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Understanding Plant Names

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Almost all plants have two names—a common name and a botanical or Latin name.

The common name is the one most people know. The botanical or Latin name is the name assigned to the plant by botanists—plant experts.

Botanical names are the same everywhere worldwide. A plant’s Latin name used in Japan or France or South Africa is the same name used in the United States, Mexico, or Australia. If you know a plant’s botanical name it will be the same plant wherever you go,.

Common names, however, can vary from country to country and even from region to region within a country. African daisy, is a good example. African daisy is a common name, but there are two different plants that go by the common name African daisy and they are not the same plant. One has the Latin Arctotis and other has the Latin name Dimorphoteca. If you ask for African daisy you might get one or the other, but if you ask for Arctotis, you will not get Dimorphoteca.

African daisy, Dimorphotheca; photo at top African daisy Arctotis

When you look in a flower or plant encyclopedia, you will see both the common name and the botanical Latin name. It’s always good to jot down both names when you go to visit the garden center or shop for plants online.

When you are searching for plants in the index here at Garden Chronicle, you will see both common and botanical names. The common name you know where you live, may be different than the common name here. The botanical Latin name will always be the same.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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