What’s in a name?

The system of giving scientific names to plants was invented by a Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, who lived in the 18th century (1707-1778).

This means that every plant has a ‘proper’ name, which tells you exactly what it is and what other plants it is related to.

You will have seen some proper or scientific names of plants in this website. Each name has two parts.

First comes the genus – this is like a family name.

Then the species – which is like somebody’s first name.

No two families have the same name, but the species name might be the same for plants in different families. Just as you might know a number of people who have the same first name as you.

Some of the names are derived from Latin or Greek words which were considered the languages of scholarship. Others might be derived from someone’s name or a place.

Here are a few examples of names which are included on this site.

From Greek words

Echinocereus – this comes from the Greek word echinos meaning a porcupine, and cereus meaning candle-like.

Opuntia – from Opus, the name of a city in ancient Greece.

Rhipsalis – from the Greek rhips, which means reed, chosen because of its slender reed-like stems.

From someone’s name

Pereskia – this plant was named by Linnaeus after a French scientist called Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Unfortunately he didn’t spell it correctly!

From a place where the plants grow

Copiapoa – named after the province of Copiapo in Chile, which is where these plants come from.

Some of these names look as if they are a little difficult to pronounce. Don’t worry about it though. As long as other people can understand what plant you are talking about, it doesn’t matter how you pronounce its name.

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