About Latin Plant Names

Plant catalogs and garden books usually give plants at least 2 names: a popular one and a Latin one. The Latin names have one important advantage: there's only one per plant. And that one Latin name is the same in every country and in every language. Or, more accurately speaking, there is supposed to be only one Latin name for each plant, but sometimes seed houses—or even botanists!—don't agree on the Latin name of a plant or even on its botanical family, such as whether or not it's a legume!

But the confusing array of English-language names for a particular vegetable or herb is typically much worse than the Latin naming. As it is, a person could go bonkers looking at seed catalogs and trying to figure out what plant some of those fancy, meant-to-sell, English-language variety names really mean. So I apologize in advance for all the scientific names of plants in Latin I'm going to throw at you in this book, but for me, starting with the Latin and avoiding trade names made it much simpler.

Incidentally, I honestly think there should be a law requiring all seed catalogs to give the Latin name for each plant whose varieties they offer as well as some agreed-upon common name. Then they wouldn't just think up their own or pick something "exotic," as now sometimes happens. It's so hard for seed shoppers when the same plant may appear in 5 different catalogs under 5 entirely different names. A regulation like that would be like that wonderful law that requires companies to list ingredients in order of amount on food containers: openness and truth in labeling!

Here's a summary of how Latin naming of plants works. KINGDOMS: All living creatures are assigned to one of 5 categories called "kingdoms." The nonmeat foods we eat come from either kingdom Fungi (mushrooms, truffles) or kingdom Plantae (apples, turnips, wheat. . .). Each of the kingdoms is subdivided into "phyla." The singular of that is "phylum." The fungi we eat from kingdom Fungi, which has five phyla in all, come from either the phylum Basid-iomyocota (mushrooms), or the phylum Ascomycota (baker's and brewer's yeasts; truffles). Nearly all of your non-meat food-unless you're a major mushroom eater—comes from kingdom Plantae.

Kingdom Plantae. This is divided into 2 big subgroups: the gymnosperms and the angiosperms. There are nine gymnosperm phyla, but most of them don't contain plants with edible parts. Plants such as conifer trees, ferns, ginkgo trees, and mosses are gymnosperms. The angiosperms, or flowering plants division, has only one phylum, named Angiospermophyta. The plants of that one phylum of angiosperms are the ones that we human beings—as well as all the animals we depend on for food—live on! Angiospermophyta is itself subdivided into 2 great divisions called "classes": the Monocotyledoneae and the Dicotyledoneae. The class Monocotyledoneae is called the "monocots" for short. The class Dicotyledoneae is called the "dicots." Monocots and Dicots. Monocots have seeds with 1 seed leaf (1 cotyledon), leaves that are narrow with parallel veins, flower parts that appear in multiples of 3, and no stem cambium (cells that produce wood). Dicots have seeds that start out with 2 cotyledons, broad leaves with a central midrib and veins that branch out from that, flower parts that grow in multiples of 4 or 5, large colorful flower petals, and sometimes woody stems.

Continue reading here: Orders and Families

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