Many groups have their own shorthand or jargon – a secret language that only initiates comprehend. With Horticultural Terminology, it is Latin. But why?
Well, it’s down to the Swedish scientist Carl Linnæus (1707 –1778, pictured in all his finery) who devised the first universally agreed system for determining how everything in the natural world should be named – what we know as binomial nomenclature. You may think or say ‘so what’ – but it made a big difference…
Take, for example, the hedging plant in the picture above. Now, what is it called? To some, the plant above is the Common Yew, to others the European Yew while many in Blighty prefer the English Yew. Similarly, the Common Box is also known as the European Box or Boxwood. This can cause confusion and waste time (and even money) when researching the plant or trying to buy it. On the other hand, Linneaus’ system gives them both a two part (binominal) name: Taxus baccata and Buxus sempervirens respectively. Clear, unequivocal, universally understood and far more descriptive – baccata is Latin for bearing red berries and sempervirens for always green.
And, don’t forget, just as the same plant can have different common names, so different plants can have the same common name – in Britain Prunus laurocerasus and in America Prunus caroliniana are, confusingly, both commonly called Cherry Laurel – it happens a lot with plants that share certain attrubutes.
Finally, Horticultural Terminology cuts through local names. Where a plant originates can be carried across the world with the plant itself. This can be linguistically challenging for gardeners in the plant’s new home. For example, Pittosporum tenuifolium may be a bit of a mouthful, but this New Zealand native is also known by several Maori or Maori/English names: kōhūhū, kohukohu, tawhiwhi and black matipo!