The meaning of Latin words

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Below I have tried to give the meaning of various Latin words used in the naming of a plant.
Latin is used in naming a plant because it is a precisely descriptive language without any political connections as the language has long ceased to be in common usage, but was in widespread use throughout the known world at the time of the Romans. Because the Latin language is almost a dead language the meaning of words do not change over time as it would in a modern language like English.
My intention in presenting this page is to help you identify plants by descriptions.

A brief description of the plant naming structure-

Plants have two types of names one is the common name and this varies from place to place or country to country for the same plant.

The other type is the scientific name. This name is unique throughout the world. No two plants can have the same scientific name.

The scientific naming of plants consists of two to ten or more parts parts although usually only two are needed for proper identification of most plants.
These two parts are the GENUS and the SPECIES.
This is the BI-NOMIAL SYSTEM first postulated by Carl Lennaeus in the 18th Century
This systen is still used today

As Scientific knowledge increases the accepted naming structure will change for example "Domain" has relatively recently been added to the naming structure, mainly as a result of DNA analysis.

The full scientific Taxonomy is as follows:-

The first part is the DOMAIN:

For plants this is Eukarya
There are three Domains Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea.

The second part is the KINGDOM: for plants this is Plantae

There are five or six Kingdom depending on whether you accept the three domain system or not.
These are:- Eubacteria, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, Animalia and or Archaebacteria

The third part is the PHYLUM or DIVISION: ending with ophyta e.g.Anthophyta(flowering plants)

There are twelve Phylum or divisions in Plantae Anthocerophyta (Hornworts) Cycadophyta (Cycads) Lycophyta (Club Mosses) Anthophyta (Flowering Plants) Ginkgophyta (Maidenhair Tree) Psilophyta (Whisk Ferns) Bryophyta (Mosses) Gnetophyta (Vessel-bearing gymnosperms) Pterophyta (Ferns) Coniferophyta (Conifers) Hepatophyta (Liverworts) Sphenophyta (Horsetails)

The fourth part is the CLASS:

Angiospermae (Angiosperms) Plants which produce flowers
or Gymnospermae (Gymnosperms) Plants which don't produce flowers

The fifth part is the SUBCLASS:

Dicotyledonae (Dicotyledons) Plants with two seed leaves(Beans, Peas, Roses, broadleaf trees)
or Monocotyledonae (Monocotyledons) Plants with one seed leaf(All Grasses, Yuccas, Coconut Tree)

The sixth part is the SUPERORDER:

A group of related Plant Families, classified in the order in which they are thought to have developed their differences from a common ancestor.
There are six Superorders in the Dicotyledonae (Magnoliidae, Hamamelidae, Caryophyllidae, Dilleniidae, Rosidae, Asteridae),
and four Superorders in the Monocotyledonae (Alismatidae, Commelinidae, Arecidae, Liliidae)
The names of the Superorders end in -idae

The seventh part is the ORDER:

Each Superorder is further divided into several Orders. The names of the Orders end in -ales

The eight part is the FAMILY:

This usually ends with the letters "ceae" for example "Begoniaceaea"All the plants in the same family share certain characteristics for the Begoniaceae family two of the characteristics are unevemly shaped leaves and male and female parts of the flowers are on separate flowers. The family name is not generally stated when naming a plant.

The ninth part is the SUBFAMILY:

The Family may be further divided into a number of sub-families, which group together plants within the Family that have some significant botanical differences. The names of the Subfamilies end in -oideae

The tenth part is the TRIBE:

A further division of plants within a Family, based on smaller botanical differences, but still usually comprising many different plants. The names of the Tribes end in -eae

The eleventh part is the SUBTRIBE:

A further division, based on even smaller botanical differences, often only recognisable to botanists. The names of the Subtribes end in -inae

The twelvth part is the GENUS:.

In the same way as members of a human family share the same surname and are related the Genus refer to plants that are closely related. The Genus can therefore beconsidered to be predictive, because if you know one member of a genus you can often predict what another member of the same Genus might look or smell like without even seeing the plant. Plants in the same Genus might even be coaxed to mate with each other and produce Hybrid ofspring, but generally they do not cross polinate other plants of the same Genus as the flowering times are different. After spelling the genus once it can be abreviated to the first capital letter of the genus name followed by a full stop.

The thirteenth part is the SPECIES:

There are lots of argument as to the meaning of the word species, but the easiest way to think of species is like the first name of a human family member. i.e. it is unique to that plant in its Genus

GENUS and SPECIES are usually written in italics or are underlined
with the Genus Capitalised and the species Uncapitalised.

The fourtheenth part is the HYBRIDS.

There are two types of hybrids one is the graft hybrid where two plants are grafted together. The other is the sexual crossing of two species in the same or different Genera. In naming hybrids an "x" is placed before the species name if it is a species cross or in front of the Genus if it is a Genus cross. For example-
"Hymenocallis x macrostephana" or "x Amarygia parkeri"

The fifteenth part of the naming convention contains three choices, one of which may be aplicable.
There are the

The FORM usually differs from a particular species only in flower colour or habit. This is indicated by "f." then a descriptive name for example Genus Species f.white
The VARIETY may differ from a particular species only in structure. This is indicated by "var" then a descriptive name for example Begonia grandis var alba
A SUBSPECIES ia a naturally occurring distinct variation of a species. This is indicated by "subsp." then a descriptive name for example Begonia grandis subsp. enansiana

The sixteenth part of naming is the CULTIVAR GROUP

This is a collection of cultivars with similar charactistics within a Genus, species or hybrid. It is indicated by giving the Genus, species then a name with the word Group added in Roman letters. For example Rhododendron cinnabarium Concatenans Group

The seventeenth part of the naming is the CULTIVAR

This is a selected or artificially raised distinct variant of a species, subspieces, form, variety, or hybrid. It is indicated by a name after the Genus and species in single quotes and in Roman leters
for example Gloriosa superba 'Rothchildiana'

Finally the eighteenth part of naming convention.

The name of the person who first published the description of the plant is given in Roman letters after the plant name. The person name might be abreviated, for example Linneaus is usually abreviated to "L."

Naming Conventions

Plants can be named in honor of someone. Linnaeus is said to have named a useless weed "Siegesbeckia" after Johann Siegesbeck, a critic of his.

The person who did most to develop this naming convention for the plant and animal kingdom was Carolus Linnaeus a Swedish botanist. Carolus Linnaeus was born on May 23, 1707 He pursued medicine at the Universities of Lund and then Uppsala, where he spent most of his time gathering plants. Linnaeus lived during a period of plant exploration, when new plants from South America, southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were all coming to the attention of European scientists. He became known as the Father of Taxonomy.

Today, after giving the Latin (or sometimes Greek) Genus and species name, many catalogues and nurseries also note the names of plant varieties and hybrids. Knowing the meaning of the Latin or Greek words can help gardeners with their plant choices. For instance, if the available area is small, a plant with arboreum (tree-like) or altissimum (very tall) in its name, might not be the best choice.
I hope you find this info useful.
If you know of other information that should be added to this page please email me.


The purpose of the Latin botanical name for plants is to provide information about a plant that distinguishes it from other plants. The specific epithet or adjective applied to the plant, is helpful in describing the plant. The specific epithet can tell us the flower colour, the plant height, whether the leaves are long and thin or short and fat, whether the plant is prickly, where it comes from (which might give us a clue as to how hardy it is), what sort of conditions it occurs in naturally, how big it is, whether it's a climber or whether it's creeping, whether it's deciduous, has a bulb, is edible - or whatever else the person who found it thought most remarkable, noteworthy and unique about it.

Like many other languages, Latin assigns genders to all its nouns, and adjectives have to agree with the gender of the noun they describe. In plant names those that are deemed masculine will end in -us, those that are feminine will end in -a, and those that are either will end in -um (there are some odd ones with other endings). To simplify things, most epithets used below are feminine endings, but if you come across a plant with much the same name, but ending in -us or -um, it means the same

     COLOUR        GROWTH HABIT           TEXTURE                SHAPE

    rubra - red      scandens - climbing            rugose - rough         deltoides - triangular

     alba - white      repens - creeping         glabrous - smooth         stellate - star-like

   nigra - black     fastigiata - narrow, erect   tomentose - hairy, felt-like   dentatum - coarsely toothed

   glauca - bluish     globosa - globe           pungens - sharp, piercing    cordate - heart shape

  aureum - yellow       nana - dwarf

purpurea - purple    gigantea - giant



Latin----->Cobaea scandens         Latin----->Picea pungens var. glauca

English--->Campanula climbing      English--->Spruce, sharp needles, bluish cast

Common->Cup and saucer plant    Common->Colorado Blue Spruce

Below are some other Latin epithets often applied to plants we grow in our gardens.

A to M

abyssinica = from Abysinnia (Ethiopia) (Nth Africa)
acaulis = stemless
aestivalis = flowering in spring
alba = white
alpestris = from mountains
alpicola = from mountain
alpina = from the alps
altissima = tallest
america = from America
angustifolia = narrow-leaved
annua = annual
-antha = -flowered (e.g. micrantha = small-flowered)
arboricola = living on trees
arctica = from the arctic
arenaria = from sandy places
argentea = silvery
armata = prickly
arvensis = of the field
aurantiaca = orange
aurea = golden, yellow
australis = from the south (not necessarily Australia)
autumnalis = of autumn
azurea = blue
barbata = bearded, hairy
bellidifolia = with leaves like those of a daisy
borealis = from the north
bulbifera = bearing bulbs
bulgarica = from Bulgaria
caerulea = blue
caespitosa = dense
campanulata = campanulate, like a bell
campestris = of the field
canadensis =from Canada
canariensis = from the Canary Isles
capensis = from the Cape, South Africa
chilensis = from Chile
chinensis = from China
chrysantha = yellow
clivora = from the hills
coccinea = red
compacta = compact
cordate = heart-shape
decidua = deciduous
deltoides = triangular
densiflora = dense-flowered
dentatum = coarsely toothed
digitata = (leaves) like a hand, with five lobes
edulis = edible
esculenta = edible
farinosa = floury, powdery
fastigiata = narrow, erect
ficifolia = like a fig leaf
flava = yellow
-flora = -flowered (e.g. viridiflora = green-flowered)
flore plena = with double flowers
florida = floriferous
foetida = with an unpleasant smell
-folia = -leaved (e.g. tenuifolia = narrow-leaved)
foliosa = leafy
fruticosa = shrubby
gigantea = giant
glabra = smooth
glacialis = from cold areas
glauca = bluish-green
globosa = globe
glutinosa = sticky
graeca = from Greece
graminifolia = with grassy leaves
grandiflora = large-flowered
grandis = big
helvetica = from Switzerland
hirsuta = hairy
hispida = bristly
humilis = short
hyemalis = of winter
incana = grey
inodora = unscented
integrifolia = entire, undivided (leaves)
japonica = from Japan
lanata = woolly
lanceolata = lance-shaped (leaves)
latifolia = wide-leaved
longiflora = with long flowers
longifolia = with long leaves
lutea = yellow
macrantha = large flowered
macro- = large- (e.g. macrorhiza = large-rooted)
macrocarpa = large-fruited
macrophylla = with large leaves

M to Z

macrorrhiza = with large roots
maculata = spotted
magellanica = from the south of South America
magenta = magenta
magna = big
majus = bigger
maritima = maritime, near the sea
maxima = biggest
mexicana = from Mexico
micrantha = small flowered
microphylla = with small leaves
millefolia = with many (thousands of) leaves
minima = small
minor = smaller
montana = from mountains
multiflora = many flowered
muralis = growing on walls
nana = small
nigra = black
nocturna = nocturnal
ochroleuca = cream
odorata = perfumed
officinalis = with herbal uses
ovalifolia = with oval leaves
pallida = cream
palustris = from marshes
parvi- = small- (e.g. parivflora = small-flowered)
parviflora = small flowered
parvifolia = with small leaves
pauci- = few- (e.g. pauciflora =few-flowered)
pauciflora = few-flowered
paucifolia = with few leaves
pendula = hanging
perennis = perennial
phoenicea = purple
-phylla = -leaved (e.g. macrophylla = large-leaved)
pinnata = with pinnate leaves
poly- = many (e.g polyantha = many-flowered)
polyphylla = with many leaves, leafy
praecox = early, of spring
pratensis = field
procumbens = creeping
prostrata = prostrate
pulverulenta = dusty
pumila = small
pungens = strong odour
punica = red
purpurea = deep pink
pygmaea = small
quercifolia = oak=leaved
rediviva = perennial
repens = creeping
rivalis = from near rivers
rivularis = from near rivers
rosea = rose pink
rotundifolia = round-leaved
rubra = red
rugose = rough
rupestris = of hills
rupicola = of hills
russica = from Russia
sanguinea = blood-red
sativa = cultivated
saxatilis = of rocks
scaber = climbing
scandens = climbing
semperviva = perennial
sibirica = from Siberia
sinense = from China
somnifera = inducing sleep
spicata = spiked
spinosa = spiny
stellata = starry
sulphurea = yellow
sylvestris = of woods
tenuifolia = with thin, narrow leaves
texensis = from Texas
tomentosa = tomentose, woolly
trifoliata = trifoliate, with three-lobed leaves
umbellata = unbellate, with flowers in an umbel
velutina = velvety
vernalis = of spring
villosa = hairy
violacea = violet
viridis = green
viscosa = sticky
vitifolia = with leaves like a vine
volubilis = twining
vulgaris = common