Lo­cal dirt

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Shauna Dob­bie

Test your knowl­edge about botan­i­cal latin by an­swer­ing true or false to the fol­low­ing ques­tions.

1. The Latin name of a plant is im­por­tant. 2. Carl von Linne de­vel­oped the bi­no­mial sys­tem of plant names in 1753. 3. Alba, lu­teus, pur­pureus and rosea all re­fer to colours. 4. If you need small shrubs, look for plants with nana in the name. 5. If you pre­fer na­tive species, favour the spe­cific ep­i­thet canaden­sis. 6. Rubrum, coc­cineus and amur all re­fer to the colour red. 7. Rosa ru­gosa is so-named be­cause it is hardy or rugged. 8. Plants with the spe­cific ep­i­thet sylvestris were dis­cov­ered by the Ital­ian monk Sylvester. 9. A plant with of­fic­i­nalis in its name is the true species. 10. The spe­cific ep­i­thet rep­tans means “creep­ing”, like a rep­tile.

1. Hmmm… I’m go­ing to go

with true. While the gar­den-va­ri­ety gar­dener may be happy re­fer­ring to that or­ange plant as a marigold, the hor­ti­cul­tural com­mu­nity needs to be able to dis­tin­guish whether it is Cal­en­dula or Tagetes, two com­pletely dif­fer­ent plants com­monly called marigold. Latin nam­ing con­ven­tions have the ad­van­tages of cross­ing lan­guage bar­ri­ers, and while it may seem like no­body can un­der­stand the names, in fact they are very de­scrip­tive, as much of this quiz will demon­strate.

2. True. The ques­tion isn’t meant as a his­tory les­son but as an en­try to say a lit­tle more about the bi­no­mial sys­tem. “Bi­no­mial” means “twon­ame”, and the two names are the Genus—which refers to the gen­eral kind of plant, like Rosa for rose, and is cap­i­tal­ized—and the spe­cific (as in species) ep­i­thet (name), which is the spe­cific type of plant, writ­ten all lower-case. The great thing about the spe­cific ep­i­thet is that it is an ad­jec­tive: it de­scribes the plant, so some­times you can get a good idea what a plant looks like just from hear­ing its Latin name. For ex­am­ple, Rosa gran­di­flora

is a large-flow­ered rose. Some­times, though, the spe­cific ep­i­thet gives in­for­ma­tion about where a species is from or who dis­cov­ered it; you can’t tell from the name Rosa chi­nen­sis

what the size or colour of a Chi­nese rose is. Nei­ther does the ti­tle Vibur­num da­vidii tell you much about the form of that flow­er­ing shrub named in hon­our of French Je­suit and plant egghead Ar­mand David.

3. True. Any flower with the name alba will be white, lu­teus will be yel­low, pur­pureus will be pur­ple and rosea will be pink.

4. True. Nana means dwarf; you don’t find nana as the spe­cific ep­i­thet in mod­ern cul­ti­vars very of­ten, though; it is more com­mon as part of the va­ri­ety name and fre­quently seen with aurea, which means char­treuse. Two dwarf golden shrubs that have sold well in the last cou­ple of years are the bar­berry Ber­beris thun­bergii var. aurea nana and the false cy­press Thuja ori­en­talis var. aurea nana.

5. True. Canaden­sis means “of Canada”. Mind you, if you are par­tic­u­lar about how na­tive a plant is, the

canaden­sis tag won’t tell you if a plant is from Bri­tish Co­lum­bia, the prairies or Peter­bor­ough. But you can know that Aqui­le­gia canaden­sis, for in­stance, is the pretty wood­land columbine na­tive to Canada.

6. False. Rubrum and coc­cineus both mean red, but amur refers to the Amur River in Asia. Of course, many plants­men would guess that

amur means red be­cause of the Amur maple, which turns a won­der­ful fiery shade in au­tumn. Strangely enough, though, the botan­i­cal name for Amur maple is Acer gin­nala, not Acer amur. Stranger still: I can­not find the mean­ing of the spe­cific ep­i­thet gin­nala any­where.

7. False. Ru­gosa roses are gen­er­ally hardier than hy­brid teas, but ru­gosa means “wrin­kled” and refers to the leaves.

8. False. The Latin sylvestris means “wood­land”, as in Men­tha sylvestris (wild mint). 9. False. It’s only in com­mon par­lance that plants need to be dis­tin­guished as “true” or “false”, as in a “true grass” (mem­ber of the Gramineae or Poaceae fam­ily, un­like, say, sedges) or “false sun­flower”.

Of­fic­i­nalis is used to dis­tin­guish a plant of use to hu­mans; it is of­ten the spe­cific ep­i­thet for culi­nary herbs, as with Salvia of­fic­i­nalis (com­mon sage) or medic­i­nal herbs, as with

Cal­en­dula of­fic­i­nalis (pot marigold). It isn’t al­ways ob­vi­ous why a species gets the ep­i­thet of­fic­i­nalis, as with the com­mon pe­ony Paeo­nia of­fic­i­nalis. 10. True. Some­times you just can’t make this stuff up!

8-10 cor­rect: Summa cum laude! 5-7 cor­rect: Cum laude.

Fewer than 5 cor­rect: It’s all Greek to you, isn’t it?

Is this Cal­en­dula of­fic­i­nalis the only true marigold?

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