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Those Complicated Latin Plant Names Explained

Updated on October 1, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

On one of my recent excursions into the countryside I happened upon two ladies who were having a polite disagreement over the name of a plant. One lady insisted that the plant was called Marguerite, her companion was just as adamant it was called the dog daisy. In fact they were both correct and they could also have given the names of moon daisy, or ox-eye daisy. Had the plant in question been the bird's-foot trefoil, the debate could have been endless for it has acquired over 70 different titles in various parts of the country. However, each plant species has been given just one botanical name which is unique and universal, and if known, will often end the confusion over which species one is referring to. For example the dog daisy has been given the Latin name of Leucanthemum vulgare, pronounced lew-can-thee-mum* vul-gah-ree, a long name that translates as common white flower. Leucanthemum derives from two Greek words leucos meaning white and anthemom meaning a flower, vulgare indicates that the plant is a common species.

This excursion led me to realise that many Latin plant names must mean very little to people not well versed in the language. Thus, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Latin names attributed to some of our wild flora. I have picked at random three from under each letter of the alphabet. The common names will be given first followed by their Latin names followed by a translation.


ACONITE,WINTER---The common name is said to derive from one of three possible explanations. 1-the name aconite is said to derive from the Greek akoniton meaning a dart, referring to the fact it was used by barbaric races to poison their arrows. { the species used was monkshood }. 2- it derives from from Aconae, the supposed place of origin.3- from akone referring to a cliff or rocky place because the species grows in rocky glens.The GENUS name is Eranthis from the Greek "er" meaning spring +anthos meaning flower. The SPECIES name is hyemalis, meaning of winter and refers to the plants early flowering.

AGRIMONY. the common name is thought to arrive from one of three explanations.1-the name came from Greek meaning " spot on the eye". 2- it derives from argemone a word given by the Greeks to plants that were alledged to have healing properties for the eye. 3-meaning a wild flower of the field. The GENUS name Agrimonia. the SPECIES name is eupatoria which is said to derive from Mithradates of Eupator, the King { first century B.C. ] who was credited for introducing the plant to medicine.

ALDER TREE.--Alder is derived from an old English word alor, related to the Germanic elira. The GENUS name Alnus comes from the Latin name for the tree. The SPECIES name of glutinosa means sticky and refers to the buds. { protects the buds from insect damage}.

ALECOST OR COSTMARY.--The first syllable of its common name- ale- derives from the use it was put to during archaic times, when it was used to clarify and add a minty flavour to the beer {ale} The alternative name of costmary derives from the Latin costus, meaning a plant from the EAST, the root of which was utilised as a spice and as a preservative + Mary which alludes to the virgin Mary. In times gone by her name was associated to the plant{ and many others} and in France it was known at that period in time as Herbe Sainte Marie. The GENUS name is Tanacetum derives from a Greek word meaning immortal and there are again more than one school of thought as to the connection. 1- tansy a close relative with the same genus name was believed to to confer internal life to those who drunk an infusion of it. 2- because they last so long in flower { tansy }. 3- it { tansy } was considered beneficial in preserving corpses. 3- also related to number1 it was from a legend that said it was given to Ganymede to make him immortal. Take your pick! The SPECIES name of balsamita derives from the fact that the whole plant emits a soft balsamic odour which is much more favoured than that of the tansy.

BETONY--is of the mint family. The common name derives from the French betoine, from the Latin betonica, a variant of a similar sounding word and is thought to allude to Vettons' an ancient Iberian tribe. The GENUS name of Stachys comes from a Greek word for spike and refers to the flowers' formation on the stem. The SPECIES name of officinalis signifies that it was sold as a drug at the Apothecary. { today it would be the pharmacist or the drug store }

BUTTERCUP SPECIES--- all buttercups belong to the genus Ranunculus, which derives from the Latin rana -a frog-alluding to them both sharing the same damp habitats. Ranunculus means little frog. The creeping buttercup is R. repens. The SPECIES name signifies creeping this is also related to reptile and crawling. The meadow buttercup is R.acris the SPECIES name means acrid and refers to the taste of the plant. Celery leaved buttercup is R. sceleratus, The SPECIES name derives from the Latin and means vicious, referring to the blisters and sores that appear on the skin when the sap has been in contact for to long

BUGLOSS-- the common name derives from two Greek words that together signify ox-tongue, bos meaning an ox + glossa -a tongue. It alludes to the form and texture of the leaves. The GENUS name Anchusa alludes to paint, referring to the use of an extract from the root of a related species. It was of a reddish colour and utilised in the staining of wood. The SPECIES name of arvensis signifies cultivated fields.

common names C- I

CHICKWEED--this species gets its common name from the fact that it was readily eaten by chickens, goslings and many cage birds. The GENUS name of Stellaria alludes to a little star, refers to the petal formation. The SPECIES name of media means intermediate { size }

CLEAVERS OR GOOSE GRASS ;--Cleavers refers to its hooked seed pods that cling or cleave { the old English word for cling } to fur and clothing. Goose grass is a popular alternative name for the plant which goslings eat with relish. The SPECIES name of Galium derives from gala meaning milk. In archaic times when milk was stored in big open barrels the stem of the plant, which also bares tiny hooks, was dragged along the top to rid the liquid of foreign bodies such as hair. The SPECIES name aparine derives from the Latin aparo meaning to seize.

COLTSFOOT. the common name derives from the from of the leaf which has a superficial resemblance in shape to a young horses' foot . { a colt }. The GENUS name of Tussilago derives from the Latin tussis meaning a cough refers to its traditional use in cough syrups. The SPECIES name farfara derives from farfarus an ancient name for the white poplar. The leaves of both species are light beneath and a similar colour of green above.

DAISY, COMMON. Daisy is a corruption of day's eye. it alluded to the flowers opening very early in the day and closing at night { and in dull weather } The central disk that is made up from bright yellow florets is said to remind people of the sun. The GENUS name Bellis may derive from the Latin meaning beautiful. In archaic times it was regarded with much more admiration than it is today. Or from a Dryad called bellidis. The SPECIES name of perrenis refers to the root system being perennial in nature.

DEAD WHITE NETTLE..the plants common name alludes to the plant having no sting + the white flowers. The GENUS name of Lamium derives from a greek word laimos referring to the throat alluding to the shape of the corolla. The SECIES name alba is Latin for white-the flowers..

DANDELION---is thought to be a corruption of the French dente de leon the lion's tooth., this refers to the fanciful resemblance to the shape of the leaf lobes. However, some authorities believe it refers to the golden tooth of the Heraldic lion.The GENUS name of Taraxacum agaain bears two schools of thought . 1- it derives from the Greek taraxos indicating a disorder and akos indicating a remedy alluding to the plants curative properties. "- from the Greek taraxo indicating " I have caused "+ achos meaning pain. The Species name of officinalis sold as a drug at the apotharcary { today would be the pharmacist or drug store ]

EYEBRIGHT--- the common name as it might suggest refers to its archaic use in preparations on eye afflictions. The GENUS name of Euthrasia is said to derive from the Greek euphraino meaning " to gladden " the preparations were said to gladden the eye. The SPECIES name of nemerosa indicates of the woods referring to the habitat of this species.

EVENING PRIMROSE---the common name alludes to the fact that the yellow primrose-like flowers which look weary and worn during the daylight hours are amazingly brought to life by the beauty of the open blooms in the evening. Their beauty can only be admired for one night howevr, for they fall the following day. Towards the end of summer they tend to open day and night. The GENUS name of Oenothera is said to to derive from two Greek words that together mean wine hunter, In archaic herbals a preparation of the plant was said to cure hangovers caused by drinking to much wine. The SPECIES name of biennis refers to the root system being biennial in nature.

EUCALYPTUS-- the common and Genus name derive from the Greek "Eu " indicating well + kryphios meaning covered. Refers to the sepals which form a cover over the flower bud, thus, well covered The SPECIES name of globulus indicates like a globe referring to the closed flower bud..

GLOBE FLOWER. The common name refers to the shape of the flower especially when in bud, which is globe shaped . The GENUS name Trollius is said to derive from the Swiss or German trolleblume also meaning a globe flower. The SPECIES name of europaeus indicates of Europe.

GOAT'S BEARD-- the common name refers to the long silky tuft of hairs that act as a "parachute " for the seeds. The GENUS name Tragopogon is from two Greek words tragos meaning a goat + pogon -a beard.. The SPECIES name of pratensis indicates of the meadows.

GOAT'S RUE--rue derives from the French via Latin ruta, from the Greek rhute or reuo indicating to set free. It alludes to its medicinal properties which was employed against a sundry of ailments. " goats " because it was once fed to the animals to improve the milk flow. The SPECIES name of galego comes from the Greek gala meaning milk.

HARE BELL --is believed to refer to habitat this species grows in rough grassland and upon heaths a habitat associated with the hare. The GENUS name of Campanula means little bell referring to the flower shape. The SPECIES name rotundifolia come from two words that together mean round foliage { or leaves } The palnt carries two types of leaves those on the stem are linear . The name refers to the round basal leaves that occur before the plant flowers and soon die away early in the season.

HEDGE WOUNDWORT.-- the first part of the common name refers to habitat. This , along with other plants such as the yarrow and lady's mantle were collectively known as the " wound - worts " This group of plants were the mainstay of early herbals that, in the main, dealt with wounds. The GENUS name of stachys derives from a Greek word that means spike and refers to the formation of the flowers on the stem. The SPECIES name of sylvatica -of the woods again alludes to habitat it is a plant of shady locations.

HORSETAIL, FIELD-- horsetail because it was thought to resemble the bristly tail of a horse. The GENUS name of Equisetum derives from the Latin equus meaning a horse + seta meaning a bristle. The SPECIES name arvense indicates of cultivated fields.

IRIS-- , stinking---the word iris is Greek for rainbow or after the goddess of the rainbow Iris. Refers to the vast range of colours among the Iris species. The SPECIES name of foetiddissma indicates very foetid { a really bad odour } alludes to the smell that is emmited when the leaves are damaged or crushed.

IVY-- the common name comes via the old English word for the plant ifig, related to the Germanic ebah, perhaps from the Greek iphuon, meaning a climbing plant. The GENUS name of Hedera is a Latin name given to evergreen climbers. The SPECIES name of helix means to wind around again alluding to the plants climbing habit.

IVY-LEAVED TOADFLAX. toadflax from a plant only fit for toads.i.e. not fit to eat. Ivy leaved because the leaves are lobed like those of the ivy. Cymbalaria from the Greek kymbalon meaning a cymbol refer to the numerous leaves which are often depressed resembling a cymbal.

The Name Adds Interest To--

 When the scientific names are known  I think it adds interest to any walk where the flora is encountered. there are literally thousands and thousands of such names allotted to a plethora of species.Should any one wish to know the meaning of a scientific name associated with flora I will endeavour to answer any such request or do another hub on the subject.  

Top. Dog or moon Daisy Middle Bird's foot trefoil. Bottom-Chickweed



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you to every one who has taken the time to leave a comment on Those Complicated Latin Names Explained. It is much appreciated.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      thoughforce, you are welcome if you need to know any other plant name or their meaning feel free to ask via e-mail.Best wishes to you.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      8 years ago from Sweden

      Thank you D.A.L. for your suggestion to read this hub! It is indeeed interesting! I especially liked the explanation of Euthrasia - to gladden the eye! That is an explanation that easy get stuck in my memory! This is a very good way to explain the Latin names of flora! And as you mention in the hub, Latin names of flora isn´t so well known and to learn requires both interest and time. I usually try to understand the Latin word of a plant that I buy, because the statement can help me to place the plant right! Great hub!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you for your appreciated comments

    • pinkhawk profile image


      9 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

      this is great! quite interesting about flowers! :)... i learned something new...thank you very much! :)


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