What's In A Name? - 27 East

Real Estate News

Real Estate News / 1398508

What’s In A Name?

icon 2 Photos

author on Jan 5, 2018

I received an email from a reader last summer with a picture of a plant, referred to as a “lily,” and a question about the plant. Turns out the plant wasn’t a lily at all—and that was part of the problem. The vast majority of gardeners use what we call “common” names to describe their plants. Unfortunately, there are even plant and seed catalogs that use only these common names, which are easy to remember but often misleading—and, also, often wrong.

So, here’s an opportunity to learn about your plant names and, in turn, learn much more about them and where they came from, and what they need to grow and thrive.

If you tell me you have a maple tree, my eyes glaze over. There are literally hundreds of types of maples, and when you say “maple” to me, I think of a generic plant with a generic form. But if what you really have is an Acer palmatum, I already know much, much more about the tree that’s on your mind, because I know that palmatum means that this species of maple, or Acer, is a Japanese maple, not a weed-like and invasive Norway maple (Acer plantanoides), or the maple that the delicious candy and syrup comes from, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum).

So, what’s in a name? Well, look back at the sugar maple. We know that the first part of the name, the genus, puts the tree in the Acer family. But then we go on to the species, or second part of the name, which in this case is saccharum, and we know much more about that tree, because in Latin “saccharum” means sugar.

Now, let’s go one step further. There is a grassy plant whose genus, or first name, is Saccharum. Any idea what this might be? Remember the Latin? The genus Saccharum is the grass (yes, botanically, a grass) also known as sugar cane.

Another case in point: Everyone knows the Christmas cactus, whose botanical name for ages was Schlumbergena bridgessi. And anyone who is familiar with this plant also knows that it rarely blooms at Christmas but quite often at Easter or Thanksgiving. It’s not the plant name that’s wrong, and the plant’s calendar hasn’t been corrupted by a digital virus.

Well, actually, the plant’s name is wrong. Turns out that many of the plants sold as Christmas cacti are actually the species S. truncata, which blooms around Thanksgiving, and S. gaertneri, which blooms around Easter. So if we knew what species we were buying, we’d have a better idea of why it’s blooming when it blooms.

Now, for many gardeners, botanical names are difficult to understand, but with a little explanation perhaps you can appreciate and understand them more.

The use of Latin binomials, the two words that describe the genus and species of a plant, dates back to around 1753. Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish physician and botanist, at that time gave each species (specific group) known to him a Latinized generic name and a specific adjective—and thus began the identification of plants by genus and species.

The botanical name of a plant thus consists of two definite parts. To Linnaeus, a white rose was Rosa alba. The name Rosa indicates the affinity of the plant with all other roses. But the “alba” part of the name distinguished it from all others in the group. So, all the different roses would have Rosa for the first part of their identification. The second or more specific (species) part of the name indicates the individual kind of rose.

Rosa sinensis is a Chinese rose. How do we know that? Because we know that “sinensis,” in Latin, relates to Chinese. And, thus, Rosa Carolina is a rose from …? Right, Carolina. Rosa lancifolia would be a rose with a lance-shaped leaves.

We can carry this though to another genus, Dracaena. Many of us have or have had a houseplant in this genus. The most common is Dracaena marginata. Here, the species, or specific identifier “marginata,” reflects that this plant’s particular characteristic is that the foliage has a distinctive margin (marginata) that is often defined by hues of red.

Going one step further, we can look at Dracaens marginata picta. Here, we have the known genus and species, with the last word, “picta,” being Latin for “colored.” So, this would be a Dracaena with a red margin that is further embellished with other colors in the margin as well.

The botanical name is not only a name but often tells us something more about the plant: what it will look like when flowering, what other plants are its relatives, or the shape of its leaves, color of the flowers, its origin, habitat or who discovered it. In some cases, gardening and horticulture books will index the plants in the text by their botanical names, with a cross reference to their (most) common names as well.

Because common names, like lily, can be misleading (as in the French mulberry, which is neither French nor a mulberry), there is a need for an international nomenclature or taxonomy among plants and people working with plants. Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor moss, because we know from its scientific or Latin name that it’s related to, of all things, the pineapple.

Popular or common names can be indefinite and not very widely understood. Few in Russia or Japan would know what an English poplar is, but they might know it by its genus and species.

Another good example of this kind of name confusion can be found in weeds. In Texas, the careless weed is the same plant that, in California, is called the pigweed—but in New York and Illinois, the weed called pigweed is an entirely different genus and species. It was found that the careless weed of Texas was Amaranthus retroflexus, which is called redroot pigweed in Florida.

Why is this important? After all, a weed is a weed is a weed. Well, it isn’t. If it’s misidentified by its common name, and it’s an annual and not a perennial, that can have very important ramifications in controlling it.

So, here we are, in the dead of winter, and there’s a great learning opportunity.

L.H. Bailey, considered the father of American horticulture, wrote a book in 1933 called, oddly enough, “How Plants Get Their Names.” You can still buy it for under 10 bucks, and it’s a classic that all gardeners, young and old, should read. He explores hundreds of fascinating ins and outs of horticulture nomenclature. You’ll learn that the Jerusalem cherry grows nowhere near the Holy Land, and that the Spanish cedar actually grows thousands of miles from Spain.

There’s also a more recent book (1993 and 2003) by Bill Neal, “Gardener’s Latin: Discovering the Origins, Lore & Meanings of Botanical Names.”

Now’s a great time for gardeners to read—magazines and gardening columns from last year, seed and plant catalogs that are arriving, and a good book on plant names.

Keep growing!

You May Also Like:

June Saw Increase In Hamptons Homes Entering Contract

The Hamptons saw an extraordinary uptick in signed contracts for single-family homes in June as ... 7 Jul 2020 by Brendan J. OReilly

CPF Revenue For First Five Months Of 2020 Is Record Breaking

The Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund raked in $45.43 million in 2020 through the ... 6 Jul 2020 by Staff Writer

Planning Board Wants To Put Other Considerations Ahead Of Parking

Sag Harbor Village planning officials are exploring better ways to make decisions when considering redevelopment proposals, rather than looking at the number of parking spaces a project might have. Planning Board Chair Kay Preston Lawson, Village Attorney Denise Schoen and Village Planner Kathryn Eiseman have been discussing better metrics to use in place of weighing the proposed gross floor area of a project versus the availability of parking. “When people are redeveloping properties in the village and wanting to maximize the square footage, we’re running into a couple of issues, the biggest one being the granting of parking variances,” Ms. ... 30 Jun 2020 by Brendan J. OReilly

Sag Harbor Planning Board Wants Ban On Apartment-To-Office Conversions

To preserve an active Main Street and downtown in the village, the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board is pitching a ban on converting apartments to offices. The board is penning a memo to the Sag Harbor Village Board to urge legislation implementing a ban, and members want the Zoning Board of Appeals to also sign on to the idea. “To be blunt, it’s a travesty. It needs to be stopped,” Planning Board member Larry Perrine said during the board’s June 23 virtual meeting. He said turning residences into offices goes against the conceptual ideology of the village’s planning. “It’s against ... by Brendan J. OReilly

Westhampton Beach Officials Identify Potential Impacts Of Rogers Avenue Development

The impact on traffic and how the project will compare to as-of-right development were the biggest concerns raised during a “scoping session” about a proposed condominium project in Westhampton Beach. The Westhampton Beach Village Board and Planning Board held a joint work session on Thursday, June 25, to identify what should be included in a environmental impact statement regarding Rogers Associates LLC’s application for a 52-unit multifamily residential development on 9.4 acres on the north side of Rogers Avenue. Carriage Hill Developers, a housing management firm based in Wantagh, submitted the site plan to the Planning Board in August, but ... 29 Jun 2020 by Brendan J. OReilly

Landlords Powerless To Remove Westhampton Beach Holdover Tenant During Moratorium

A Florida couple wished to live in their Westhampton Beach home this summer, but are ... 26 Jun 2020 by Brendan J. OReilly

Builder’s Modern Home In East Hampton Fetches $7.35 Million

A builder’s modern residence in the Northwest Harbor section of East Hampton by Blaze Makoid ... 23 Jun 2020 by Staff Writer

‘Zoom Effect’ Bolsters Hamptons Home Contract Signings In May

As residential real estate contract signings plummeted year-over-year in May in New York City and on the North Fork and the rest of Long Island, the number of home sales that entered into contract in the Hamptons held steady. Contract signings remaining flat, year to year, wouldn’t normally be cause for celebration for the South Fork real estate market, especially after a weak 2019. However, under the current conditions, the May 2020 results were phenomenal news for the industry locally. Industry professionals identified a couple of reasons why the Hamptons bucked the trend: There was a scarcity of rentals following ... by Brendan J. OReilly

In-Person Hamptons Real Estate Showings Return With A New Look In Phase Two

New York State lifted a number of restrictions on the Long Island real estate industry ... 16 Jun 2020 by Brendan J. OReilly

First Frederick G. Potter House Sells For $18.5 Million

The First Frederick G. Potter House, a circa 1899 East Hampton Village home by legendary ... by Staff Writer

Welcome to our new website!

To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.

We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.

Start the Tour
Landscape view not supported