Mount Hymettos

A Brief Note on Plant Names

Scientific Names or Common Names?

Many wild flower lovers have a firm prejudice again botanical plant names on the grounds that they are too difficult and divorce the plant from the every day experience of enjoying them. While admitting the validity of these arguments, it is out of necessity that the plants here have been given their two-part scientific names which are recognised internationally and which distinguish between plants with only slight differences. However common names definitely have their place. Someone new to identifying plants will start by recognizing that a plant is in the orchid family, then soon enough be able to tell a Bee Orchid apart from a Tongue Orchid and know that the first orchid to flower each year is the Giant Orchid, and before you know it they will be grumbling along with the rest of us that the botanists have changed its name from Barlia to Himantoglossum!

Scientific Names explained: plants are indentified:

  1. by their Family which ends in –eae e.g. all the plants in the potato family are Solanaceae.
  2. by their Genus which has an initial capital letter, e.g. Rosa, Tulipa, Primula. This is the most useful name to learn and is occasionally similar to the common name.
  3. by their species which has a small initial letter, e.g. Rosa canina, Tulipa sylvestris, Primula vulgaris. This epithet sometimes describes something about the plant but unfortunately using Greek or Latin, e.g. Primula vulgaris = Common Primrose, Rosa canina = Dog Rose. Or it can honour the person who first identified the plant e.g. Colchicum sfikasianum named for our own George Sfikas.
  4. sometimes by their subspecies also with a small initial letter, e.g. Tulipa sylvestris subsp. australis. This usually indicates a slight variation on the species brought about by spatial isolation.