Taxonomy, or Plant Names Made Easy
by Brent Walston
Taxonomy is the study of plant names and relationships. In any
horticultural pursuit, and bonsai is just that, it is important to know
exactly what plants we are growing so that we may intelligently talk
about them without ambiguity. I'm going to make this short so you aren't
bored to death.
The Binomial System
Plants have two names, this is called the binomial system. Their first
name is their Genus (plural is Genera). Plants in the same genus are
closely related and may interbreed with each other. If they do the
resulting plant is a hybrid, identified by an X in the name.For example:
All maples are in the same Genus: Acer.
The second part of the name is the species and follows the Genus. Plants
in the same species always interbreed with each other, this is part of
what makes a species a species. Example:Acer palmatum, palmatum is the
species, this is Japanese Maple. An interesting point is that the species
names are descriptive or sometimes someone's name. Palmatum is just what
it sounds like- palm like, and refers to the shape of the leaf.
Now I know I just said that plants have two names, but there are
'Varieties' of plants, that occur naturally or through breeding. Manmade
varieties are known as Cultivars, and this is a third part of the name.
So: Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' is 1.Genus Acer (Maple) 2. Species
palmatum (Japanese Maple) 3. Cultivar 'Bloodgood'. Cultivars must always
be clones of the parent plant, they are genetically identical, therefore
they are propagated by cutting, grafting, tissue culture or other means.
A seedling of 'Bloodgood' cannot be called 'Bloodgood', because it will
not be identical genetically, and will not show the same plant
characteristics. Many people are confused by this. Cultivars are
important because they insure that a plant will be exactly like the named
Correct Fonts and Attributes
Now the finicky part, the Genus is always Capitalized, the species is
always lower case, and the cultivar is always Capitalized and in single
quotation mark('). If you want to be really picky, the Genus and species
are always italicized and the cultivar is not.
What good is this?
For one thing, when you use the botanical name there
is absolutely no confusion about what we are talking about. Each plant
has its own individual name. How many Mock Oranges are there? Another
thing, is that plants in the same Genus have similar characteristics,
so this tells you something about the plant. For example, you
see a plant marked Acer grosseri. Immediately you know it is a maple, it
has opposite leaves, is probably a water lover and most likely has
palmate, three or five lobed leaves.
Pronunciation of the Names:
This is probably the biggest reason people
resist botanical names. First, let me say that there is no internationally
accepted convention (unfortunately) for pronouncing the names, so you
can't be wrong. Even experts disagree on how some things should be
pronounced. For example: How do you say Gypsophila (Baby's Breath)? Some
people say Gyp-sof-e-la with the accent on 'sof' and the others say
Gyp-so-fee-la with the accent on the 'fee'. There ain't no right way,
only what most people say.
One place where you can't go wrong is when a
species or cultivar is named after a person, don't get fancy, just say
the person's name and follow it with ee-eye (assuming you know how to pronounce the person's name!). For example, Blue Oak is
Quercus douglasii, just say Quer-cus douglas-ee-eye. Two i's (ii) at the
end of a name are always pronounced ee-eye.
Well, that's enough for now, I hope this helps.,
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