Sometimes a flower’s Latin, scientific or botanical name is the same (or almost the same) as its common name.
Think of tulip (Tulipa), rose (Rosa), veronica (Veronica), and banksia (Banksia).
And sometimes the flower has a common name very different to its botanical name.
Such as steel grass (Xanthorrhoea), snapdragon (Antirrhinum), and cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).
Why do botanic names matter?
Well, your ‘Billy buttons’ might be your neighbour’s ‘batchelors’ buttons’, or your wholesaler’s ‘drumsticks’. But it’s everyone’s Craspedia.
And your Antirrhinum will always look the same, whether you order snapdragon, lion’s mouth, calf snout or dogflower,
The botanical flower name – sometimes called the Latin or scientific name – is consistent around the world. If you went flower shopping in Sydney, Sao Paolo or Singapore, and asked for the botanical name, you’d get exactly the same flower wherever you were.
Use a common name, and who knows what you might get!
Ask for smokebush and you might get a white, furry, Australian native wildflower – or you might get a smooth purple branching foliage. That could make a big difference.
Some growers and wholesalers only use a cultivar name (sort of like the breeder’s brand name, see below) – which can sometimes make identifying the actual flower very difficult.
If you know the botanic name, that will tell you more about how to condition and use the flower. So “Misty” or “Emile” aren’t very informative, but if you know they are both Limonium – well, then you know the flowers will probably be purplish, will make excellent fillers, and be longlasting in water.
Why are Latin names so complicated?
There’s a global convention for botanic names, so all countries follow the same rules. Here’s a simple guide, based on our lovely native flower, Banksia attenuata (the candlestick banksia).
Banksia is the genus name – like your surname. This has a capital letter. Like any family, it could have hundreds of members, or just a few.
The word attenuata is the species name, like your first name. It describes the kind of banksia it is – in this case, one with a long, thin appearance (attenuated means thin or reduced). Many botanic names give useful information about plants, and their habitats, origins or appearances.
When the two names are used together, they are italicised.
You might also see the first part abbreviated – B. attenuata – if a lot of the same genus is being talked about at the same time.
Sometimes there is more than one plant with the same name in a genus – just as in a family there could be more than one John Brown, for instance. We might give those Johns nicknames, to differentiate them.
In the same way, plant breeders may develop slightly different John Browns – one with stronger colouring, or more upright growth, for instance. They will give these variations what is called a cultivar name – a Culti-vated Var-iety. These have capital letters and usually quote marks around, for example Banksia ‘Raspberry Frost’. The cultivars have to have consistent, stable, meaningful differences from the species.
Botanic, scientific, Latin names for flowers and their common names too
Find the flower or foliage you are looking for in our lists here :
Flowers and foliages by common name, with their botanic names alongside.
Flowers and foliages by botanic name, with their common names alongside.