Latin names.... Have I lost my mind?

Discussion in 'Plants: Nomenclature and Taxonomy' started by globalist1789, Oct 26, 2006.

  1. globalist1789

    globalist1789 Active Member

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    Hi all,

    I’m a little frustrated by a thread on another forum I’m in. Someone suggested that cherries make good indoor bonsai. I said, no, I’m pretty sure they (thinking Prunus) don’t. It turned out that they meant “Surinam Cherry†(Eugenia uniflora) without saying it.

    I pointed out the usefulness of latin names and was told that I was “splitting hairsâ€. Was I? Basically I was told that scientific names aren’t really for people who are “newâ€. When talking about profoundly different plants and their cultural requirements I would think that being specific is important.

    I’m really just hoping someone confirms that I haven’t lost my mind in finding this frustrating. Do you all find resistance to the use of scientific names anywhere? I don’t think I was “splitting hairsâ€, was I?

    HERE is the thread
     
  2. Eric La Fountaine

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

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    globalist1789, I don't think you have lost your mind. The thread illustrates perfectly the confusion that can result from using common names to discuss plants and also the reluctance (lack of familiarity/understanding) to use botanical nomenclature. One can easily imagine that novices might have gone out and purchased some small plant of the genus Prunus and expected it to perform as an indoor bonsai, if it had not been clarified. The same common name is often given to two or more very different plants. They are often misleading, using names from other plants to describe another, such as cherry, jasmine, cedar, etc. To be fair, proper Latin botanical names can also be confusing and they change with new discoveries about the relationships of plants, not all scientists agree on the classifications or name changes.

    I think it all depends on the level of communication you are participating in. My mother knows what maples and oaks are, but I don't ever expect to have a conversation about Acer spp. or Quercus spp. with her. On these forums people use both and offer clarification when necessary. I think that is the best way, and we just need to be respectful of each other. I almost always use the proper name in my posts and sometimes both proper and common.
     
  3. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    People don't have any intrinsic problem with scientific names. Ask almost any 11 year old child about dinosaurs, and they'll rattle off a whole long list of them without any hesitation, most of them much longer and harder to pronounce than most plant names (well, maybe Chiranthodendron pentadactylon and Metasequoia glyptostroboides excepted!).

    That some people wilfully refuse to learn and use scientific plant names - yes, that's basically what it comes down to - is their own lookout.

    Having said that, there is much to be said for encouraging book authors to standardise common names. For the examples Daniel gives, it would help communication a lot if authors restricted use of 'cherry' to Prunus, 'jasmine' to Jasminum, 'cedar' to Cedrus, and so on. I do wonder, for example, in all the Fraxinus (ash) removal to control Agrilus planipennis (emerald ash borer), how many Sorbus aucuparia are being cut un-necessarily, because people haven't been educated into calling them rowan, rather than the confusing "mountain ash" 'Fraxinus' aucuparia. If book authors called it rowan, the general public would soon follow suit and the problem would no longer arise.
     
  4. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Globalist, I don't think there is a problem there with naming plants, but with manners. As a considerate person who is probably pretty consciencious about whatever advice you give being correct and clear, you probably cannot even relate to the mentality of someone who doesn't really care whether their advice leads to money-wasting disaster or not for someone else. This is a certain species of person (usually closely related to those who can't use punctuation, capitals, or remotely correct spelling, oddly enough represented by the OP on that thread) who takes no responsibility for their actions. Annoyingly, they may be quite knowledgeable, but their knowledge is usually randomly acquired and insecure... hence their insecurity, and reluctance to go beyond their comfort level.

    There is no point in trying to make these people see it your way, as no reason to consider anyone's interests other than their own has ever occurred to them.
     
  5. globalist1789

    globalist1789 Active Member

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    Thank you all for reaffirming my sanity. This (UBC) forum was the first and most frequent gardening forum I visit on the net. One afternoon on it and I realized the importance of accurate terminology. To let you all in on a little secret, I have to use Google to get nearly all the latin names I use nearly every time I use them. Using latin names is a habit I picked up here (Thanks to all of you wonderful people who helped me when I started out). If Im offer advice I want it to be of (or nearly of) the quality I received. Using Google to get the correct/specific names is no harder for new people than it is for me. I get the impression that the use of scientific names is viewed a pompous and unnecessary.

    What got my goat most of all was how my point was brushed off as if it is unimportant. Yet it meant nothing less then the life or death of the plant! My first urge was to lash back with much of what you all said, but the OP in the thread is a respected member of that forum and I could soon find myself unable to find people to engage with.

    Michael
     
  6. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Book authors using standardized common names for plants would be an artifice that would only furthur isolate those already so inclined from books and other serious sources of information. Common names have an existence outside of botany that is not going to go away as a result of such attempts.

    The purpose of communication is communication. Period.
     
  7. chuckrkc

    chuckrkc Active Member

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    You are right, Ron. I also agree with Eric, about using both common and scientific names, clarifying it as needed.

    I think we need to be careful of condescension and pretentiousness in whipping out the Latinized/scientific names.

    I appreciate holding ourselves to a higher standard, forgiving a typo or two. But I also know in studying ferns (an odd thing for someone in the dry Midwest) that the Latin names in the trade don't match what's in my reference books. And I have a grudge against the goons who, knowing nearly everyone in Western civilization was comfortable with Coleus as a Latinized/scientific name, had to change it to the nearly unpronounceable, 4-foot long Solenostemon scutellarioides. These guys know how to marginalize themselves. I imagine it is a point of pride for them.
     
  8. silver_creek

    silver_creek Active Member

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    I have to chime in- as a nurseryperson who writes most of the descriptions for catalog/signs/labels at our nursery, I try to use both the botanical and common names (if there is one). So often, a customer will call looking for a plant they want, with only the common name- which is one attached to several plants. Sometimes we can figure out what they are looking for, but often we end up frustrated on both ends. I am not ready to use just the botanical names, but I think using both is important.
     
  9. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    The trick is in finding a method of communicating about the names without polarizing the issue and creating a villain/hero dichotomy. I credit Ron for modelling a method that can be effective, namely just clarifying unclear things without engaging personally at all.

    But on that note, I wonder if Ron meant to say that "book authors using standardized BOTANICAL names..."
     
  10. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    I was addressing this idea, posted above:

    >there is much to be said for encouraging book authors to standardise common names<
     
  11. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    That's not the evidence in ornithology, where there has been a very strong trend to standardising common names of birds; it has been widely accepted and followed, and the old, inaccurate names consigned to the history books

    Exactly. Communication doesn't work when people use the same name for two different things, or different names for the same thing. Education to improve naming is indicated.
     
  12. globalist1789

    globalist1789 Active Member

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    It think part of the problem we are facing is that there are simply a LOT more plants that the average person is going to come across than birds. Standardizing names in books is all well and good, but what makes common names so common is that people who have never, and never will, read a plant book can still garden and ask for plants at the garden center. What had originally started my problem was not that there are more than one thing called "cherry" but that the person suggesting the plant didn't say what KIND of "cherry" they were talking about. If they would have used the whole common name (Surinam Cherry) then there wouldn't have been a problem.

    This was certainly not the first time I've met resistance to using latin names. Where does the resistance come from? It can't just be that they are hard to say. Even though it's not, how do we encourage others to use them when needed without seeming pretentious?
     
  13. Nandan Kalbag

    Nandan Kalbag Active Member

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    globalist1789 is right. Common names do cause confusion. For a novice, who are not familiar with scientific names it is ok to use common names; however, the knowledgeble must use the scientific names also. This will create awareness in the beginners. Some names do cause problems for novices. For instance the name 'Asparagus ferns'. Why this "fern" is attached to Asparagus? This is a totally misleading name. Most ferns are semi-shade loving, where as Asparagus is a sun loving plant. Because the term 'Fern' is attached, people tend to keep them in shade & the plant turns yellowish & starts dropping the foliage. When these people are asked to keep the plants in full open sunlight, (refering to Western Indian climate) they ask " Is it not a fern? How will it tolerate full sunlight?"
     
  14. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    The uninitiated use incomplete or non-unique common names because they do not know that there are other plants with the same common names. Using botanical names would be thought to be pretentious for the same reason--the mistaken notion that the common names will do. Sometimes they will do, sometimes they won't. At the last garden center I worked at an elderly shopper came in and asked for "japonicas". They could have been asking for any of a number of common ornamentals with the species name 'japonica', or even using the British common name 'japonica' for flowering quince. The only way to tell was to ask them to describe the plant, a clearly unexpected request. It was obvious that they were mystified that "japonica" did not get them taken directly to a specific plant, without delay.

    I didn't see how the rest of the exchange went, not being the one attempting to help them.
     
  15. jimmyq

    jimmyq Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Ron. haha, japonicas... I stilll get asked for them when in garden centers and other times as well. :)

    hmmm. is it flowering quince? pieris? something else?

    :)
     
  16. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    A google search
    gives 741 hits for plant names containing 'japonica'.
     
  17. woodschmoe

    woodschmoe Active Member 10 Years

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    Probably a thread that's died a good natural death by now, but what the hey....I agree with much of what Ron B. has said: sometimes common name, sometimes latin. The gardening world is populated by legions of pedants, who speak latin like Ceasar, and can't grow a fig. And often, the latin pays more homage to dead scottish botanists, and contributes less to a descriptive understanding. Other times, it's incredibly useful: terms like angustifolia, edulis, repens, etc. tell an awful lot about a plant and it's form/requirements. Other times, the common name is more evocative; though asking for a 'dusty miller' is likely to yield a different result every time. I think the only 'rule' of language is: I know what you mean. Context is everything.
     
  18. chuckrkc

    chuckrkc Active Member

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    One problem, I think, is that the aim of taxonomists is not to give each plant a name and an identity. The true aim is to sort and catalogue plants to show relationships between them. If, for instance, the liliaceae family gets too large some will push to divide it up to better show the relationships of the plants listed there. To divide it up will mean name changes that initially will confuse not just duffers like me but also hort people, who deal with the pragmatic business side of the industry, and even other taxonomists who have their own ideas about how to group plants.

    So we're trying to use pliers when a wrench would be better but we don't have a wrench.

    Or, the point of taxonomy is to spark debate.

    On japonicas: funny to think that many plants listed wtih "japonica" as a specific descriptor or a specific ephithet (can't even agree on that, spanning botany and zoology) come from China (big enough to count as several countries) or Korea or anywhere close by.

    Also, I have given up asking myself if I am out of my mind. I know by now.
     

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