6 The Meaning of Plant Names

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the meaning of botanical names.


Botanical names often provide a helpful description of a plant. The origins of Latin and Greek names may be classical, mythological, or commemorative, or they may relate to a place, area, or season. Descriptors for plant surface characteristics or color, habitat, growth habit, and size and shape  are other common sources for specific epithets. Familiarity with their meaning is helpful for remembering plant names. References such as the Dictionary of Plant Names by Allen J. Coombes (1994) or The Names of Plants (1996) contain interesting information on the origin and meaning of plant names. Information is also available online at these links to Califlora: Plant Name Meanings and Derivations [New Tab][1] and The Meaning of Latin Plant Names [New Tab][2].


Practice: Identify the meaning of each of the specific epithets using the links above to online resources.


  1. http://www.calflora.net/botanicalnames/index.html
  2. http://theseedsite.co.uk/latin.html


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