© Garden Cottage Nursery, 2017
Plant Naming
How Plants Are Named And Grouped

Taxonomy

Along with an accepted form of making a botanical name there is also an accepted way of writing them in print: The whole should be in italics so you can see straight away that it is a botanical name and the first letter of the Generic name should be capitalised and the specific name all lower case, even if it is derived from a proper noun. Garden forms or ‘Cultivars’ should be named after the binomial, they should not be in italics, appear inside single quotes and be capitalised. For the last 25 years or so all new cultivar names should also not be in Latin to avoid them being confused with species, e.g. if you found a new oak tree with blue acorns you couldn’t name it Quercus robur ‘Glans Caerulea’ but you could call it Quercus robur ‘Blue Acorn’. Old cultivar names haven’t been changed, so Quercus cerris ‘Argenteovariegata’ retains it’s name as it has been around for decades.
Supra Generic, Higher Levels To help sort out the relationships between different organisms names are given to different ranks to flesh-out the branches of the family tree so, for the sessile oak: Kingdom: Plantae - All plants Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants (Angiosperms) Clade: Eudicots - ‘True’ dicotyledons Clade: Rosids - Large group containing over ¼ of angiosperms Order: Fagales - Contains 7 families of forest trees Family: Fagaceae - Mostly deciduous trees of temperate and sub-tropical forests including, oak, beech and sweet cheasnut Genus: Quercus - Oak trees of which there are around 600 species Species: patraea - the sessile or durmast oak native the forests Europe including Scotland.
Gardeners don’t really need to know about these ranks above the genus names, but the family name can be quite useful to know as similar characters are often shared across a family’s different genera, e.g. oaks, beeches and chestnuts are all in the Fagaceae and all plants with daisy flowers are in the Asteraceae.
Infra Specific, Lower Levels There are three more ranks below species level that gardeners will regularly encounter, these are always preceded by an abbreviation of what rank is being referred to. In descending order of rank they are: The subspecies, which is written in lower case and not in italics as either “subsp.” or  “ssp.” the second is the way we use, e.g. Geranium sessiliflorum ssp. novae-zelandiae The variatas, which is written in lower case and not in italics as “var.”, e.g. Geranium sanguineum var. striatum The forma, which is written in lower case and not in italics as “f.”, e.g.  Geranium maculatum f. albiflorum So these can be combined to form truly marathon length names like Narcissus bulbocodium ssp. bulbocodium var. conspicuus
Where a plant is a hybrid of two different know species it is sometimes given a new named with a lower case “x”, not italicised before the italicised new name, e.g. Quercus x hispanica is Quercus cerris, the Turkey oak crossed with Quercus suber, the cork oak. Rarely plants from to related genera can cross to create a bigeneric hybrid. Their generic name becomes a compound of the parent genera preceded by an “x”, e.g. × Cuprocyparis leylandii which is Cupressus macrocarpa crossed with Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. The naming of naturally occurring taxa is governed by International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants.
Cultivated plants often have certain seed strains and horticulturally related groups within a species or as a complex series of hybrids within a single genus, for such aggregations the phrase “Group” is used, e.g. Phormium tenax Purpureum Group for purple leaved seed raised New Zealand flax. Cultivars should be clones or show little perceptible variation and the vast majority cannot be raised from seed and remain true to type and therefore have the right to that capitalised name enclosed in single quote marks, e.g. Fuchia magellanica ‘Lady Bacon’. “Group” plants however cover a range or more aptly, a theme, so can often have been seed raised, as long as the offspring still fit within the theme. The naming of taxa raised by man is governed by International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.
For some large genera (i.e. a genus with lots of different species) the relationships between the species within the genus has been mapped and ranked by botanists. For some of these large genera it is of interest to the more serious gardener as they can give an idea of likely characteristics and cultural requirements. The most commonly encountered are those for ‘species’ Rhododendrons. For Rhododendron there is a full range of sub-generic, supra-specific ranks (after Chamberlain and Cullen system): Genus: Rhododendron Subgenus: Hymenanthes - includes many of the most familiar larger leaved species, characterised by their lack of lepidote scales on the back of their leaves Section: Pontica - includes all species within the Subgenus Subsection: Arborea - includes 3 different species from W China, Himalayas and Sri Lanka Species: niveum - a tree sized purple flowered species found in E Himalayas With Rhododendron the Subsection is the most often used by gardeners and nurserymen to give an indication of the sort of Rhodo that is being discussed, however Rhododenrons are amazingly profligate so most garden cultivars are complex hybrids with ancestors from multiple subsections. With Primula it is Section, e.g Prolifera for candelabra types, that is commonly used. All living things are “Properly” named in the same way, e.g. we are Homo sapiens. Continue to page 2 for an attempt to explain why plant names sometimes get changed.
How To Write Names Plant Classification Hybrids Groups Vs Cultivars Trade Names and Plant Breeders Rights
Since the 1990s in Europe systems for patenting plant varieties have existed. Generally what happens is a large grower or corporation will run an extensive breeding program to raise new variety or series of varieties with various desirable characters, they will then register the variety/s with Plant Breeders Rights giving it both a valid cultivar name and a more marketable trade designation, e.g. the black cut-leaf elder Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Eva' is sold as  Sambucus nigra Black Lace, note the lack of single quotes around Black Lace as it isn’t a cultivar name. Anybody in the EU who propagates a plant with Plant Breeders Rights for commercial sale must pay the rights holder a royalty.
Sorting The Species Page 1 Page 1 Page 2 Page 2
People have tried to give names to living things as long as there have been people, the problem that there is an awful lot of different things to name and people like to make up new names or people will give a new name to something that unbeknownst to them someone else has already given another name. Many plants and animals cover extensive natural ranges and as such over the centuries they have acquired several common names, e.g. oak in English, is called darach in Gaelic, eiche in German, chêne in French and roble in Spanish. In the 18th century the Lingua Franca of the Europe was Latin, so when botanists wanted to refer to a plant to someone not from their country they would name it by giving it a great big long description in Latin. Of course this descriptive name could be a little bit different every time it was used, it was not a good system. To make things simpler a single universally agreed system would be good and in 1753 a Swedish botanist called Carl Linnaeus published a new, simple and sensible system for naming plants and animals properly. He suggested giving everything a name in two parts (a binomial), which together would be unique so avoiding duplication and confusion. The idea was that the first name would be of the group to which the plant belonged; often this was the Roman common name, e.g. quercus for oak became Quercus to refer to all oak trees wherever they come from and of whatever sort they are. This part is called the Genus. The second part of the name, the species, tells you exactly what type of plant it is. Sometimes this name is descriptive, e.g. Quercus rubra, the red oak, noted for its red autumn colour. Sometimes the species name commemorative of a person, e.g. Quercus douglasii, named for Scottish plant hunter David Douglas. Other times the specific epithet may give a clue as to where the plant originates or the sort of place it grows, e.g. Quercus mexicana from Mexico or Quercus palustris meaning ‘of the marsh’. What the species name is isn’t really important, as long as there isn’t another species within that genus with the same name. Plant and animal names are not actually named in ‘Classical Latin’ but rather a sort of mixture with Ancient Greek and Latin referred to as ‘Botanical Latin’.
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© Garden Cottage Nursery, 2017
Plant Naming
How Plants Are Named And Grouped

Taxonomy

Along with an accepted form of making a botanical name there is also an accepted way of writing them in print: The whole should be in italics so you can see straight away that it is a botanical name and the first letter of the Generic name should be capitalised and the specific name all lower case, even if it is derived from a proper noun. Garden forms or ‘Cultivars’ should be named after the binomial, they should not be in italics, appear inside single quotes and be capitalised. For the last 25 years or so all new cultivar names should also not be in Latin to avoid them being confused with species, e.g. if you found a new oak tree with blue acorns you couldn’t name it Quercus robur ‘Glans Caerulea’ but you could call it Quercus robur ‘Blue Acorn’. Old cultivar names haven’t been changed, so Quercus cerris ‘Argenteovariegata’ retains it’s name as it has been around for decades.
Supra Generic, Higher Levels To help sort out the relationships between different organisms names are given to different ranks to flesh-out the branches of the family tree so, for the sessile oak: Kingdom: Plantae - All plants Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants (Angiosperms) Clade: Eudicots - ‘True’ dicotyledons Clade: Rosids - Large group containing over ¼ of angiosperms Order: Fagales - Contains 7 families of forest trees Family: Fagaceae - Mostly deciduous trees of temperate and sub-tropical forests including, oak, beech and sweet cheasnut Genus: Quercus - Oak trees of which there are around 600 species Species: patraea - the sessile or durmast oak native the forests Europe including Scotland.
Gardeners don’t really need to know about these ranks above the genus names, but the family name can be quite useful to know as similar characters are often shared across a family’s different genera, e.g. oaks, beeches and chestnuts are all in the Fagaceae and all plants with daisy flowers are in the Asteraceae.
Infra Specific, Lower Levels There are three more ranks below species level that gardeners will regularly encounter, these are always preceded by an abbreviation of what rank is being referred to. In descending order of rank they are: The subspecies, which is written in lower case and not in italics as either “subsp.” or  “ssp.” the second is the way we use, e.g. Geranium sessiliflorum ssp. novae-zelandiae The variatas, which is written in lower case and not in italics as var.”, e.g. Geranium sanguineum var. striatum The forma, which is written in lower case and not in italics as “f.”, e.g.  Geranium maculatum f. albiflorum So these can be combined to form truly marathon length names like Narcissus bulbocodium ssp. bulbocodium var. conspicuus
Where a plant is a hybrid of two different know species it is sometimes given a new named with a lower case “x”, not italicised before the italicised new name, e.g. Quercus x hispanica is Quercus cerris, the Turkey oak crossed with Quercus suber, the cork oak. Rarely plants from to related genera can cross to create a bigeneric hybrid. Their generic name becomes a compound of the parent genera preceded by an “x”, e.g. × Cuprocyparis leylandii which is Cupressus macrocarpa crossed with Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. The naming of naturally occurring taxa is governed by International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants.
Cultivated plants often have certain seed strains and horticulturally related groups within a species or as a complex series of hybrids within a single genus, for such aggregations the phrase “Group” is used, e.g. Phormium tenax Purpureum Group for purple leaved seed raised New Zealand flax. Cultivars should be clones or show little perceptible variation and the vast majority cannot be raised from seed and remain true to type and therefore have the right to that capitalised name enclosed in single quote marks, e.g. Fuchia magellanica ‘Lady Bacon’. “Group” plants however cover a range or more aptly, a theme, so can often have been seed raised, as long as the offspring still fit within the theme. The naming of taxa raised by man is governed by International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.
For some large genera (i.e. a genus with lots of different species) the relationships between the species within the genus has been mapped and ranked by botanists. For some of these large genera it is of interest to the more serious gardener as they can give an idea of likely characteristics and cultural requirements. The most commonly encountered are those for ‘species’ Rhododendrons. For Rhododendron there is a full range of sub- generic, supra-specific ranks (after Chamberlain and Cullen system): Genus: Rhododendron Subgenus: Hymenanthes - includes many of the most familiar larger leaved species, characterised by their lack of lepidote scales on the back of their leaves Section: Pontica - includes all species within the Subgenus Subsection: Arborea - includes 3 different species from W China, Himalayas and Sri Lanka Species: niveum - a tree sized purple flowered species found in E Himalayas With Rhododendron the Subsection is the most often used by gardeners and nurserymen to give an indication of the sort of Rhodo that is being discussed, however Rhododenrons are amazingly profligate so most garden cultivars are complex hybrids with ancestors from multiple subsections. With Primula it is Section, e.g Prolifera for candelabra types, that is commonly used. All living things are “Properly” named in the same way, e.g. we are Homo sapiens. Continue to page 2 for an attempt to explain why plant names sometimes get changed.
People have tried to give names to living things as long as there have been people, the problem that there is an awful lot of different things to name and people like to make up new names or people will give a new name to something that unbeknownst to them someone else has already given another name. Many plants and animals cover extensive natural ranges and as such over the centuries they have acquired several common names, e.g. oak in English, is called darach in Gaelic, eiche in German, chêne in French and roble in Spanish. In the 18th century the Lingua Franca of the Europe was Latin, so when botanists wanted to refer to a plant to someone not from their country they would name it by giving it a great big long description in Latin. Of course this descriptive name could be a little bit different every time it was used, it was not a good system. To make things simpler a single universally agreed system would be good and in 1753 a Swedish botanist called Carl Linnaeus published a new, simple and sensible system for naming plants and animals properly. He suggested giving everything a name in two parts (a binomial), which together would be unique so avoiding duplication and confusion. The idea was that the first name would be of the group to which the plant belonged; often this was the Roman common name, e.g. quercus for oak became Quercus to refer to all oak trees wherever they come from and of whatever sort they are. This part is called the Genus. The second part of the name, the species, tells you exactly what type of plant it is. Sometimes this name is descriptive, e.g. Quercus rubra, the red oak, noted for its red autumn colour. Sometimes the species name commemorative of a person, e.g. Quercus douglasii, named for Scottish plant hunter David Douglas. Other times the specific epithet may give a clue as to where the plant originates or the sort of place it grows, e.g. Quercus mexicana from Mexico or Quercus palustris meaning ‘of the marsh’. What the species name is isn’t really important, as long as there isn’t another species within that genus with the same name. Plant and animal names are not actually named in ‘Classical Latin’ but rather a sort of mixture with Ancient Greek and Latin referred to as ‘Botanical Latin’.
How To Write Names Plant Classification Hybrids Groups Vs Cultivars Trade Names and Plant Breeders Rights
Since the 1990s in Europe systems for patenting plant varieties have existed. Generally what happens is a large grower or corporation will run an extensive breeding program to raise new variety or series of varieties with various desirable characters, they will then register the variety/s with Plant Breeders Rights giving it both a valid cultivar name and a more marketable trade designation, e.g. the black cut-leaf elder Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Eva' is sold as  Sambucus nigra Black Lace, note the lack of single quotes around Black Lace as it isn’t a cultivar name. Anybody in the EU who propagates a plant with Plant Breeders Rights for commercial sale must pay the rights holder a royalty.
Sorting The Species Page 1 Page 1 Page 2 Page 2