What’s In a Plant Name?

Sometimes we have trouble identifying a plant.  The common names seem to provide many opportunities for customization and poetic license.  Thus, we often fall back on the official botanic (scientific) name which can be off-putting because it is in Latin – so that names are the same no matter where you live.  However, you can usually count on one hand the number of knowledgeable people knowing correct scientific names.  So, we go to the tried and true reference books or Google a search for accuracy.  Many times we are still stumped.

Did you know that there are some 375,000 plant species on Earth? Seems simple enough, but what if we told you that those 375,000 species are known by 1.25 million scientific names? This disparity can create a myriad of issues for anyone in the horticulture industry.  Then, add to all the species their many cultivars, especially those found in gardens and landscapes.  Wow … just when you thought you knew the correct name, another one appears or a strange cultivar name provides more questions than answers.

In an effort to help fix this disparity, an international team of researchers has created a “Plant List” which contains every plant known to man and every one of its aliases.  Aliases are important because so many plants have scientific names associated with certain discoveries, locations and histories.  In combining all the scientific names, the “total picture” can be learned.  It is not unusual to unearth a finding of toxicity or a special property as you combine all the names.  Many plants in disparate locations are identified differently and yet are the same.  So, growing characteristics can be too narrow or too wide based on multiple definitions.

All this can be quite confusing and unless you are interested in a lot more than gardening and landscaping, this knowledge is like a “top secret” … “if we told you we’d have to kill you.”  Happily, Moana has tested the plants it sells (and identifies) in the harsh test kitchen of the high desert.  Thus, you don’t have to become a scientist to find out what will look great and grow healthy in your yard.  Even better, the high desert conditions eliminate more than one million of those plant choices, so a walk through our garden centers is not a walk down Mystery Lane.

Bruce Gescheider, Owner, Moana Nursery

March 16, 2011

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