The Latin Series: A is for Alba, Aquifolium, Atrovirens, Aurea, & Americana

This is the first in a series, and my thought is to go right through the alphabet and discuss all the horticultural terms I can think of for that letter. That should keep us busy for at least 26 weeks but probably more since some letters have lots of Latin words and I, for one, can only learn so much at a time. So from the beginning…..
A is for Alba (or sometimes Albiflora)— having ‘Alba’ (or generally any derivative of alba, like albo, Albi, Album, etc) in the name of the plant indicates that it will be white or ave some interesting white feature. Usually alba refers to the flower, but not always. Sometimes it refers to the leaf color; perhaps an edging of the leaf is white, or the leaf has a comparatively white cast to it compared to others of it’s variety.

My favorite ‘alba’ plants are Liatris, Scabiosa, and Clematis– (there are so many I could probably list forever!!) But it is worth pointing out that just because a plant is white, it will have the word ‘alba’ in the name.  I find that ‘alba’ is generally used when there are other comparable varieties of the plant that isn’t alba. But if the plant just blooms white or is white-ish (and their is no other variant) – you will probably find that it doesn’t have alba in the name.

I have set up a pinterest board for alba plants — you are welcome to follow it and maybe find new varieties of interesting plants.

image : Scabiosa causcasica ‘Perfecta Alba’ from Annies Annuals.

Other words that start with ‘A’ in the Latin horticultural world — aquifolium, atrovirens, aurea, and americana. Join me after the jump to check out what those terms mean.

Aquifolium refers to the leaf shape. Aquifolium plants have really pointy leaves and while there aren’t too many plants with this particular feature, the ones that do exist, are pretty common — like Ilex (Holly) and Mahonia (Oregon Grape).  Follow this pinterest board to see more aquifolium plants.

ilex aquifolium argentea marginata

image Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’ from Plant Encyclopedia.

Atrovirens is another color reference. ‘Atro’ means dark (from atratus = blackened, dark) and Virens is green, so Atrovirens is dark + green. Most commonly you see this in reference to evergreens (the darker green versions). But it can also be used elsewhere….like in Xanthosoma atrovirens albo-marginata (horty types can string this stuff together all day — don’t be intimidated)- which means dark green leaf, with white margins — or ribs which simply means the leaves have white veins.  Follow my Atrovirens pinterest board here.

Scirpus atrovirens Dark green Bulrush seedhead

image Scirpus atrovirens Dark Green Bulrush from Prairie Moon Nursery.

Here, maybe this is another good way to remember….The Atrovirens Birkin Bag. It’s the DARK GREEN crocodile skin version. Got it? Good.

hermes atrovirens birkin bag

image: hermes.

Aurea is one of my favorites. You will know them when you see them because almost for sure, the aurea plants will literally jump out at you when you walk the nursery. They are the chartreuse and lime-yellow (Aurea means yellow or golden) plants that literally light things up. These are just a few of my favorites. There are more…it’s a healthy obsession….perhaps you have a few favorites?

Check out my ever expanding aurea pinterest board of my favorites.

selanginella kraussiana aurea

image from OyVey Gardens – Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’,

podocarpus totara aurea


Golden totara – Podocarpus totara aurea

zizia aurea golden alexanders

Zizia aurea Golden Alexanders – from Prarie Moon.

Americana is one in a series of Latin naming conventions that indicates where the plant came from. Americana – is (duh) from the Americas. So basically (I think) it is correct to assume that a plant with Americana is at least native to somewhere kinda nearby (if you are in North or South America).

american pokeweed

Phytolacca americana. American Pokeweed by Linda De Volder

See more ‘americana’ plants on my ‘americana pinterest board’.

I think that is a good place to stop don’t you? Next up (next week) a few more Latin ‘A’ words….but I hope you will ask questions and discuss (and I hope to be able to answer!)  if anything isn’t quite clear.

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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  1. Ryan Miller on June 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Great post and looking forward to more! I always assumed ‘alba’ and ‘album’ both meant white. Is there any difference in meaning?

  2. plantingoaks on July 11, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Ah, I love the feeling of putting pieces together and getting a better understanding of the nonsense words.

    So, does the ‘aquil’ prefix on Aquilegia also mean pointy? Like, maybe the flower spurs? ‘Aquil’ == ‘quill-like’ perhaps, or am I jumping on the wrong band wagon?

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