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Aussie Green Thumb – Top Gardening Tips For Everyday People

Understanding Gardening Vocabulary – Part 10

Photo: Horia Varlan

*Special* Understanding Plant Names!

The end of the year is drawing closer by the day. How is it that October is here already? Just yesterday it seems I was sitting in my office making plans for this series and now, here we are, another year almost gone. I’d appreciate some feedback on how helpful this series has been for you. Have the words I have chosen been beneficial? Are there any other words you still are confused by that I could help clear up? If so, please leave a comment below and I will get back to you.

To read through each of the individual articles in more detail, here you can access the entire series:
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 1 (January)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 2 (February)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 3 (March)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 4 (April)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 5 (May)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 6 (June)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 7 (July)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 8 (August)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 9 (September)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 10 (October)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 11 (November)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Recap Part 1
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Recap Part 2

For now let’s get on with this month’s words, which are family, genus, and species. My aim this month is to help you better understand how botanists name plants and why the crazy, long, latin looking names are actually very beneficial.

Family, Genus & Species – For this months definitions I am actually going to tackle these 3 words together. Every single plant belongs to a species, which belongs to a genus, which belongs to a family. There are actually more levels to this classification tree but no more than these 3 is really needed to be known. Let’s take one variety of Kangaroo Paw, the Haemodoraceae Anigozanthos manglesii, as an example. It all looks like double Dutch at first, but let me explain!

Family – Haemodoraceae

Genus – Anigozanthos

Species – manglesii

When you go to a nursery and you look at a plant, it will usually only have the genus and species name as this is all you really need to be able to tell a plant apart. Every species has a different species name. So as an example, someone might tell you ‘you should buy a Kangaroo Paw’. Great you say. So you go to a nursery and ask for one. They then ask you ‘what type are you looking for?’. Basically what they are asking for is what species. The name ‘Kangaroo Paw’ in this example is basically the equivalent of the genus name. There are many types of Kangaroo Paw and each has a different species name. However all but one Kangaroo Paw has the genus name Anigozanthos and the family name Haemodoraceae. As is often the case in English, there are occasionally exceptions to the norm!

3 quick points about botanical names.

The family name of a plant always ends with eae.

The genus name of a plant always starts with a capital letter.

The species name of a plant always starts with a non-capital letter.

Why use botanical names and not common names?

Simply put, what you may know as a ‘common’ name for a plant may not be what other people know as the ‘common’ name. Or what you call one plant in Australia may be what someone in America calls an entirely different plant. Botanical names help clear up this problem, while also helping us to understand how various plants are related. This is important when it comes to cross-breeding. Plants that cross-breed best are ones that belong to the same genus, or in other words are just different species of the same plant.

Hopefully this has helped. Any questions can be left in the comments section below!

Previous vocabulary posts

Part 1 – annual, biennial, perennial & deciduous.

Part 2 – mulch, compost, manure/fertiliser & trace elements.

Part 3 – native, succulent, specimen plant and ground cover.

Part 4 – staking, pruning and grafting.

Part 5 – seeds, seedlings, germination and bud.

Part 6 – bonsai, dwarf, hybrid and topiary.

Part 7 – complete fertiliser, NPK, dead heading and thinning.

Part 8 – insecticide, organic, inorganic and drainage.

Part 9 – loam, peat, humus and pH

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