The Latin Series : A is for alba

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Do you have any personal Pet Peeves?  Things that bother you a lot but don’t seem to bother other people in quite the same highly annoying way?  One of mine is gum chewing and equally annoying (for me) is horticultural retailers or catalogs who don’t give you the Latin name for plants.   ANNOYING!!!

I have theories about why….it is the dumbing down of the industry…. its a secret industry plot to not enable customers to be able to compare apples with apples (i.e. this is a “super flowering variety” and this is just a plain one — but really they are the same)…. Maybe label printing costs are too high (lame excuse)? … or maybe it is just plain laziness.   It’s doesn’t’ matter I suppose, because I have decided to do do something about it and take my own personal stand.  As much as I possibly can, a post will not go live here without clearly identified (with Latin notation) plant names.

Perhaps you don’t understand the reason for this?  Latin naming conventions are the only way of knowing what you really have.  Lots of people have lots of names for lots of plants and culturally these names shift meaning from place to place.  I’m thinking of Blue bells for example — there are a least 5 completely different (off the top of my head – maybe more) plants that are called  blue bells.   Texans who talk about loving blue bells are not talking about the same plant as Coloradans who like to see blue bells in the high mountains  and neither are the same as the much loved English forest variety.  About the only thing these have in common are that they are wild, blue and much loved.

Anyway — here is my other pointed effort at making the horty world a better place….a little regular series on horticultural Latin.   Like A is for Alba, B is for Buchananii and C is for Centifolia.   I will explain as we get started.

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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. Jenn on June 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Love this. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    And after you have given us the functional Latin dictionary, then you can talk about how finding the genetic investigation of plants is shaking up the Latin nomenclature – as they redefine, move around and (hopefully, eventually) settle the taxonomic questions.

    But the botanical nomenclature is still the ‘go to’ when you want to investigate a plant. Even as things shift and change, they leave a trail on paper/the net that is much easier to follow than ‘that yellow flower called a daisy’

  2. Jennifer de Graaf on June 8, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I hate it when catalogs only give closeups of the flower or leaf and no hint to form! OR, a picture of the flowers and no clue about the leaves –

    For example, have you ever seen Colchicum form or leaves in a catalog? (I have not). I googled Colchicum back in the day to find out what it looked like, and then to get any idea of scale, I gave up on Google and bought a couple and stuffed them in the patio. NOW I understand the plant, no thanks to bad marketing.

    I ALSO hate it when plants that are similar are treated as if the same. I had a contractor substitute a different cultivar of Ceanothus for the specified one, arguing that they were the same (they’re not). grr.

  3. Megan on June 8, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    A little over two years ago I was frightened by botanical Latin. I never thought I’d be one of those fancy pants people who used Latin names. Two semesters of plant ID, and I’m a convert. I needed the structure and weekly quizzes to burn in the basics in to my brain. It opened my plant world big time.

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