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Changing world of plant names, confusion or clarity

aster little carlow 2 Changing world of plant names, confusion or clarity

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The plant commonly known as the Iceplant, former Latin name sedum spectabilis ‘Autumn Joy’ now Hylotelephium Herbstfreude

Now we all need names for the plants and we all need to know what plant is meant by that name. Common names can vary so much not only from county to county but also country to country so it was very important to have a name form that everyone commonly understand. I can remember as a young trainee being told that Latin was the only name to learn and I have kept that up up today, nearly some 30 odd years ago.

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Mexican feathergrass is the common name of is Nassella tenuissima formally know as Stipa tenuissima

The use of Latin names as we know it, was set up by the great botanist Carl Linnaeus, who is know as the Father of taxonomy. In 1735, he published the first addition of his famous works, Systema Naturae, which laid out his system of categorising plants into various family’s and groups. These where all named by their reproduction systems, Both in numbers and arrangements. This system has been used ever since. In 1867 the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) was first set up to carry on writing the guide lines for nomenclature and carried on this work until 2011 when it went under a big change and became International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN). The guidelines are used by botanists to write papers on why a particular plant should be changed, reasons including older names from which with Plant as first named but never caught one. International Association for Plant Taxonomy is the group that agrees the Plant name changes, these changes are written by botanists and have to have all the information and supporting documents explaining why the plants should change and now with the use of DNA, it can be proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the plant should be in its own family or indeed moved to another family. And it this DNA technology that is the reason we have so many plant changes happening over the past few years and I am afraid to say will be happening a lot more in the future.

Now I agree it’s right that plants should be known by the correct Latin name and like a true professional I will do my best to learn the new name, how ever difficult it is to say! A lot of these changes I can totally understand, Sedum speciblis ‘Autumn Joy’ so different from the smaller alpine forms so it does make sense to change it to Hylotelephium Herbstfreude but my gripe isn’t about it changing for me but the fact it causes so much confusion to the trade and general public that may of known this plant under that name for 20 odd years and suddenly it’s not there in one Nursery under that name but in another under its old name, magazines add to the confusion, taking ProLandscaper as a example, last year in one magazine, it had Stipa tenuissima Both as it’s old name of Stipa and it’s new one Nassellatenuissima again adding to the confusion. With more changes on the horizon like Iris possibly being spilt into 18 different names, this confusion is going to happen more and more. What we need if possible is some sort of agreement with trade, press and public gardens that each part of our industry agrees to put these new names in place within a certain timescale of say maybe 5 years during which the old name maybe is in brackets after the new one? Maybe better signage on sites would also let people know and get used to the new name. Changing anything let alone labels does cost so there’s always a cost involved, one well know Nursery told me they had a 60% drop in sales on the from aster family members that changed too Symphyotrichum and Eurybia.k

aster little carlow 2 Changing world of plant names, confusion or clarity

Was Aster little Carlow now Symphyotrichum ‘little Carlow’

But I suppose my biggest problem with it, is my internal one, we advise people to learn the Latin names as that’s the name that everyone knows it as worldwide, common names differ in different areas of the uk let alone around the world. It also the most stable name for the plant, one that explains how it grows, who discovered it etc. But by changing in as big away as is currently happening, aren’t we just adding more confusion into the world of gardening? Plant names are hard enough to remember without changing. Seeing bits and pieces on social media and talking to people as well, it seems to me there’s a 3rd level of plant names occurring, botanical latin is the first, common names the second and the new one gardeners Latin. Gardeners Latin is the form when the old name is used instead of the new one. Whether you agree or disagree, that to me seems to be happening, maybe until it’s all sorted out a little more and the names become more we’ll known, that’s what is going to have to be done and let’s be honest, changing a name from a simple one to a more complex name is going to take a long time to catch on, we need to give it time and for everyone one supplying and growing the plant in the public domain to be on board, let’s be honest, that sadly won’t happen but let hope!

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Bleeding Hearts used to be called Dicentra spectabilis but is now Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Whatever the name or indeed how difficult it is to say or learn, don’t forget it is still an amazing form of life on our planet and the beauty is there no matter what tag with give it or call it. And names are just tags, given to plants so we can identify them, if you want to enjoy their beauty just as nature intended without boxing it in, well there’s no harm in that what so ever.