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why are plant names written in italic?



Its the scientific convention of doing it. the otherway is to use normal type and underline it. It allows it to stand ot from the normal text.

22 Dec, 2010


Thanks, much appreciated.

22 Dec, 2010


were you just curious then Robert? Welcome to GoY too and season greetings.

22 Dec, 2010


Seaburngirl is right making the name stand out but I really don't know why botanical names need to stand out.

You wouldn't expect a motoring magazine to put Ford Focus in italics to make it stand out.

The botanical name of a plant is the only way to be precise about what it is because common names often get used for more than one plant.

Rather than writing them differently to re-inforce the alleged strangeness, they should be written in normal type. There should be a concerted effort to end the use of the term 'Latin name' alongside efforts to make botanical names commonplace.

23 Dec, 2010


My first reaction to this question was, they're not, are they? And I don't think they always are, but having checked my encyclopaedia, where the names are in italics, thank heavens they are - nothing worse than reading through 2 pages looking for a particular variety of something because you can't find the name, so having the italics helps to find it quickly. They're not in italics in other books I have though...but they are in bold.

23 Dec, 2010


why should the convention of using the correct latin name be got rid of? I am personally fed up of science being dumbed down. Science isnt particularly hard if you learn the conventions.

There are far too many common names for the sae organism, that makes talking to others difficult. Much better to be accurate than make a mistake. After all the acid Vitriol means little to many now, perhaps a bit more when written as Sulphuric Acid but even more when written as H2SO4 [cant do subscript sorry]. Where would you stop?

23 Dec, 2010


Johnny was a lovely boy, But now he is no more, For what he thought was H2O, was H2SO4! Dad taught me that! Worthy

23 Dec, 2010


Not sure you've understood what poisongardener's really saying, Seaburngirl - he's not saying scrap the Latin, just the opposite, he's saying make it normal by not putting in italics, so that it becomes recognised as just a name, like any other, rather than carrying on using common names. At least, that's what I understand from what he's said.

23 Dec, 2010


I wondered at that but he goes on to say
'There should be a concerted effort to end the use of the term 'Latin name' alongside efforts to make botanical names commonplace'. This goes against good practise in my opinion.

Yes Worthy I know that ditty too, but from my chemistry teacher over 30 yrs ago :o)

23 Dec, 2010


yes, I see what you mean, but he's merely suggesting that if we don't mark out the Latin names as 'special', but common and usual, then people might start using them. Personally, for the average British gardener, I think there's about as much chance of that as 12 pigs flying past my window, sadly.

23 Dec, 2010



23 Dec, 2010


Not sure if I'm on the right track here with the points being made....Firstly Latin is a global language in horticultral and botanical terms. The scientific name of a plant always consists of two Latin words. The first is the name of the Genus, the second is the specific name. So these two words together are the name of the species. The use of italics as far as I'm aware is just the internationally accepted way for the presentation of plant names in printed text, so I guess it gives an emphasis on that name, makes it stand out and be recognizable. For most cultivated plants/varieties this is followed by a cultivar name which should be in plain text and printed within single quote marks. This clearly defines the variety or cultivar name.

23 Dec, 2010


So there :o)

24 Dec, 2010


Sorry, busy battling the snow, yesterday, to get my wife home from hospital so didn't see this.

My point is that 'Latin' names for plants aren't Latin. Often they are Latinised versions of names from other languages, notably Greek.

Also, many of them were created within the past few hundred years and would be totally unrecognizable to an ancient Roman.

Calling them Latin names puts people off using them and makes them scared of becoming familiar with them.

If everyone referred to them as the botanical names of plants there would, slowly, very slowly, be a change in attitude.

Cynical old me can't help thinking that professional gardeners like to retain the idea that there is a mystery to plant naming as that makes them appear better than the rest of us so we should buy their books.

Why do people who have no trouble saying 'Peugeot' stumble over 'Pulsatilla'?

24 Dec, 2010


Really can't see the point to that.... latinised names Greek in origin or otherwise are recognizable the world over and are the botanical names. There has to be a standard, scientists, botanists, plantsmen collectors, etc, etc, the world over wouldn't have a clue what anybody was referring to if it was otherwise.

24 Dec, 2010



As you said yourself, they are the botanical names. If people coming to gardening were told that it was very useful to learn the botanical names of plants they would.

Instead they get the idea that they have to learn Latin and shy away from it. Meanwhile, they quite happily talk about getting some aluminium foil at the shop without being at all worried that 'aluminium' is as much a Latin word as many of the botanical names of plants.

You are quite right about the need for a standard and common names don't provide it.

24 Dec, 2010


Thepoisongarden - actually there already is a concerted effort to abandon the term "latin name", and botanists together with the professional horticulturalists to whom you refer will not (or at least should not) use that term these days.

The correct term already is, and has for for the last several decades, been "botanical name", which recognises the diverse and often highly bastardized origins of the Latinised nomenclature that you refer to.

Ironically perhaps (given the point that you're making) it's often amateur, rather than professional gardeners who perpetuate the term "latin name".

The convention for italicizing botanical names originates with the International code of Botanical Nomenclature and is in line with naming across other the other kingdoms - animal, bacterial, viral. The major difference between plants and the other kingdoms is that there aren't millions of enthusiastic members of the public wrestling with their scientific names on a daily basis!

24 Dec, 2010


Thanks Ilex, that's good to learn.

I just know I still hear them talking about 'Latin names' on GQT.

24 Dec, 2010


That's true of course...I guess it illustrates the difference between botanists (who have to be more careful about what they say & write) and gardeners, who can get away with more. Old habits die hard!

Having said that I'm sure those GQT folks would have the term "Latin name" removed by their proof-readers should they inadvertently include it in a book, for instance.

As you say the vast majority of Botanical Names are no more complex than any other unfamiliar words. In my experience it's garden centres (particularly in the USA) who perpetuate the myth that every plant has to have an Anglicised name along with (or often instead of) it's real name.

I've come across many nurseries in the States (some quite specialist too) who, when faced with a plant that doesn't have a "Common Name" will just randomly ascribe/saddle one rather than use the Botanical Name.

They presumably see this as a sales aid, but it's one that inevitably leads to mass confusion later down the line when the hapless gardener tries to find out what it is they are growing.

24 Dec, 2010


I take your point but what is the term for the animal kingdom? Zoological name? isnt that latin or greek in origin. As a working biologist I use the Latin name where ever appropriate for all the Kingdoms, as that is the way I was taught and it is certainly the way I have to communicate on a day to day basis.

Naming makes of car is the same as using genus as they are all cars, be they Aston/Rover/Triumph etc.

26 Dec, 2010


I agree with everyone;-)))

26 Dec, 2010


I've always used the term "botanical name", and so did all of the old "garden geezers" that I learned from. "Latin name" would probably be much closer to being a defunct usage if I didn't keep hearing it on television! Oh, well, those TV "gardeners" aren't often the sharpest tools in the shed, anyway!

27 Dec, 2010


Botanical name, Latin name, not sure what difference it makes whichever term you use. The only other point to possibly clear up is the use of commons names as a user friendly alternative, but as we probably all know, they differ the world over, so wouldn't really work. I can't see any problem with the system as it is, and am not too sure exactly what issues if there are any, are being raised here ?

27 Dec, 2010


I still think a term like 'species name' would be better and it would also cover all living things.
But I agree with Bluespruce really as I dont think it is a problem, people learn very complicated ideas and I get fed up with the 'dumbing down' of anything scientific.

27 Dec, 2010


I caught the gardening bug as a child because my mother was a keen gardener. I only got interested in knowing how to properly identify plants when I moved here years ago. A knowlegable friend told me to use a good reference book which gives the botanical name of the plant I wanted because I could be fobbed off with an inferior plant in even a reputable garden centre. She did use the term "Latin name" but she was referring to the botanical name as recognised the world over. She also advised using nurseries as opposed to garden centres as in her experience they could provide a better service. I have found the advice invaluable and although I have been corrected on my pronunciation on occasion I accept that as a step in my learning curve and a valuable lesson. When I am teased about being a plant snob I can show why it is easier for me to use botanical names and frequently make a convert. I am an amateur gardener and I approach learning about plants in exactly the same way as I learned French and German, by using the best available source. Hope you all had a lovely Christmas and 2011 brings you some good gardening weather.

27 Dec, 2010


I think everyone on here is more or less in agreement, unless I've read it wrong;-)

27 Dec, 2010


Most excellent post Scotsgran.

Bornagain - as you say, I don't think there is any real disagreement here, more of a discussion provoked by the original question as to the origins/purpose of italics for Botanical Names.

Seaburngirl - it's because very many Botanical names are not Latin or Greek in origin that the term "Latin Name" is deemed misleading and inaccurate. Botanical names are "Latinized" but their origins cover virtually all the worlds major languages - English, Dutch, German, Anglicised Chinese even Native American, etc. etc.

The animal equivalent of "Botanical Name" is indeed "Zoological Name" - both these terms are set out in the relevant International Codes of Nomenclature - and collectively are referred to as "Scientific Names".

I wonder, actually, where & how the term "Latin Name" became popularised since it's not used at any point in the codes of nomenclature that are supposed to determine how scientific names are created and used.

27 Dec, 2010


for me it came from an abbreviation of latinized name from one of the university professors that I studied and worked with. A case of dumbing down for students before hitting us with the ICN. I'm familiar with the ICN and the IB as I 'work with them' daily. :o)

27 Dec, 2010


Interesting read, all these responses, but I was struck by the Peugeot remark - I knew someone who pronounced peugeot as 'pojo', hilariously, though he also said 'owdio' for audio. I suspect the biggest reason people don't like the botanical names is embarrassment over having to say them out loud and mispronouncing them - and often they use botanical names without realising. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people say 'cotton easter' - mispronounced yes, but its still the botanical name, and they don't even realise it, it's just what its called, as far as they know. And in the past, I've been known to go to the garden centre with a long and complicated name on a piece of paper, rather than having to attempt saying it out loud.

29 Dec, 2010


My own reference book is a 5th Edition (1981) Hilliers Manual of Trees and Shrubs. There are obviously going to be updated versions of this book but it serves my purpose. You may be able to find it in a Library under Dictionary, Trees or Shrubs. There is an interesting introduction to using the book. It explains that wild plants are covered by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and cultivated plants are covered by the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. The manual provides details of 8000 plants representing 700 genera. Eg. ACER is a Genus and there are 7 pages of named families belonging to the ACER genus. That is why it is important if you are determined to have a specific plant you need to know as much as possible about it. will tell you a bit more but to get up to date information you would need to buy a copy of the ICNCP.

31 Dec, 2010

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