Perennial Plant names and origins

Whether one picks up a book or catalogue containing any wide variety of plants, they are listed under their Botanic or Latin names. This may be dispiriting or tedious for some, but not for those who, from love or experience of plants realise and accept that only by the use of such names —internationally known and accepted, could they possibly make sense. The question as to why such names have to be used is often asked by some who find them difficult, and as a preface I will attempt a brief answer.

Plants, no matter what they are, have to carry a first and second name at least, to simplify, identification and reference. The first name indicates the genus, and the second the species. Take Campanula as an easy example. This comes from the Latin for ‘Bell’, and indeed the common name is Bellflower. But there are in nature hundreds of species of Bellflowers or Campanulas, as well as varieties or cultivars which have been raised by human agency as hybrids or crosses between the species. It would be much more confusing to use English or colloqual to describe them, for Campanula lactiflora would then become the ‘milky-flowered Bellflower’—plus the name of the variety. C. glomerata nana lilacina, would need the ‘lilac flowered dwarf clustered Bell-flower’ to describe it—and these are only simple examples. Others would be quite impossible to anglicise.

All names have an explanation or meaning, though the origin of some generic or surnames are lost in antiquity. Some are Greek, others Latin or Latinised versions of a Common name. There is no need to delve deeply into origins, but many specific names give a clue to description. Those ending in ‘oides’ mean that it has resemblance to some other plant, such as ‘primuloides’. Others give the colour—’aureum’ for gold, ‘album’ for white, ‘roseum’ pink, ‘rubrum’ red and so on. ‘Latifolia’ means it has a broad leaf, ‘macrantha’ a large flower in Greek, though ‘grandi-flora’ is the same thing in Latin. Where a name ends in ii or iana it is a personal tribute to some-person just as a surname like Rudbeck or Stokes are Latinised as generic names in Rudbeckia and Stokesia as a means of giving a name to a plant which had no higher claims.

Very many specific names give the place of origin—whether a country like Japan—japonica and canadensis, or an ancient State-like macedonica or tyrolensis, whilst others simply state that it grows wild in mountains montana, alpina or in woods sylvatica or in a damp place iacus-tris, palustris or uliginosa .

Perennial Plant names and origins2

Once you get the hang of names, they can surprisingly enough become a source of interest in themselves. You can pick and choose, as it were, without bothering about those that have baffling connotations and derivations unless you wish. It is all a matter of not being afraid of them, of realising their importance and that most of them have purposeful meanings. No one uses any other name than Chrysanthemum, Nasturtium or Rhododendron, and there are many other examples of Botanic names being accepted by everyone without a second thought. This shows how even difficult names develop in the mind and become accepted as commonplace in themselves simply through common usage.

Plants For Special Purposes

Alchemilla mollisAruncus SylvesterAcanthus spinosusAcanthus in variety
Bergenia in varietyAstrantia in varietyAlchemilla mollisAchillea in variety
Chiysogonum virginianumAstilbe in varietyAnaphalis in varietyAgapanthus in variety
Epimedium in varietyCaltha in varietyBrunnera macrophyllaAlchemilla mollis
Lamium in varietyGentiana asclepiadeaCampanula muralisAnaphalis in variety
Nepeta mussiniiFilipendula in varietyEpimedium in varietyAlstroemeria Ligtu hybrids
Prunella in varietyIris sibirica in varietyEuphorbia — some varietiesAstrantia in variety
Pulmonaria in varietyIris kaempferiGeranium in varietyCatananche caerulea
Stachys lanataLythrum in varietyHylomecon japonicumChrysanthemum maximum in variety
Symphytum rubrumMonarda in varietyIris foetidissimaCrocosmia masonorum
Vinca in varietyPolygonum in varietyLamium in varietyDelphinium in variety
Avena CandidaRodgersia in varietyLiriope muscariDoronicum in variety
Festua glaucaSenecio in varietyOmphalodes in varietyErigeron in variety
Trollius in varietyPachysandra terminalisEchinops ritro
Polygonatum in varietyEryngium in variety
Polygonum affine in varietyGaillardia in variety
Pulmonaria in varietyGypsophila in variety
Stachys lanataHeuchera in variety
Tiarella in varietyHosta in variety
Vinca in varietyKniphofia in variety
Liatris callilepis
Lysimachia clethroides
Macleaya in variety
Nerine bowdenii
Polygonatum multiflorum
Polygonum amplexicaule
Polygonum bistorta superbum
Rodgersia in variety
Stachys lanata
Thalictrum in variety
Veronica virginica alba
Avena Candida
Cortaderia argentea
Lasiogrostis splendens
Miscanthus japonicus

Hosta sieboldiana elegans behind Stachys macrantha

Above: Colour contrasts can be made with both foliage and flowers with Hosta sieboldiana elegans behind Stachys macrantha.

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