Carl Linnaeus was born on May 23, 1707, to Nils Ingemarsson Linnaeus, a Lutheran minister and avid gardener. The young Carl shared his father's interest in plants, but not his father's vision for his future. Instead of becoming the minister his parents originally wanted, Linnaeus pursued medicine at the Universities of Lund and then Uppsala, where he spent most of his time gathering plants.
Linnaeus lived during a period of plant exploration, when new plants from South America, southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were all coming to the attention of European scientists. Linnaeus standardized plant naming by means of a Latin binomial system, in which the first name represented genus, and the second, species. He became known as the Father of Taxonomy.
Today, although plants are still known by a Latin (or sometimes Greek) genus and species name, many catalogues and nurseries also note the names of plant varieties and hybrids.
Knowing what the Latin (and sometimes Greek) words mean can help gardeners with their planning and maintenance chores. For instance, if the available area is cramped, a plant with arboreum (tree-like) or altissimum (very tall) in its name, might not be the best choice.
Plant Naming Conventions
- After a Person
Plants can be named in honor of someone. Linnaeus is said to have named a useless weed "Siegesbeckia" after Johann Siegesbeck, a critic.
Many (especially species) names are descriptive, referring to color, size, or shape. Albus is the Latin for white, incanus for gray, and lac for milk. Any of these words may be used to describe a whitish plant suited to a moonlight garden. Ruber (rubrum), sanguineus, roseus, and coccineus all denote red.
Combining Forms of the Latin Names
Some names refer to special characteristics of the plants. Pubi, hirti, villi, and barbi are all "combining forms" suggesting hairness. Combining forms are Latin roots with vowels added to facilitate pronunciation. They frequently appear attached to more familiar Latin-based words, like those for leaf and flower. Hirtifolia would mean hairy leaved. Barbiflora would mean bearded flower.
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