When you’re new to plants, or starting to get serious about your collection (#plantganggoals), plant names can get downright confusing. Never fear, dear plant parent, we’re here to help. Read on to get a crash course into the weird world of plant names.
Taxonomy for the Perplexed
Taxonomy is a fancy word that refers to the branch of science (like, it’s an actual discipline you can do a PhD in... mind blown) that deals with the classification of organisms. By organisms, we mean pretty much everything that’s alive - plants, fungi, bacteria, birds, mammals and so on. They are grouped together in taxa, which are ordered categories based on the shared characteristics the organisms have.
Remember ninth grade biology when you learned about the different kingdoms of life? If you don’t or you slept through that lecture, def keep reading. Here are the (generally) agreed upon categories, in order from general to specific.
Developed in the late 1700s by Swedish botanist (#plantfamstrong), Carl Linnaeus, this system of naming became the standard in the scientific community. Linnaeus was the OG (translation for mom: original gangster) when it came to naming living organisms - so much so that his system is still the standard for naming new species in use around the world today.
Here’s an simplified example of how it works, using the popular house plant, Monstera deliciosa as a subject.
- Kingdom: Plant
- Phylum: Angiosperms
- Class: Monocots
- Order: Alismatales
- Family: Araceae
- Genus: Monstera
- Species: M. deliciosa
What’s In A Name?
Taxa are categorized by shared traits of an organism going from general (kingdom) to really specific (species); there can only be one organism in the species category, but an unlimited number of species in a kingdom. Check it out:
Monstera deliciosa are defined as
- multicellular organisms whose cells make energy via photosynthesis;
- that flower and produce fruits that contain seeds for reproduction;
- whose seeds typically contain only one embryonic leaf;
- that have no persistent woody stem above ground;
- that produce a type of inflorescence (group of flowers) called a spadix;
- that has both aerial and terrestrial roots, with abnormal leaf shape;
- and is genetically distinct.
When using the scientific name of a plant, you only need the genus and species names. When written, they are always italicized. You may also notice that sometimes the genus name is abbreviated by first letter. For example: Monstera deliciosa or M. deliciosa
You can imagine how complicated this can get, and how boring for those not immersed in the scientific community (thanks for bearing with us so far #shoutoutplantfam). Add to that pile of info that many scientists don’t agree about what distinguishes a taxa. Like, just wow.
Thus, you can start to see why common naming has become popular. Common names for M. deliciosa include fruit salad plant, Swiss cheese plant, and Mexican breadfruit. Isn't that so much easier?
Common Names to the Rescue
Ok, we are now ready to live our best lives. While it can seem overwhelming, scientific names can be especially helpful in determining patterns in plant species and how to care for them.
That said, common names are what you’ll hear around the shop and how almost all our plants are labeled. For example, “OMG the leaf pattern on that Swiss cheese plant is everything!” or “I have to hide my ponytail palm from my cat because he loves to munch on it.” If you’re ever confused or overwhelmed about plant names, holla at us in the shop, here on the blog or slide into our DMs on Insta.
Common plant names are great for normal conversation. Scientific names are useful for describing specific species among plant nerds and/or to impress plant bae on a date. For the purpose of this blog, we use both to eliminate any confusion. Isn’t science fun?