Jane Moore

A Quick Education on Nomenclature
by Jane Moore

A plant’s botanical name is composed of 2 parts-the genus and species.

Genus is a group or category of plants more like each other botanically than any other group. The genus is always capitalized.
For example, Magnolia

The species is a specific division of the genus, sometimes describing a feature of the genus, for example, large flowers (grandiflora).
The species is always written with a lower case letter.
For example, grandiflora

The botanical name of a plant (the genus and species) is always written in italics or underlined.
For example, Magnolia grandiflora or Magnolia grandiflora

Subdivision of the species:

Variety is a subdivision of the species-a wild variety is a plant which comes true to its characteristics when grown from seed. Its name is always written in Latin form and in lower case. When printed, it is written in italics.
For example, Cedrus atlantica glauca
Cedrus atlantica var. glauca

A cultivar ( cultivated variety) is a plant which has been grown in the greenhouse, nursery or garden for a particular characteristic or set of characteristics, such as shorter stem, double flowers or specific color.

This cultivation is achieved by hybridization.

The cultivar name is always capitalized and placed in single quotation marks.
For example, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Southern Charm’

A hybrid is a plant that resulted from a cross between 2 different species or varieties within a species. Hybrids are usually given a name in Latin form and are preceded by a multiplication sign.
For example, Clematis x jackmanii

Various cultivars have been selected and from the hybrid above and are often written with a special name.
For example, Clematis ‘The President’

We hope that this short tutorial is helpful in understanding a plant’s botanical name and how to write it.

Plant classification will be briefly discussed at the meeting.
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

  • To further illustrate this, think of it as shopping for the Autobiography of Jane Moore:
    Kingdom – go to the mall
    Phyllum – go to the 2nd floor of the mall
    Class – go to the bookstore
    Order – go to the non-fiction section’
    Family – go to the autobiography section
    Genus – look under the M section
    Species – find Jane Moore’s autobiography


Pronouncing Scientific Names-Botanical Latin

Genus and species plant names are universal in spelling worldwide. By using Latin names, plants can be identified from over 200,000 known plant species.

Pronunciation of Latin names is not universal and will vary based on the local language. For example, tomato may be pronounced toe-MAY-toe or toe-MAH-toe.

Many Latin names have become generic common names, such as; crocus, clematis, rhododendron and viburnum.

There are, however, a few basic guidelines for American-English pronunciation of Latin names.

  • Latin was meant to be entirely phonetic. There are no silent letters. What you see is what you say.  For example, anemone is ah-NIM-o-nee not ah-NIM-own.
  • Consonants are pronounced as you normally would. The letters ‘c’ and ‘g’ are usually pronounced as hard sounds in front of the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’.  For example, callicarpa and agave.
  • When in front of an ‘i’ or an ‘e’, the sound becomes soft. For example, cestrum and geranium.
  •  The letters ‘ch’ are pronounced like ‘k’. For example, chionanthus is pronounced kye-oh-NANTH-us.
  • Vowels are long in accentuated syllables. For example, acer is pronounced AY-ser and pinus is pronounced PIE-nus.
  • There are no silent syllables as in Georgia GEORG-uh, not GEOR-ee-a. For example, rudbeckia is pronounced rood-BEK-ee-uh.

The whole idea behind learning correct botanical Latin plant names is to help the gardener correctly identify plants whether in description or in a search for a specific plant. In the plant world we all speak the same language.


Installment #3 of Botanical Nomenclature

Recognizing Latin or Greek origin adjectives will help the gardener to instantly know certain characteristics about individual plants. For example, the leaf qualities (rosmarinifolius-scented leaves), the flower size (grandiflorus-large flowers), the growth habit (prostratus-lying on the ground), the plant size (nanus-dwarf), the scent (oderatus-fragrant), the color (albus-white), the habitat (sylvaticus-growing in the woods), the place of origin (japonica-Japan), the season of bloom (vernalis-spring) and other special qualities (stellatus-star-shaped).

Adjectives of Latin and Greek origin used in Plant (Botanical) Nomenclature:


  • albus-white
  • rubrus-red
  • flavus-yellow
  • luteus-yellow
  • auratus, aureus-gold
  • argentus-silver
  • niger-black
  • glaucus-bluish
  • virens, viridis-green
  • versicolor-variously colored
  • bicolor-2 colors

Therefore, when one sees a description of a plant in a catalog or online, knowing the Latin and/or Greek origins will help to figure out the plant characteristics and identification.

Remember-in the plant world, we all speak the same language.


Installment #4 of Botanical Nomenclature

Last month we discussed how to recognize certain Latin or Greek origin adjectives in order to identify specific characteristics of plants.  This month we will focus on adjectives of Latin or Greek origin that relate to special qualities of a plant, with a few examples of usage:

  • campanulatus- bell shaped
  • Enkianthus campanulatus- bell shaped flowers
  • cordatus- heart-shaped
  • Aster cordifolius- heart shaped leaves
  • conspicuus- showy, noticeable
  • Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus- showy flower (hoop skirt shaped)
  • nitidus- shining
  • Penstemon nitidus- waxy, shiny leaves
  • praecox- very early, precocious
  • Chimonanthus praecox- very early blooms (Jan-Feb), wintersweet
  • pubescens- covered with soft hairs, hairy
  • Polygonatum pubescens- hairs on undersides of leaves, Solomon’s seal
  • sempervirens- evergreen
  • Buxus sempervirens- evergreen boxwood
  • radicans- rooting, especially along the stem
  • Campsis radicans- trumpet vine
  • Rhus radicans- poison ivy

Remember, in the plant world, we all speak the same language.


Gardeners’ Voices: Hydrangeas: Dan Benarcik and Jonathan Wright

Presented at the Scott Arboretum Woody Plant Conference on July 18, 2014


Tips for Entering Horticulture in the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

by Deb Donaldson


Read the PFS Exhibitor’s Guide

 Look at your plants for potential entries.  Use critical eyes, your plant should have healthy foliage, be vigorous, and be of sufficient maturity.

Write down the plants Latin name.  If Latin name is not possible, list the common name (this will help you obtain the Latin name). Note all entries MUST be properly identified by botanical Latin name. Don’t guess! Research the PFS Botanical database, currently over 20,000 names are in this system.  List the plants container size, use INSIDE measurements (p.34 Perplexed about potting). Note PFS is a pot neutral show (review p. 34 for types allowed).

Search the exhibitors guide for the proper class.  For first time exhibitors “Beginner’s Luck” is a great choice (p. 46). Additionally there are several Novice classes; these classes are open only to those who have never won a blue ribbon in horticulture classes at the PFS.

Groom your plant. Make certain the plant is free from pests and disease. Remove all dead and broken leaves. To encourage new growth, pinch out growth tips. The shape should be pleasing, full and symmetrical. If staking is required, it should be unobtrusive with strings cut close to the stake.

Examine your plants container.  Your plant should be in proportion to the container.

Can you get the container in show shape?  Use fine to medium sandpaper to remove crust and wipe clean with a lint free cloth. Still dirty? Rub lightly with mineral oil.

Still dirty? Repot in a new pot. NOTE, if the new pots inside measurement is larger, you may need to enter another class. Your name MUST be clearly printed on the bottom of each pot; noting the inside measurement at the same time is helpful.

Pre-enter the flower show. Go to pages 28 and 29 in your exhibitors guide and follow the simple instructions as to how to pre-enter PFS. Note there is no penalty for entering and not showing.

Make up a grooming kit to take with you to the PFS.  Small scissors (such as cuticle) for trimming. Tweezers or forceps and tiny paint brushes to remove dirt. Cotton balls and Q-tips to remove dirt and water stains on leaves. A rag with mineral oil to clean your pot. Your copy of your exhibitor’s guide and entry print out. Blank entry cards and a black waterproof ink pen in case changes need to be made. Extra top dressing (old prescription bottles work well). Top Dressing (p. 33) is the essential element placed directly on the soil to provide the finishing grooming touch. Only natural materials of brown, black, grey, or tan colors are allowed. Most exhibitors use aquarium gravel (available at pet stores), or fine orchid bark for orchids and tropical entries.

Collect materials to transport your plants to the PFS.  Strong cardboard boxes and plastic crates work well. Use newspaper or other materials to secure your plant inside the box. Plants must be protected from winter chill. Large plastic dry cleaning bags work well, collect them now! Stakes can be inserted into your pot to keep the bag off delicate foliage and flowers. Once you have determined which boxes you are using, play around with their placement in your car. If driving an SUV, or station wagon, you may need empty boxes to keep the plant boxes from moving. NOTE dollies, carts, and wagons are in VERY short supply at PFS. It is strongly suggested that you bring your own. Make certain that your name and cell number are clearly labeled on your cart!

Make up your plant Identification entry cards. Follow the simple instructions on page 32.  Remember to bring extra blank cards, and a black waterproof ink pen, with you. You may need to change your plants botanical name or its class.

Week of PFS.  Familiarize yourself with the competitive class logistics (p. 60 and 61).

If entering on Thursday March 3rd from 1-5 PM, note there is no food or drink available in the convention center so bring your own.  Although none that will leave a residue on your hands! Other entry mornings a limited supply of complimentary coffee and tea are available.  Schedule ample time to thoroughly groom your entries.  Once again, remove all damaged and spent flowers. Remove all traces of dust, soil and chemical spray on the foliage and/or flower petals. Pruning should be precise and as close to the stem, or trunk, as humanly possible.  All water spots must be removed. Mixing milk with water at a 50% ratio can be effective. PLANT SHEEN IS NOT ALLOWED! Apply top dressing.  Water your plants two days before packing up. A volunteer watering crew will water your plant once it has been entered. They will NOT water any succulent (and cactus) entries. If your plant requires special watering instructions, you may obtain a form the horticulture committee on entry days (these wonderful volunteers will be wearing bright red sweatshirts). The day before entering, place your parking pass, entry to the show credentials, and grooming kit in your car. Pack up your plants the night before entering. Wait until just prior to leaving to pull up plastic bags.

At the show. Carefully remove your plants from your car.  Take your plants and grooming kit to the elevator and proceed to the show floor. Volunteers, by the elevator in the parking area, or as you exit onto the show floor, will have maps showing where each the flip side of this map lists the location by class number.

Proceed to the proper passing area. Find the labeled grooming table and accomplish any last minute tweaking. Take your plant and entry cards to the designated passing area. All entries MUST be passed prior to be officially entered in the horticultural classes. Passers, wearing yellow bandanas, and often a sign on their back noting the classes in numerical order they are passing, will examine your plant. Your passer will verify your plant is pest and disease free, entered in the correct class, is properly groomed, and of show quality in form and condition. These volunteers provide an objective second pair of eyes to enable your entry to be presented to the judges at its very best! Note you may NOT leave your plant unattended at the passing table.

Once your entry is passed you may not touch it until the removal times indicated in the exhibitors guide. After your final entries are passed, gather up your belongings and proceed to your car. Times for all vehicles to be removed are clearly marked. YES your car will be towed if in violation! Exhibitors are not allowed in the horticulture court during judging.