Episode 81: botanical Latin, explained
ZZ plant or Zamioculcas zamiifolia? Botanical Latin can seem like a confusing alphabet soup that’s hard to say and even harder to figure out. But I love learning about the Latin names of houseplants, because there’s always something to learn about the history of the plant, who brought it into cultivation and what it looks like. With the help of guests John Wright and Daniel Sparler, this episode helps to demystify botanical Latin, explain why it’s important, and set you on the road to becoming a scholar of plant taxonomy - the science of naming plants.
Useful links for this episode…
John Wright is a naturalist and field mycologist who spends a lot of time hunting for and identifying fungi. His book The Naming of the Shrew is required reading for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of Latin names.
Daniel Sparler is a self-confessed plant nerd who teaches gardeners about botanical Latin. He recommends a couple of online sources: Mark Garland’s page What Scientific Names of Plants Mean and Chuck Griffith’s dictionary of botanical epithets. And if you prefer print, try Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners: A Handbook on the Origin and Meaning of the Botanical Names of Some Cultivated Plants.
The book RHS Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison is a great resource for learning Latin names.
Of you want to delve into the history of the binomial system, Anna Pavord’s book Searching For Order is a great read.
The Botanary at Davesgarden.com is a good place to look up the meaning of Latin names online.
Still worried about pronunciation? Here’s a guide.
Want to check out that fly named after Beyonce? Here it is.
Can’t quite believe that Senecio rowleyanus (aka string of pearls) has changed its genus name to Curio? Here’s more about the new genus …
Who was Clivia miniata named after, as mentioned by Daniel? The Clivia Society has all the info.
Curious about the naming of Strelitzia? Here’s more on the plant from the Kew Gardens website.
Question of the week
Gabriella wanted to know how to grow Juncus effusus f spiralis as a houseplant, given that it’s also marketed as an outdoor plant for ponds and watery places.
I suggest this is one of the few things that you can grow inside that actively likes sitting in a soaked pot, so a good pick if you are overgenerous with the watering can.
It should do ok inside but if it starts looking peaky, give it a spell outdoors. If you get some stems that turn brown, just cut them back to the base. It should do fine in a well lit room, so don’t consign it to your darkest corner. And if you’re into flowers, this plant may disappoint as they are brown and very dull: but who needs flowers with stems like these?!
Coming up this year…
I am giving a talk on the magic of houseplants at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution on April 9… if you are in the London area do come along! Full details here. There will be more talks and appearances coming up, so stay tuned for more details!
I am also making plans for the 100th episode of On The Ledge which will happen some time in May or June! If you have any ideas as to how to mark the occasion, please let me know…
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This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, An Instrument the Boy Called happy Day Gokarna by Samuel Corwin and Oh Mallory by Josh Woodward, all licensed under Creative Commons. Logo design by Jacqueline Colley.