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Botanical Latin for the plebeian reader.

"Latin, schmatin." You may have heard this phrase used by those gardeners and farmers who deem it unnecessary to know the Latin scientific names of plants. Although a great number of gardeners are successful without learning much Latin nomenclature, it can only be an advantage as you identify, select, grow or sell plants and seeds. One does not need to know the entire Latin language to understand botanical nomenclature, and if a new word comes up, it can be looked up in Stearn's or Borror's. If you don't know why it is good to be acquainted with botanical Latin, here are six reasons.

1. Latin botanical names are written so as to clearly show how closely related plants are to one another. The English common names "cabbage" and "turnip," compared to each other, show no relation. But the Latin species names, Brassica oleracea and Brassica rapa, show a close relation, because the first word of the binomial (two-word) name is the same. Therefore you know that the cabbage (Brassica oleracea) and turnip (Brassica rapa) are closely related. If the first two words of a three-word subspecific name are the same, they are even more closely related. An example of this is the relation between cantaloupes (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) and honeydews (Cucumis melo inodorus). Knowing how closely related one plant is to another can help you to grow it if you are familiar with the related plant, its characteristics and needs. In addition, the Latin names can help you to determine whether or not two plants are of the same "kind" (i.e., capable of sustained cross-reproduction).

2. The English common names of plants are sometimes misleading or confusing. The "grape hyacinth" is not really a hyacinth; there are 10 plants called "firecracker vine;" the word "pepper" can refer to a perennial, wood, tropical, coastal vine, or an annual, spreading, bushy nightshade. In Latin nomenclature, no two plant have the same name.

3. The Latin words and suffixes themselves can give information about the plant. Some words appear in a number of Latin plant names. For example, floribunda means "having clusters of showy flowers." Therefore, if you see a tree called Malus floribunda (Oregon crabapple) in a nursery catalog, you know that it will have clusters of showy flowers. You will likely recognize many Latin words as being the roots of words in Italian, Spanish or Portugese, if you know any of these languages. Latin partly developed from Greek, so any acquaintance with Greek will also help.

4. Scientific and legal documents usually use binomial nomenclature (Latin nomenclature) when referring to plants. Being familiar with the Latin names of plants enables you to read conservation lists, botony research papers, herbarium specimen labels, and even plant labels at tree nurseries, seedling sales or "free tree" programs run by state or provincial governments.

5. The scientific names of plants are used throughout the world, in every UN member nation from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. If you travel to another country and see seed packets for sale but don't know what they are, you can look for the Latin name.

6. In some places vendors are required by law to label seeds, plants, tree seedlings and medicinal herb products with their Latin names. The botanical Latin names should also be used in legal proceedings, farm recordkeeping (official), and waivers (such as those concerning Watermelon Fruit Blotch).

So now you might want to learn more about Latin scientific nomenclature. (There are plenty of other good articles to read in this issue if you don't.) But for those who do, here is the explanation of basic taxonomy.

Taxonomy is the science of systematically classifying living things. (It is not to be confused with taxidermy, which is the art of stuffing and preserving the carcasses of animals.) A taxon (pl. taxa) is a level of classification. The taxa are kingdom, division, class, order, family, genus, species and subspecies (or variatio in Latin).

First is the kingdom level. The two-kingdom system classes all plants as Plantae, but a new fivekingdom system classes some plants as Protista, Monera, and Fungi. However, these three kingdoms comprise algae, kelp, dinoflagellates, bacteria, mushrooms, diatoms, fission plants, and the like. Most gardeners will obviously not need to deal with these, so they will not need to engage in the thorny (or rather, mossy!) discussion of kingdom classification. Trees, liverworts, hornworts, true mosses, ferns, cycads, and all flowering plants (grasses, herbs, vegetables and most shrubs) are agreed upon by all to be Plantae.

Next is the division, or phylum, as it is known in Latin. The two main divisions are Mangoliophyta and Bryophyta.

Magnoliophyta is often classed by the more descriptiove name Tracheophyta, rather than the former name, which uses magnolia as a type genus. There is no reason why that should be singled out as a type genus for all vascular plants. Tracheophyta comprises trees (including conifers), club mosses, horsetails, ferns, cycads, flowering herbs, grasses, and all shrubs. The other major division, Bryophyta, comprises liverworts, hornworts, and true mosses.

Next comes the class. There is a class comprising all flowering plants, including all broadleaved trees. It is Magnoliopsida, or Angiospermae. Most gardeners, except in the Arctic, Subarctic or tropics, will primarily deal with the angiosperms. This class is divided into Eudicotyledonae and Monocvotyledonae subclasses. A member of Eudicotyledonae (trees, shrubs, and most cultivated flowering plants) may or may not reprooduce from seed, but if it does, it will have two seed leaves when it sprouts. A member of Monoctyledonae would have one seed leaf when it sprouts. Monocotytledonae mostly comprises grasses and weeds.

Monocotyledonae and Eudicotyledonae are subclasses. Next comes the order, and here is where it begins to become interesting. An order is a major group of plants; knowing what order a plant falls into will help you to understand its life cycle and process of growth. Alist of significant families follows each order; families will be discussed later. They are the next level of classification after the order.

* Commelinales, a "monocot" order, the spiderwort order. Important families: Gramineae (Poaceae).

* Polemoniales, a "eudicot" or "dicot" order, the phlox order. Important families: Polemoniaceae, Solanaceae, Convolvulaceae.

* Cappareales, eudicot, the caper order. Important families: Brassicaceae, Capparidaceae, Resedaceae.

* Violales, eudicto, the viola order. Important families: Violaceae, Curcurbitaceae.

* Rosales, eudicot, the rose order. Important families: Rosaceae, Saxifragaceae, Cesalpinaceae, Mimosaceae, Papilionaceae, Ran.

* Asterales, eudicot, the daisy order. Important families: Asteraceae.

* Scrophulariales, eudicot, the figwort order. Important families: Scrophulariaceae, Oleaceae, Gesneriaceae, Lentibulariaceae.

* Rhamnales, eudicot, the shittimwood order. Important families: Rhamnaceae, Vitaceae.

* Liliales, monocot, the lily order. Important families: Liliaceae, Amaryllidaceae, Alliaceae.

The "families" are more familiar to most gardeners. Knowing what family a plant belongs to can help you to undertand a plant's characteristics, needs, and in the case of weeds, best method of elimination or control.

For example, crops such as spinach, beets, chard, tetragonia, blite, quinoa and orache all belong to the goosefoot family, Chenopodiaceae. By knowing this, you will be more prepared to grow blite if you have grown beets; you will be able to transfer your experience with beets to your new crop of blite. You will also be expecting to deal with lamb's quarters and goosefoot weeds, both of which are members of the Chenopodiaceae as well. Lamb's quarters are often found in spinach fields, for example, because the soil has been developed and fertilized for spinach. The lamb's quarter germinates and finds the soil pH, moisture level, NPK ratio, and sodium level to its liking. There it flourishes and when autumn chill sets in, produces seeds. Occasionally a bag of spinach contains this weed.

One can also learn about a crop one is growing (or intends to grow) by observing weeds in the same family. Corn, for example, is in the grass family (as are most grains). Studying grasses, especially annual weedy grasses, will teach you about corn.

And finally, we have the genus and species. These are what you typically see when the Latin name of a plant is shown. The first word is a genus; the second word is a species. For example, Pyrus ussuaria (Siberian pear): Pyrus is the genus of all pears, while ussuaria is the species of Siberian pears.

There is some debate on what defines a species, but "reproduction isolation" is the generally accepted definition. If it can "cross" or "mix" with another variety and produce more than one viable generation, that is. If two plants are listed as the same species, they can mix and create a new variety. If they are listed as the same genus (e.g. Monarda didyma and Monarda fistulasa), you should find out. Even if not listed as the same genus or species, the members of the Gramineae (Poaceae) or grass family may be able to cross-polinate; you may want to find out. Ensure that poisonous plants are not within pollinating distance of an edible plant related to it; they could cross-pollinate.

Sometimes a botanical name contains three words, e.g. Cucumis melo inodorus (honeydew melon). In this case the third word is a subspecies, or a variation within a species. It nmay also be written as Cucumis melo var inodorus, the var. standing for "variatio," which is Latin for "subspecies." The species and subspecies are the only uncapitalized words in botanical nomenclature of a plant.

If an "x" is seen between the second and third words, e.g. Rosa rugosa x palustris, it is not a subspecies but a cross between Rosa rugosa and Rosa palustris. Conventionally, the classification of the male is written first, followed by the classification of the female plant or tree (among dioecious plants). Among monoecious plants, the classification of the plant that supplied the pollen is written first, followed by the classification of the plant that supplied the ovule and developed the seed. Thus, in the example given, pollen was removed from the Rosa rugosa and rubbed onto the stigma of R. palustris by the botanist's finger or a "bee stick." Then it fertilized the ovules of Rosa palustris and developed finished seeds, which were removed from the Rosa palustris rose that fall. We know which plant gave the pollen and which supplied the ovules because of the order in which they are listed.

And finally, the genus, species, and subspecies names themselves often are descriptive. (Note that two plants may have the same species or subspecies name, but if the genus is different, they are not necessarily related at all.)

There are some common endings and prefixes in Latin, some borrowed from Greek, which have significance.

* -ense, -ensis, -ica, -ana (also -icum, -icus, -anum, -anus): "From " or "native to." Examples: canadeense=from Canada; can talupensis=from Cantaluppa, Italy; indica=from India; Americana=from America.

* -folia, -folium, -folius: "Having leaves as indicated." Example: quinquefolium=having five leaves.

* -if era, -iferum, -iferus: "Producing." Examples: cerasifera=producing cherries; somniferum=producing sleep (or drowsiness).

* -ae, -iae: "Named after" (a woman). Example: furbishiae=Kate Furbish.

* -i, -ii: "Named after" (a man). Example: burbankii=Luther Burbank.

* -flora: "Having flowers as indicated." Example: grandiflora=having large flowers.

* eu-: "Good; well; fully formed." Example: eucalyptus=well-covered (seeds).

* -formis: "Shaped like." Example: cerasiformis=shaped like a cherry.

Word: Meaning

Officinale, Officinalis: medicinally used

Sativa, sativum, Sativus: smooth (esp. of leaves)

Vulgare, vulgaris: common

Praetense, praetensis: found in Austria

Arvense, arvensis: found in meadows

Repens: spreading along the ground

Angustifolia, angustifolium, Angustifolius: having narrow leaves

Floribunda: having clusters of showy flowers

Sempervirens: evergreen; perennial

Semperflorens: repeatedly blooming

Rubra, rubrum, rebrus: red

Alba, album, albus: white

You may recognize many more Latin roots if you know Spanish, Italian or Portugese. Latin has noun gender, as do these languages, but there are three genders--masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Your knowledge of Latin nomenclature should be an advantage as you buy seeds, sell plants and produce or research the subject of botany. An online botanical dictionary can be found at http:davesgarden. com/botanry/.

And if you are preparing "beef and broccoli," and have a small child who is not fond of that particular vegetable, you have something to say when the subject of "what's for dinner" comes up.

"Beef with floret clusters of Brassica oleracea var. italica."

Examples of classification (Kohlrabi)

Kingdom: Plantae (all plants)

Division: Magnoliophyta (also, Tracheophyta)

Class: Magnoliopsida (subclass Eudicotyledonae)

Order: Capparales

Family: Brassicaceae

Genus: Brassica

Species: oleracea

Subspecies: caulorapa

Plant name: Brassica oleracea caulorapa or Brassica oleracea var. caubrapa




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Title Annotation:The garden
Author:Goss, Jeffery
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Previous Article:Coming events.
Next Article:Grow your own sweet potatoes.

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