View Full Version : Latin Hubris

10-31-2005, 03:46 PM
Latin scientific names for plants may be just fine for a journal for professional botanists, but the general public and people in other professions need a much more palatable English system of names for plants. Birds have such a naming system that is unambiguous and well liked. To effectively promote the value and beauty of plants such a system is very much needed in botany. CNPS should be on the forefront in its promotion. A Fremontia editorial policy requiring the use of the best available English common name for plants would be a good first step.

11-09-2005, 10:31 PM
i would have agreed w/ this view two years ago, but i've gotten into california natives deeply since then. i have two medium-sized wholesale nurseries in the east bay and own one third of another one in sf. i grow thousands and thousands of plants each year and am constantly expermenting w/ new ones. i found that to get any reliable info about plants, i had to begin to use the latin names - i now know more of them than some botanists! i am quickly forgetting the common names - regrettably to a certain extent - and i find their use annoying sometimes because they vary so much regionally, but i will make a point of remembering the common names of the common species, but the latin names are essential if you want to delve deeply into this. it all depends on what you want and can handle right now.

pete veilleux
email: pete@eastbaywilds.com
tele: 510.409.5858

Bay Natives

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11-10-2005, 10:38 AM
Some common names are an unreliable mess now, as you point out. It does not need to be that way. By establishing an official system of English common names, giving each plant a unique, unambiguous name, this confusion can be ended. The use of a subscript on the official name would let readers know its unique status.

Birds have an official system of unambiguous English common names that should serve as model for botanists. The recent issue of Fremontia had a story on Guadalupe Island. Think how confused it would have been even for professional botanists if the name of every animal in it had been in the scientific Latin. Botany needs to adopt a rigorous, unambiguous, official system of English common names for plants. How can we pretend to reach out to the general public if we use a difficult Latin system of nomenclature?

11-16-2005, 01:04 PM
Official Common Names for Clarity, Continuity, and Stability

In the turbulent sea of scientific name change the constancy of common names can provide a stable reference point. For example the treatment of Winter Fat shows the value of the common name through the decades. Commonly known as Winter Fat for centuries, the scientific name has gone from Diotis to Eurotia to Ceratoides to Krascheninnikovia. All the floras, the present Jepson, the original Jepson, Munz, and Hitchcock and Cronquist (Pacific NW), kept things clear by including the common name, Winter Fat, prominently in their treatments. This clarity could be extended to all plants by establishing an official system of common names.

In contrast the treatment of Bluebunch Wheatgrass in the new Jepson Manual would leave most people lost at sea. The entry for the newly renamed Pseudoroegneria spicata did not include the common name in its description even though Bluebunch Wheatgrass was extremely well established and unambiguous. Most readers would have to do outside research to figure out what plant was being described. Those familiar with the previous scientific name, Agropyron spicatum would need to read the fine print to discover this identity.