Calling it like it is

Calling it like it is

I think we can pretty much all agree on what a daffodil is. Heck, lots of people even know the scientific name for this genus – Narcissus. But it gets a bit dicier when it comes to deciding what you might be talking about when you call something a “daisy.” If you ask for a daisy at your local nursery, you might get directed to any number of different plants. Common names can be confusing and inconclusive. Are you looking for Aster novi-belgii? Osteospermum fruticosum? Chrysanthemum frutescens? Or perhaps you were just trying to refer to a particular shape of flower? Using the scientific name allows us to be more precise.

Lots of gardeners, especially those newer to the pastime, are intimidated, a little uncomfortable and consequently, unconvinced as to the merits of identifying plants by their scientific or botanical names. But really it’s the only way to know if we’re both talking about the same plant. Some might say that a rose by any other name is still a rose. But actually, a rose could be a rosa or sometimes even a Rosa glauca.

And, if you break them down, scientific names can even tell you something about the plant. For instance:

  • Color: rubra = red, alba = white, aureus = golden
  • Growth habit: prostratus = low-growing, contortus = twisted, nanus = dwarf
  • Origin: australis = southern, riparius = off river banks, chinensis = from China
  • Or any number of other things: edulis = edible, praecox = early, sagittalis = arrow-like

Don’t worry overmuch about your pronunciation at first. And yes, it really does get easier over time, though scientific names can be a tongue-twisting mouthful and difficult to get right at first.

So let’s call a spade a spade. That flop-proof daisy you were looking for earlier? Let’s call her Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’, just to be clear.

For more great gardening tips, visit Jasmine’s San Francisco Flower & Garden Show blog.

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