Have you ever looked at a seed package or gardening book and wondered how you pronounce the scientific name? Do you question what the point is of even doing this? You are not alone. Even if you took a course in Latin, the pronunciation used by specialists and botanists is very different. The pronunciation of Latin names is Americanized beyond what was initially intended by the inventor of the language, Carolus Linnaeus.
Knowing the Latin name for living things is incredibly important and quite helpful. Common names depend on the region of the world where the names arise, and the terms are not regulated. A single plant, for example, may have a long list of common names depending on who you ask on which part of the continent. In the world of scientific names, each living thing is usually assigned one and only one name not shared with any other organism. Sometimes scientists opt for a new scientific name that better designates a specific plant from similar species. You'll sometimes read that a plant has one or three scientific names, but that's it. The names themselves still pertain to that same plant, so it's less confusing. It is frustrating to learn that a plant has five different common names and that some of those names are shared by other, even unrelated, plants. Some even slightly similar plants are often given the same name, and of course, plants are commonly moved all over the planet. What happens when identically named plants from various parts of the world all end up in your area? How is that helpful at all? For example, roses, primroses and evening primroses are all quite different plants unless you know them well. Some people think they are all the same. You can see the many layers of confusion that can occur.
Scientific names often use language that identifies a unique or distinctive feature of a plant or states the name of the person who discovered it. Ambiguity is lessened a great deal when you have a name that accurately identifies a plant. Therefore, if you can memorize the Latin name, you can't go wrong.
One of the tricks to learning Latin is to understand Latin pronunciations. Latin names are often tongue twisters, and many times they are downright seemingly impossible to figure out. Good news, though, the American Horticultural Society and the magazine "Horticulture" have put together pronunciation guides.
Below are just a few simple rules that will help you get the pronunciation correct for the Latin plant names you choose to memorize:
1. Generally, there are NO silent syllables in scientific plant names; all syllables are pronounced. What you see is what you say. Luckily, Americanization has made vowel pronunciation far easier.
2. Consonants are pronounced as you usually would say them in general speaking. For example, "ch" is pronounced as "k" except in the name Echeveria which sounds like "etch." The letters c and g, when they precede the vowels a, o and u, are spoken as you would say cat and go. The letters c and g, when in front of an e or i, are expressed like you would say Cecil and gentle.
3. Vowels are either long as in a stressed syllable. For example, Acer sounds like AY-ser, and Pinus sounds like PIE-nus. Verbena sounds like ver-BEE-nuh. Vowels can be short too, such as in "ae," which sounds like "ee" or "ay" while "au" sounds like "aw": and finally, "eu" sounds like the "u" in "hue" and "oi" sounds like "oy" in "boy."
Here's a cool trick
Find a long scientific name you can't pronounce.
End each syllable in a vowel unless there are two consonants together after the vowel.
E.g. Rudbeckia = rud-bec-ki-a pronounced as "rood-BEK-ee-uh
E.g. Miscanthus sinensis = mis-can-thus si-nen-sis is pronounced as miss-CAN-thus seye-NEN-siss
E.g. Agastache = is pronounced a-GAH-sta-kee
Of course, instead of figuring out the language for every Latin pant name, you can find audio examples of how to say plant names correctly. Google Play, for example, offers an app called "Scientific names of Plants" that provides such an audio example for each plant name. Gardening magazines, garden centers, books, botanical dictionaries, CDs and DVDs, or go to www.botany.com.
Here is a plant name you try on your own - good luck!
Learning to pronounce some of the most common plant names will help with saying the acceptable pronunciation. In the list below, the capitalized syllable is stressed in each name. If there is no capitalized syllable, the stress falls on the syllable BEFORE the ending.
- acea, acia = AY-shee-uh;
- Echinacea = ek-in- AY-shee-uh;
- purpurea = pur-PUR-ee-uh
- are = AR-ee
- vulgare = vul-GAR-ee
- atum, -iatum, -ata = AY-tum, ee-AY-tum, -AY-tuh
- perfoliatum = purr-fo-lee-AY-tum
- ensis = EN-sis; pratensis = pruh-TEN-sis
- ii, ei, yi = ee-eye
- Buddleia davidii = BUD-lee-uh duh-VID-ee-eye
- ianus = ee-AY-nus
- virginianus = ver-gin-ee-AY-nus
- iana = ee-AN-uh; virginiana = ver-gin-ee-AN-uh
- icus = ih-kus; japonicus = jap-ON-ih-kus
- iosum, -iosa – ee-OH-sum, ee-OH-suh; tormentosum = tor-men- TOH-sum
- ius = ee-us; angustifolius = ahn-gus-tih-FOL-ee-us
- oides = OY-deez; asteroides = as-ter-OY-deez
- ua = yew-uh; decidua = dih-SID-yew-uh
- uum = yew-um
- annuum = ANN-yew-um
If you would like to learn more about the various plants growing on your property and how to look after them, give us a call. At KHS Landscape Professionals our maintenance staff are well trained in the botanical language and strive to provide top notch garden care service for our clients.