What’s the deal with all these botanical names: For me, a horticulturist, a scientist, and someone who wants to learn every plant known to man, botanical names are essential. For people in the business of making a living with plants, from retailers to landscapers to blog people, botanical names are very useful. But for my daughters and their friends, for my neighbors and friends, all they want are good plants that perform well, and don’t care to know botanical names of anything. Why should they, and why would I expect them to. So here are my thoughts on my daughters learning botanical names.
On Common Names:
I like common names. Names like cardinal flower, naked ladies, pussytoes, and blackberry lily are far more "user friendly" than Lobelia cardinalis, Lycoris squamigera, Antennaria dioica, and Belamcanda chinensis. They also bring with them part of the history of discovery and use of the species. Lily-of-the-valley tells me more about the plant I am about to buy than Convallaria majalis, while lungwort describes the philosophy of naming plants much more than does Pulmonaria officinalis. Common names may describe the flower, such as pincushion flower (Scabiosa); leaves, spotted geranium, (Geranium maculatum); origin, Persian buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus); medicinal properties, Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris); or the discoverer, Stokes aster, (Stokesia). Unfortunately, the same common name may be used for more than one species or a single species may be known by several common names, depending on area of the country.
I have heard arguments from purists that common names are irrelevant and their use should not be encouraged. What nonsense! If one wants to see the demise of gardening, keep making it complicated. Gardening is way too complicated as it is, what with 30 cultivars of this, 10 of that and names that are unpronounceable even by Professor Higgins. Gardeners and professionals should encourage common names; they make what we do so much more user-friendly.