Do you know botanical latin

Learn Botanical Plant Names!

by / 14 Comments / 2919 View / March 17, 2010

Do you prefer to use common names for plants or are you a botanical Latin maven?

As a professional landscape designer and garden communicator who does a lot of public speaking and television, I HAD to learn botanical Latin.

It’s the universal language of horticulture!

Do you see a “creeping fig” vine or a Ficus repens clinging to this wall?


When I was in landscaping school,  I enjoyed the field trips to the botanical gardens to discover new plants until the teacher starting using botanical plant names.

My eyes crossed at the confusing Latin words.

Every plant name sounded like a medical term or disease!

To make matters worse, our teacher got a kick out of   drilling us on  the proper pronunciation of plant names, which took some of the fun away.

Since I speak Spanish, I was guilty of over-pronouncing the letter “r” in words such as “gregii,” or names such as “Sarcococca“, or “Cupressus,” the latin  name for  Italian cypress trees.

My teacher’s patience with my “rolling r’s” was wearing thin until one day he let me have it!


“For a Latina, you sure can’t speak Latin,” he exclaimed.

Duh, I was born in Los Angeles in the 20th century!



Do you say “rosemary” or “Rosmarinus” when referring to the potted plant?


I knew it was important to learn botanical Latin since I was a  fledgling professional, but the way he presented it was sooooo boring and forgettable that I was discouraged.

Now that I produce garden videos, I got the idea to create a fun and entertaining  series that teaches  gardeners how to pronounce botanical plant names!

I’m so excited to share it with you.

The series is called, “Say it in Botanical Latin.”

The segments are short, (50-seconds) and not only do you learn how to pronounce the plant’s name, you also learn the meaning of the plant’s name!

Very interesting stuff and entertaining. I promise!

Nicholas Staddon of Monrovia teaches us how to pronounce the name of a very popular and gorgeous shrub , “Chinese fringe flower” in this series premiere!


Watch Nicholas now.

Enjoy and please leave me a comment about “Say it in Botanical Latin.”

I recommend David Beaulieu, Landscape Guide at’s article on the importance of Botanical Latin and learning plant names.



14 Comment

  1. Hi Jane,
    Thanks for reading and commenting! With all the common names, I believe that it may be easier to remember botanical plant names. They are more descriptive usually.

  2. Funny thing … I can always remember the botanical names … it’s the common ones that I forget. Maybe that came from taking Latin in high school years ago.

  3. Thanks Toni! I’m with you. Botanical latin is a necessary language especially when ordering specific plants for projects. I also like the “relative” plant information relayed by the name.

  4. For me this was a funny post — before I started school in landscape architecture, I thought that people who used botanical names were snobs and ‘out of touch’ with the rest of us. HA! As others have said, after trying to use water lily or princess flower or many others, I realized names change from region to region, and that botanical names are amazing not only because they are specific and universal, but because they often give a glimpse into the history of the plant and its use by humans.

    Thanks for a great topic!

  5. Hi Anna,
    I agree that using botanical plant names is the best way to identify a plant no matter where you are in the world. As far as pronunciation is concerned, I agree that the latin language is dead, but there are still certain rules to follow, especially when you have double vowels together, (“ii”) and such. I hope you enjoyed the video and hope to hear from you again.

  6. Hello Shirley,
    as a horticulturist I know that plants can only be identified by their latin name. Of course it takes a bit of getting used to but pronounciation shouldn't be an issue because latin is a "dead language". With my clients I use the common names of the plants and I find that more difficult, because depending on what part of the country/world the client is from, uses a different name for the same plant. With latin names there is no confusion. 

  7. I am so happy to see someone encouraging the learning of  botanical pronunciations.  I began learning the names…and by the way…you can't always use Latin rules, because some of the names are Greek and that changes the ball game….when I began ordering plants by mail.  Somehow Granny's purple bush, wasn't quite explicit enough.   And, there were a hundred Granny bushes, but maybe I wanted a particular cultivar that grew only so tall and bloom longer.  Well, only by learning the botanical name did I get what I wanted!.  All over the world, Americans are known for their laziness in not wanting to learn foreign pronunciations…We aren't dumb…we can do it…   Thanks!

  8. Thanks for visiting Barb. We have lot’s more in store and I’ll be learning new names too.

  9. Shirley – I know the Latin name of lots of plants and am busy learning more, but knowing them and saying them are two VERY different things. I love this new series. Can’t wait to see/hear more!

  10. I know how you felt in that Hort class Robert. I’m still learning how to pronounce botanical plant names and have to check myself before going on air!

  11. I loved plant my identification classes in college, and the Latin names were always a challenge. The teachers would always take points off for incorrect spelling. I would always know most of the plants, but get a lower grade due to my spelling mistakes! Great post as usual Shirley! Oh I finally learned how to add a link to my blog so you are on it!

  12. it’s the only way to get the “cat’s claw” you are thinking of.

    I learned that even with people you have to be careful:

    Using common names is like having a blind date with a plant.

  13. I prefer Latin because there are many very different plants that have the same common name. Also, there are plants that I know only the Botanical name of, not the common name, because I first encountered them in books. My motto is “Don’t confuse me with the common name.”

  14. I’m a landscaper, have worked at a local nursery and have a science background. I very much understand the importance of botanical names and use them when possible. When I worked at the nursery, I would use the botanical name of a plant and some customers would say they didn’t know Latin and didn’t care about it. They were always surprised when I said yes, you do know Latin. Loropetalum is a great example, since the Genus name is also used as the common name. Once people realized that they already knew Latin words, they were much more open to learn more.
    Basically – I’m in complete agreement with what you’re saying and look forward to watching the whole series. Love to learn more Latin!

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