- Author: Adande Akobundu
-- By Adande Akobundu --
Phyto..., Asteraceae... what! How the heck am I supposed to pronounce these words?
The scientific names of plants may be difficult to pronounce, but necessary since the common name of a plant may be different in various parts of the country or the world. For example, Taro is a common name for several plants in the Araceae family. It is known by many local names throughout the world. In the Azores it is known as Inhame, in Egypt it is known as Kolkas, in the West Indies it is known as Dasheen. The list of common names throughout the world for this popular plant is numerous. This can be a challenge for the gardener. Thus, we can thank Carl Von Linnaeus for setting the foundation of classification for us.
In 1752, Swedish Botanist Carl Von Linnaeus published Species Plantarum, which was the beginning of binomial nomenclature. This systematic process for naming plants and animals is still the universally recognized system. Knowing the botanical name of a plant allows us to converse about a specific plant throughout the world. Generic and specific names are Latin, or Latinised names, usually Greek. Moreover, Botanical Latin is fundamentally a written language – there is no universally agreed upon pronunciation of the words.
Communicating effectively about plants requires an international system. Plants are named according to the International Code of Botanic Nomenclature (Botanical Code), and the International Code of Botanic Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (Cultivated Plant Code). These codes provide a framework in the world of plant names. The Cultivated Plant Code was derived from the Botanic Code around the 1950's, the result of a need for a practical non-Latin system used primarily for commerce. The Botanical Code focuses on the scientific classification used worldwide by taxonomists. Plant taxonomy refers to all plants: past, present and future.
Once we understand the taxonomic name of the plant, we can begin to assign the appropriate name. Common names usually reflect a characteristic of a plant, not its taxonomic group. Generally, all plants throughout the world have only one correct scientific name.
At the simplest level of scientific classification, each plant's name is made up of two parts. The generic (genus) name and the specific name or epithet, together, is referred to as a binomial. The generic name is a group of plants that share similar characteristics, ideally from the same common ancestor. The specific name allows identification between different plants within a genus. Binomial names are always written with the generic name first, starting with a capital letter, e.g.: Brassica. The specific epithet always follows the generic name starting with a lower -case letter, e.g.: oleracea. The binomial name being Brassica oleracea.
There are hierarchal levels of classification above and below the genus and species. The most common is the grouping of several genera (plural of genus) into a family. As with plants within the same genus, plants in the same family have common characteristics. Brassica oleracea is in the family Brassicaceae or Cruciferae. Family names start with a capital letter and generally end with aceae. You use the scientific family name without using the word family. The most common classification below species is subspecies (subsp) and variety (var) respectively. There are further subdivisions of plant groups based upon the variation in form and distribution in nature.
Again, the pronunciation of scientific names is not universal and will vary based on the local language. Below is a list of resources that offer assistance in the pronunciation of plant names:
o http://www.howjsay.com/- “howjsay,” an online audio guide
o http://davesgarden.com/guides/botanary/- “Dave's Garden,” online pronunciation guide
o http://www.forvo.com/languages/la/- “Forvo,” an online audio guide
o http://www.finegardening.com/pronunciation-guide- “fine Gardening,” an online pronunciation guide
o http://overplanted.com/resources/latin.php#B- “Overplanted,” an online Botanical Latin Pronunciation Guide
o Sunset Western Garden Book- has a pronunciation guide
o The Pronouncing Dictionary of Plant Names- American Nurseryman Publishing Co.- a book
o Latin for Gardeners: Over 3,000 Plant Names Explained and Explored- Lorraine Harrison- a book
o “Scientific Names”- a Google play App
o “Plants”- a Google play App
So the next time you're looking to add a little mystery to an evening with your beloved simply say, “Honey, would you like to partake in Lens Culinaris and Brassica Oleracea this evening?”