Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Botanical Latin

This picture doesn't really have anything to do with botanical Latin, except, of course, that all of the plants in it have Latin names. The pink one is a weeping peach whose Latin name I don't know. It was so pretty yesterday I just had to take its picture.
Now for the Latin. All plants have Latin names - 2 words, like Acer palmatum and sometimes a cultivar name like 'Peaches and Cream' (a gorgeous maple, by the way). There are 2 kinds of Latin in plant names. What I'll call real Latin for lack of a better name and Latinized English. In this example Acer is Latin and comes from a work meaning sharp, which may refer to the pointed leaves, not sure about that. Palmatum (an accusative form of palmatus - meaning it is used as a direct object) has a meaning of 'embroidered with palm leaves' though I expect that it just means in the form of a palm leaf. These are easy and you can find them in any good English/Latin dictionary. The harder ones are those which are Latinized English. A lot of these will be in the form ending in i or ii, like sieboldii which is a genitive form indicating possession. These are almost alway plants that are named after someone and will usually have the i or ii just added onto the name. The other Latinization is the one that is irritating to me and totally unpredictable. One of the worst offenders is for variegated plants. The Latin for variegated is versicolor. You will see this, though not as frequently as variegata, variegatus, variegatum. Since all 3 have Latin endings and since this isn't really a Latin word, there is not way to say which is proper. I often see a plant listed in different catalogs or books with all three spellings, depending on where it is written. The whole point of Latin names is to have some sort of uniformity which is totally defeated by not using words which conform to Latin grammar rules. For plants which are registered with plant societies, this is not usually a problem since there are pages and pages of rules for naming which must be followed. It is more of a problem with plants that are named without registration and put into commerce. Enough for today - there are weeds to be pulled. Actually, I first have to uncover all of the plants which had to be covered last night because of a threatened frost. I don't think our temperatures got that low, but we'll see. When your garden covers 7 acres, there are many different climate zones and so frost in one place might not happen in another. Part of today's activities will be a walk in the woods to see the trilliums and maidenhair ferns on a northfacing hillside across the creek.
Tomorrow I'll give you a list of a lot of Latin words and their English meanings which will help greatly in knowing what an unfamiliar plant might look like.

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