um = musk-scented
  154. multiflorus, a, um = with many flowers
  155. multipunctatus, a, um = marked with numerous dots
  156. muralis, e = found growing on walls
  157. mutabilis, e = variable
  158. nanus, a, um = dwarf
  159. nervosus, a, um = nerved
  160. niger, ra rum = black
  161. nitidus, a, um = shining
  162. nivalis, e = found growing in or near snow
  163. niveus, a, um = snow-white
  164. nutans = nodding
  165. oblongatus, a, um = oblong
  166. occidentalis, e = western
  167. odoratus, a, um = fragrant
  168. officinalis, e = used medicinally
  169. officinarum = of the apothecaries
  170. oleraceus, a, um = eaten as a vegetable
  171. oppositifolius, a, um = with opposite leaves
  172. orbicularis, e = round
  173. orientalis, e = eastern
  174. ornatus, a, um = adorned
  175. ovatus, a, um = ovate
  176. pallidus, a, um = pale
  177. palmatus, a, um = lobed like a hand
  178. palustris, e = found growing in swampy places
  179. paniculatus, a, um = paniculate
  180. parviflorus, a, um = with small flowers
  181. pauciflorus, a, um = few-flowered
  182. peltatus, a, um = target-shaped
  183. pendulus, a, um = pendulous
  184. peregrinus, a, um = foreign
  185. perennis, e = perennial
  186. perfoliatus, a, um = with the leaf surrounding the stem
  187. petiolaris, e = with stalked leaves
  188. pictus, a, um = painted
  189. pilosus, a, um = soft-hairy
  190. pinnatus, a, um = with leaflets arranged on each side of a common petiole
  191. plicatus, a, um = folded
  192. plumosus, a, um = feathery
  193. pluvialis, e = produced by rain
  194. polyanthus, a, um = with many flowers
  195. praecox, ocis = early flowering
  196. procumbens = lying along the ground
  197. prostratus, a, um = prostrate
  198. pubescens = covered with downy hairs
  199. pudicus, a, um = retiring
  200. pulcherrimus, a, um = very beautiful
  201. pulcher, chra, chrum = beautiful
  202. pulverulentus, a, um = dusty
  203. pumilus, a, um = dwarf
  204. punctatus, a, um = marked with dots
  205. pungens = sharp-pointed, pricking
  206. purpuratus, a, um = purple
  207. purpureus, a, um = purple
  208. pusillus, a, um = insignificant
  209. pygmaeus, a, um = dwarf
  210. pyramidalis, e = pyramidal
  211. quinquefolius, a, um = with five leaves
  212. racemosus, a, um = with flowers borne in racemes
  213. ramosissimus, a, um = much branched
  214. ramosus, a, um = branched
  215. reticulatus,m a, um = covered with a network of veins
  216. rivularis, e = found growing beside brooks
  217. robustus, a, um = robust
  218. roseus, a, um = rose-coloured
  219. rotundifolius, a, um = with round leaves
  220. ruber, ra, rum = red
  221. rubiginosus, a, um = rusty-red
  222. rugosus, a, um = wrinkled
  223. rupicola = found growing on rocks or cliffs
  224. sagitatus, a, um = arrow-shaped
  225. sanguineus, a, um = blood-red
  226. sativus, a, um = cultivated
  227. saxatilis, e = found growing among rocks
  228. scandens = climbing
  229. scoparius, a, um = like a twig broom
  230. semperflorens = ever-flowering
  231. sempervirens = evergreen
  232. septentrionalis, e = from the North
  233. serotinus, a, um = produced late in the season
  234. serratus, a, um = saw-toothed
  235. setosus, a, um = bristly
  236. simplex = unbranched
  237. simplicifolius, a, um = with simple leaves
  238. somniferus, a, um = sleep-bringing
  239. speciosus, a, um = showy
  240. spectabilis, e = spectacular
  241. spicatus, a, um = bearing spikes
  242. spinosus, a, um = spiny
  243. splendens = splendid
  244. stellaris, e = star-like
  245. stellatus, a, um = with spreading, star-like rays
  246. sterilis, e = sterile
  247. striatus, a, um = striped or fluted
  248. strictus, a, um = erect
  249. suaveolens = sweet-scented
  250. succulentus, a, um = fleshy
  251. suffruticosus, a, um = somewhat shrubby
  252. sulphureus, a, um = sulphur-yellow
  253. superbus, a, um = superb
  254. sylvaticus, a, um = found growing in woods
  255. sylvestris, e = found wild
  256. tenuiflorus, a, um = with slender flowers
  257. tenuifolius, a, um = with slender leaves
  258. tigrinus, a, um = striped like a tiger
  259. tinctorius, a, um = used in dyeing
  260. tomentosus, a, um = covered with fine, matted hairs
  261. tricolor = in three colours
  262. tripartitus, a, um = three-parted
  263. tristis, e = dull
  264. truncatus, a, um = cut off square at the end
  265. tuberosus, a, um = tuberous
  266. umbellatus, a, um = with umbels
  267. umbrosus, a, um = found growing in shady places
  268. undulatus, a, um = wavy
  269. urens = stinging
  270. variabilis, e = variable
  271. variegatus, a, um = variegated
  272. venustus, a, um = charming
  273. vernalis, e = flowering in spring
  274. vernus, a, um = flowering in spring
  275. versicolor = changing color
  276. verticillatus, a, um = whorled
  277. villosus, a, um = covered with soft hairs
  278. violaceus, a, um = violet
  279. virens = green
  280. viscosus, a, um = sticky
  281. vulgaris, e = common
  282. zebrinus, a, um = zebra-striped

Looking for A Definition?

Not all botanical names appear on the list above, but here is a great place to find the meaning of even the most obscure names: Botanary. I visit the site all the time!

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