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Thread: Writing plant names

  1. #1
    Moderator Joseph Clemens's Avatar
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    This article is only a primer to describe some of the main rules adopted internationally for writing plant names, botanical names as well as horticultural names and to explain how some of these rules are appropriate for use on this forum. Periodically these rules are changed. It is quite possible that in a few years, or sooner, some of the rules outlined here will have been changed. The rules for botanical nomenclature are covered by the ICBN (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature) and the rules for cultivated plants are covered by the ICNCP (International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants). The ICBN is published online and is available to anyone with an internet connection to examine. The ICNCP is available as a somewhat pricey volume available from the International Society for Horticultural Science.

    [Note: It is important to format and spell official plant names, as correctly as possible, using the most appropriate format. This forum is not an official scientific forum, so plant names can be used here in a much less formal way. It is, however, helpful to be as accurate with spelling and format as we can be. If you are unfamiliar with the name or spelling of a plant you are posting about, look it up, most names can be found using the CP Database and copied and pasted for ease and convenience.]

    [Note: Officially, scientific plant names are written in italics (on the forum this is optional), generally their name is written in two parts, hence, the reason it is called a binomial naming system. The first part of a species name is called the genus, its first letter is always written as a capital letter, even when it is abbreviated to the first letter only. The second part of a species name is called the "specific epithet", or sometimes, incorrectly the "species epithet", it is always written in all lower case letters. Only both the genus name and the specific epithet, together, comprise the actual “species name” (the complete species name, both parts, spelled correctly, are most appreciated on the forum). In official scientific documents the species name is then followed by a notation indicating the person who initially published this species name. You can see this format at the CP Database. On the forum it is also okay to abbreviate the genus name to its first letter, capitalized and followed by a period, then followed by the specific epithet.]

    [For example: to use a specific epithet, without the genus or genus abbreviation is like using a persons first name without their last name. That might be okay if you are having a verbal conversation and all persons involved know who is being discussed, but not so good if the conversation is in written form and others will be looking to read what has been written about that person at some future time. For instance, say the conversation is about someone named John Adams, but the last name is never used. Later when someone wishes to find everything written about John Adams, they will not be able to, because in this case John was never identified by his last name. It could be disastrous for John Adams if he were unconscious and a doctor was trying to learn important medical history in order to treat him and save his life. It could be even worse if he were simply referred to by a "common name", for instance a nickname - Skip. Ten years from now, or even ten weeks, who is going to know who "Skip" is?] [Note: As concerns our beloved CP; this forum is a reference, and becomes a database or archive of information about caring for these plants. It is only as valuable as we make it. Locating all posts concerning particular plants is easier when their names are, at least, spelled correctly and nearly impossible when they aren't.]

    [Note: Following are some examples of correctly written names including the proper form for cultivated variety (cultivar) names:

    Drosera capillaris or D. capillaris
    Drosera capillaris ‘Emerald’s Envy’, Drosera ‘Emerald’s Envy’ or D. ‘Emerald’s Envy’

    Sarracenia flava or S. flava
    Sarracenia flava ‘Burgundy’, Sarracenia ‘Burgundy’, or S. ‘Burgundy’

    The following informal stipulations have been created for this forum and other similar situations, where official cultivar naming conventions have not yet been instituted.

    When referring to plants that exhibit recognizable variations, of possible horticultural or other merit, that have not yet been registered as cultivars, it is usually acceptable to include descriptive words or terms, after the plants name, in full, double quotes, parentheses, brackets, or other punctuation, rather than with single quotes, since single quotes are reserved for use with validly registered cultivar names. Examples of this follow:

    Drosera capensis (All red)
    Drosera capensis “Red leaf”

    Drosera filiformis “All-red”
    Drosera filiformis (All red leaves, Washington county, Florida)

    In the above examples, the important thing is not to use single quotes, in order to avoid having unregistered clones of species or hybrids, appear to be considered as registered cultivars, since the use of single quotes is reserved for registered cultivar names. Some other important things about cultivar names is that they are never written in italics, they follow either the genus name, especially if they are derived from hybrids, or the species name, but it only needs to be preceded by the genus, the name is enclosed in single quotes, each word or words that comprise the cultivar name must begin with a capital letter.]
    Last edited by Joseph Clemens; 01-20-2007 at 04:55 PM.
    Joseph Clemens
    Tucson, Arizona, U S A

  2. #2
    Moderator Joseph Clemens's Avatar
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    Updated Ramblings

    A Ramble about Botanical and Horticultural Nomenclature

    By W. Joseph Clemens

    6 March 2009


    I realize and wish to warn you, the reader that I have just a touch of OCD. This affects how I think of the details concerning the rules developed to help people who share their interest in plants with each other, though they may have nothing else in common. My OCD inspires me to be a real nit-picker about following the Botanical and Horticultural rules of nomenclature or naming. So if I sometimes sound as though I am being finicky, just blame it on my OCD. Thank you.

    This is, after all, just a “ramble”, so I am not going to make a conscious attempt to structure this blurb, in any particularly meaningful way. It is also a work in progress, so expect it to change as I fine tune it.

    The Ramble:

    This probably began when the first humans that were intelligent and aware enough to take notice of the plants around them started trying to share their observations with each other. Perhaps it began in some other way. But we can assume that somewhere, some when, that someone, decided to call a certain plant by a certain moniker.

    First some appropriate Botanical Nomenclature:

    Since then several attempts have been attempted to add various systems and logical reasoning to the process. Most of these efforts were largely ignored, until a man called Linnaeus adopted and refined someone else’s idea, called the binomial system. It is good to try to remember that this system, the one most used internationally, is a binomial system (I will begin to explain the basics of this system, here), because not remembering this basic is where most lay persons, and even some scientists, make a simple, understandable, but fatal error. They misinterpret what constitutes the name of a species. A simple fact is that binomial means, “two names”. And that is an easy way to remember that every true species name must include these two names. The first part of a species name is the Genus name. The rules say that it must be in italics or underlined, and that its first letter must be capitalized. The second part of the two-part species name is called the species epithet, or sometimes the specific epithet, either way the rules say that the specific epithet must be in italics or underlined, and that it must be in all lower case letters. The second name of a binomial species name, is NOT the “species name”, as it so often erroneously is assumed to be, but rather just the second part of an actual species name, the species or specific epithet. In a document or manuscript, once the Genus name has first been spelled out, it can thereafter be abbreviated to the single capitalized first letter of the Genus name, followed by a period, with one space preceding the specific epithet. All species names are formulated so that they are both singular and plural as written, the rules say they may not be modified, in any way. Sentences using them must be written to avoid any unnecessary perceived need to adjust the names for grammatical correctness, since they are already “correct”. Doing this corrupts the true and accurate species name.


    Genus name: Drosera plus the specific epithet: rotundifolia

    When you put them together you have the species name: Drosera rotundifolia, afterwards the Genus part of the species name can be abbreviated as D. rotundifolia and the Genus can still continue to be abbreviated, unless the subject Genus changes in the text. For instance if we then switched subjects to discuss Darlingtonia californica, we would need to first write out the full Genus name, as was just done, before we continued by now abbreviating it to D. californica. This avoids the possible confusion to someone unfamiliar with the subject species that is being written about. Remember that species or specific epithets are not Genus specific, there could potentially be a “californica” or “rotundifolia” specific epithet in any or all other Genera, so writing the specific epithet, without first writing the full Genus name or, at least, the Genus initial, could potentially cause much unnecessary confusion. Try doing a “Google” search on either, the specific epithet, “californica” or “rotundifolia” and see what you get.

    For instance; What if you were telling someone about a group of five men, all of whom had the first name, Montgomery. If you, at any time, failed to mention each Montgomery’s last name, immediately preceding a statement about that particular Montgomery, your listeners or readers, would likely soon lose track of which Montgomery was which. Normally you would anticipate any possible confusion this situation might cause and make a mental note to always include full names in your narrative – saving yourself and your audience possible frustration.

    Though there are botanical naming classifications below or beyond species – for all practical purposes, where most horticulture is concerned, that is as close as it needs to get. Botanical Taxonomy is not my expertise, so I will not attempt to explain it any further, unless I may someday delve into the subject myself. Except, of course, where Botanical nomenclature obviously meets Horticultural nomenclature or Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants in some way where they are synergistic or antagonistic.

    Now some, Cultivated Plant Nomenclature, or what I like to call Horticultural Nomenclature:

    Horticultural Nomenclature doesn’t really go too far beyond Botanical Nomenclature, and tries not to interfere with that more basic naming system, but rather, adds a few extensions to facilitate communications between professionals in Horticulture and between lay people, such as the home gardener, and others interested in various groups of plants.

    A potentially helpful system of naming plants is called, “Cultivated Variety” or “cultivar” for short. For CP the ICRA is the ICPS, and details of the process are posted at their website:

    To qualify as a candidate for cultivar registration:

    A plant must be stable in the features for which it is being selected for cultivar registration.

    It must be reproducible, and more than one individual must have been created and exist.

    The chosen cultivar name and a description of the characteristics making this plant unique from all others must be published as required by ICNCP rules.

    If the characteristics are visible, a photographic standard must also be published.

    The ICRA should be notified of the publication and a registration submitted to include the new cultivar in the list the registrar keeps.

    The name must meet the rules for cultivar names as specified in the ICNCP manual.

    The same name cannot be used more than once.

    Rules for writing cultivar names:

    The cultivar name follows the Genus or species name of the plant it is derived from. In the case of a hybrid, it would only follow the Genus name, though it could conceivably follow the hybrid formula name. **Though the use of an “x” to denote a plant of hybrid origin, used between the Genus and cultivar name was once a rule in Horticultural Nomenclature, it is now the rule NOT to use one. Though a similar rule in Botanical Nomenclature, to write an “x” between the Genus and specific epithet of wild plants determined to be of hybrid origins – is still in effect. Man-made hybrids are not generally given a “grex” name, which means a name for the particular hybrid. e. g. The hybrid of Pinguicula jaumavensis ♀ x Pinguicula moctezumae ♂ can be written in several different ways. First, and most correct, would be as it has already been written. Next, it could be written, Pinguicula jaumavensis x moctezumae. Cultivar names are always enclosed in a pair of single quotes, like this: Pinguicula ‘Mountain Top’. Cultivar names are never in italics, never underlined, and each word comprising a cultivar name begins with an initial capital letter, all other letters are lower case. If Pinguicula ‘Mountain Top’, were derived from the species Pinguicula gigantea its name could also be written Pinguicula gigantea ‘Mountain Top’, and if it were derived from the hybrid, Pinguicula gypsicola x Pinguicula moctezumae. It could be written, (Pinguicula gypsicola x Pinguicula moctezumae) ‘Mountain Top’, or just Pinguicula ‘Mountain Top’, but not Pinguicula x ‘Mountain Top’. Writing such a name with the “x” included, according to the rules, is no longer acceptable.
    Last edited by Joseph Clemens; 11-22-2010 at 11:25 AM.
    Joseph Clemens
    Tucson, Arizona, U S A

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