That Darn Latin

How doest thou sayest “Clematis” or “Hemerocallis?” Doest thou even careth? Probably not, but for you plant nerds and “I-know-what-the-beans-I-am-talking-about-I-pronounced-my-latin-correctly” wannabe gardeners, I have a great website for you to check out.

This time of year, our horticulture staff and volunteers spend a lot of time catching up on plant records. We have found Missouri Botanical Garden has an excellent plant finder on their site (under the heading “Gardens and Gardening” on their home page), and we refer to this website frequently. During the summer months, those involved in managing our plant collections spend time placing/replacing plant labels and inventorying what is growing in the garden. All this information, including what was planted the past spring/summer, is entered in our plant collections database during the winter. A lot of time is spent verifying the accuracy of each plant name against different authoritative sources such as Missouri Botanical Garden or the Royal Horticultural Society.

For reasons I cannot begin to discuss in a short blog post, the name you find on the label at the local garden center is not necessarily accurate and in some instances, it may be completely wrong. Decades ago, not showing an accurate plant name was a matter of upper crust pride, but names these days matter. Plant names are big business. Plant breeders and large wholesalers have gotten very protective of their plant introductions. Plant genetics are patented, plant names are trademarked, so one had better be truthful, or legal consequences could follow. As a public institution whose mission is education in part, we want to be sure we are giving you the correct info, so we rely on these sources whenever questions arise, and to ensure we are being consistent with the information we provide.

Now back to the whole pronouncing thing. Go ahead and try Missouri’s plant finder. Search for a plant you find hard to pronounce and click on an option of your choosing-so much helpful information! Then, look at the top of the page. Next to the name, you will see an icon – click on it (make sure your sound is on), and the correct pronunciation follows! It is a great conversation starter, can be used to decide a bet amongst friends, or can be a party game for sure-depending on your group of friends, that is.

Josh Steffen
Horticulture Manager, Wellfield Botanic Gardens


One comment

  1. As silly as this sounds, it is interesting . . . and amusing. There are many things that will continue to be mispronounced because we know how to pronounce them that way. Where necessary, I still pronounce ‘c’ as ‘s’ rather than ‘k’. I still pronounce ‘ii’ as ‘e -i’ because ‘e-e’ sounds like something a monkey would say.


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