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Plant Names Are Long, But Full of Spirit

Hollywood is said to be named after the bright crimson berries of the California Holly or Toyon shrub, Heteromeles arbutifolia. Image © John Martin
Bougainvillea was named after a French navy admiral, but was actually discovered by a female botanist who disguised herself as a man to set sail around the world. Image © John Pearson

Posted Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 8:00 pm

By Mark Rios, FAIA, FASLA and John Lambert Pearson, ASLA

“Omnia mirari etiam tritissima” was the motto of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who formalized binomial nomenclature, the way we classify all living organisms using Latin names. We will get back to Carl in a bit, but for now we would like to focus on his motto, which means “find wonder in everything, even the most commonplace.” It is our job as landscape architects to help people find the wonder in the garden, and often that is achieved through vast shapes and colors of plant material. Yet, plants remain a mysterious and intimidating presence to many who have heard complicated Latin names like Eschscholzia, Syzygium, and Zantedeschia. We would like to help you understand that these Latin names tell a story about the specimens they identify, and that by learning these secret meanings, the world of plants will become infinitely
more enchanting.

When you see the name of a plant at a nursery or botanical garden, you will often notice two names are given. The first is typically the common name, shown in standard text. Common names can be helpful, however they may only present a simple view of the plant and may be used to describe other species as well. The second is the Latin name, also known as the botanical or scientific name, and is in italics. It is the Latin name that holds the hidden tale about the plant’s origin, form, color, or growth habit.

For full story see the print edition of The Beverly Hills Courier, or download the e-edition.

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