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Gardening with Laurie: What's in a name?

By By Laurie Garretson
July 11, 2013 at 2:11 a.m.


I was recently asked about the origin of a certain plant's common name, but I did not know, and that lead me on a search.

I know it's obvious where the Laura Bush petunia or the Julia Child rose got their names, but what about a Black Foot daisy? How did that drought-tolerant little white daisy get such a name? Well, it's this little white daisy that got my curiosity going and led me to discover several interesting facts.

Plants were given common names back when humans first developed language. But as the human and botanical population grew all over the world, so did all the plant names.

Unfortunately, the same plant in one part of the world or country or state or even county could be called many different regional names. This soon led to much confusion. Some plants not even remotely similar to one another were going by the same name.

All this confusion led a Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to come up with a system of giving every specific plant two names. Since that time, botanists have developed international rules that determine just how all plant names are created and used.

The first name is the genus, or botanical name, and the second name is the species. Together these names tell us what only that unique plant is properly called. The first word, the genus, will always be capitalized and the second word, the species, will all be in lowercased.

For example; Buddleia davidii, commonly called Butterfly bush. As mentioned, there are several plants that are referred to as butterfly bushes. The botanical names tell which one you are referring to.

As with the common named Laura Bush petunia (botanical name Petunia X violacea 'Laura Bush,' this particular plant was named after the former first lady. The "X" signifies that this plant has been hybridized.

It has always been common to include the person's name who first discovers a plant in the botanical name. An example; the common white oak, known as Quercus alba L.

The first word is the botanical word for oaks. The second word is the species name for white oak, and the letter "L" stands for the botanist Carl Linnaeus, who came up with this description of this particular oak.

All these technical names become confusing for many people, but I do hope this explanation has proven the need for botanical names.

And as to how the Black foot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) was named, according Umberto Quattrocchi's book "CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names," the name is derived from the Greek words melas, meaning black and podion, meaning foot. These names refer to the base of the stem and the roots.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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