The Perennial Q & A section provides answers to common questions about perennials and their care. We encourage you to look in other areas of this website and at individual plant records in the Perennial Encyclopedia if you do not find the answer you are looking for here.
Category: Botanical Terms
A few common botanical terms are defined here. Click on the Glossary for a more complete listing.
Can you explain botanical Latin?
Here's a basic example which illustrates the significance of the latin words in plant names:
Dicentra spectablis 'Alba'
The first word is always the GENUS name. In this example, Dicentra is the genus. It is always capitalized and is never written in italics. A genus is a group of plants that all share some common characteristics. It can include from one to a thousand or more species. The common names for many plants, such as Hosta, are also their latin names.
The second word is always the SPECIES name. In this example, spectablis is the species. It is always written in italics and is never capitalized. Members of the same species share even more common characteristics than those in the more general genus. Sometimes a species is further separated into subspecies.
The word(s) listed in single quotation marks is the CULTIVAR name. In this example, 'Alba' is the cultivar name. It differs from the straight species, Dicentra spectablis by its flower color. The cultivar name often holds clues to the plant's characteristics, such as 'Alba' which means white, referring to its flower color.
Some companies that introduce plants go a step further and add a trademarked or marketing name to a plant. This name can appear either after the genus or species and is often in Small Caps or has the ™ symbol behind the name.
Here's another example of a more complex plant name: Dianthus Raspberry Swirl ('Devon Siskin' PP14377)
Genus=Dianthus Species=no species in this example Cultivar= 'Devon Siskin' Marketing Name= Raspberry Swirl US Patent Number=14377
What are the terms used to describe the different types of root systems?
FIBROUS ROOT--Composed of profusely branched roots with many lateral rootlets, often with no main or taproot development. Many perennials with fibrous root systems are dividable. Example: Achillea.
TAPROOT--The main descending root of a plant. Generally, perennials with tap roots prefer cool temperatures and dry soil conditions once they are planted in containers. If temperatures are too warm, they put their energy into top growth without establishing a satisfactory root system. Lupines, in particular, benefit from being grown in temperatures around 40 degrees F for about six weeks.
RHIZOME--A specialized slender or swollen stem with branching close to the soil surface. It produces roots, stems, leaves and flowers along its length and at its apex. Examples of plants with rhizome-type roots include Acorus and Bearded Iris.
CORM--An underground, bulb-like portion of the stem of a plant consisting of fleshy tissues. Example: Crocosmia.
What is a hybridizer?
A hybridizer is a person who works on breeding new plants. They use many methods, one of which is hand pollination. Many hybridizers dedicate their lives to this work and may work on one kind of plant for 20 or more years in order to find the best new cultivars.
Why not just call perennials by their common name?
Common names for plants vary widely. Several plants can have the same common name, so it essential to know the botanical name in order to obtain the exact plant you want.