Common names of Plants

Discussion in 'Forum Announcements and Feedback' started by Eric La Fountaine, Jun 26, 2008.

  1. Eric La Fountaine

    Eric La Fountaine Contributor UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

    Messages:
    3,495
    Likes Received:
    206
    Location:
    Vancouver
    There has been a lot of banter on the forums about common names. I am of the opinion that common names are just that--names thought up by ordinary folk to describe plants in the way they know how. We use formal Latin botanical names to discuss plants in the detailed way as botanists. These names are studied, published and subjected to the scrutiny of other botanists, so that we can attempt to use the most precise names. This review attempts to give each plant its own precise unique name. Many visitors to the forums have very little knowledge of botanical nomenclature. They will naturally use the common names they know, as I would call a caribou a caribou, not having much knowledge of zoological nomenclature. These will be confusing and it may be good to try to clarify the confusion. I am not yet willing to buy into the idea that there are any standard common names or any authority that is widely accepted to determine which names are correct. There is certainly discussion to be had about this of course.

    I am concerned that the arguments on this topic confuse the casual visitor and don't help us spread knowledge about plants. I don't have a problem with discussion of common names--I think it is interesting. I just feel that there is no commonly accepted authority on these names and that is evident by the great amount of disagreement one sees about the terms on these forums.

    I expect thoughtful respectful replies to my thread.
     
  2. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

    Messages:
    5,615
    Likes Received:
    442
    Location:
    Vancouver BC Canada
    Why are there arguments over common names in the first place? Most people would agree that common names do not uniquely identify a plant on a global basis. There could be more than one name even within a given locale depending on who you talk to. In most cases it's not a matter of right or wrong - some names just happen to be more common than others. When it makes sense to do so, inject a plant's botanical name into a discussion to provide a common point of reference for all readers. That would ensure everyone is talking about the same plant and provide an opportunity for those not familiar with the botanical name to learn something.
     
  3. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

    Messages:
    20,668
    Likes Received:
    548
    Location:
    WA USA (Z8)
    I agree with both of these posts.
     
  4. wild-rose-43

    wild-rose-43 Active Member

    Messages:
    289
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    Exactly!! It's crazy how some people get their panties in such a twist about the use of common names. As long as all parties agree on the Latin botanical name of a given plant, it shouldn't matter what it's known as locally. It could get mighty confusing if simple folk were to suddenly start spewing Latin names that are sometimes difficult to pronounce correctly. No one would know what anyone was talking about!! Common names keep it simple and some of them are entertaining. Why don't we just chill out, sit back and get a chuckle over what folks call familiar plants in their corner of this planet?
     
  5. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    1,526
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Victoria Australia [cool temperate]
    If I can I like to use the common name for my area or what I know it as but by the same token if I can find it by it's botanical name I would like to add that as well. Reason being the way people do keyword searching on Google. No matter which one they know hopefully the correct one will turn up as well. It's not like a library catalogue which gives you SEE and SEE ALSO references. So those that know both maybe when some one like me asks the answer can include both if you know them. I am not very good with names but a pic certainly helps me know what the plant is so I can use a good answer to go and search for it. That is probably why it is a good idea to construct a good thread heading so it has some relevance for searching down the track

    Liz
     
  6. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor 10 Years

    Messages:
    4,776
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Toronto, Ontario
    Amen to that - I prefer scientific names, but that is most probably because the common names for everything in Ecuador are Spanish. We have five different plants that are called Corazon de Jesus - it's easier to refer to these by the Latin names. In some cases though, the common name is justified - vis: carrot, grape, etc, which everybody agrees are certain plants or generic categories of plants. But something like the nitpicky distinction between Great and Common Mullein seems a bit futile - the plant itself in both cases is Verbascum thrapsis and identifying it such is less confusing and controversial. Equally, far less confusing to refer to the aroids, especially the big-leaf varieties, by their Latin names, rather than calling them all Elephant Ears.
     
  7. C8luvs2gardn

    C8luvs2gardn Active Member

    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Ottawa, ON Canada
    I have been 'hobby' (admittedly) gardening for many years, and as such I try to learn and to refer to my plants by their proper botanical names as often as possible, but I admit that I do want to know the common names as well.
    Many people only know the common names, and although their 'creeping jenny' may be different from the plant I know as 'creeping jenny' or Lysimachia nummularia, the common name does give us a basis for discussion. If I'm giving away babies or showing my garden to visitors L. nummularia might not (probably won't) mean much to some, but most people would likely acknowledge the term 'creeping jenny'.
    Conversely, if someone gives me a plant that I am unfamiliar with and they only know the common name, that is the only reference point I have to try and find out what it is, so being able to look up the common name may produce results.
    I don't know how to ID a plant based on leaf type & arrangement, etc. Of course I can always post a pic here and ask for ID....
     

Share This Page