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Scientific name meanings

Have you ever looked at those strange-looking names next to the common names and wondered what that often tongue-twisting, mumbo-jumbo means? Scientific names are usually derived from Latin (I guess I should have paid more attention in my high school sophomore Latin class!) or Greek. The genus name is like the plant's "last" name and the species name is the often descriptive "first" name. With a little bit of practice, it becomes easier to figure out the names Linnaeus and other botanists have given plants over the centuries. Some of the genus or species names are Latinized names of botanists or explorers. The words below are the derivitive words and prefixes of some of the genus and species names and examples of the flowers. Can you figure out what plant the name
Toxicodendron radicans belongs to by looking at the chart below? If not, go to the Scientific names index and see!  How about Helianthus microcephalus? (Not all of these examples are found on my website galleries)

Page Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Scientific name
Meaning
Example
A


a-
without

acaulis
stemless

agros
field
Agrostemma githago
alba (-um)
white
Chenopodium album
alternifolia
alternate-leaved
Ludwigia alternifolia
altissima
very tall
Ageratina altissima
amarus (-um)
bitter
Helenium amarum
amplexicaulis (-e)
stem-clasping
Lamium amplexicaule
andrus (-a)
stamens

anemos wind
Anemone quinquefolia
angustifolia (-us)
narrow-leaved
Typha angustifolia
annuus
annual
Helianthus annuus
anthos (-us)
flower Calycanthus floridus
aphylla (-us)
leafless
Galax aphylla
arbor (-eum, -escens)
tree
Vaccinium arboreum
arena
sand
Arenaria patula
aristos best Aristolochia macrophylla
arvensis
of cultivated fields
Sherardia arvensis
asper (-atus)
rough
Liatris aspera
aureus
golden
Senecio aureus
auriculata (-us)
eared
Coreopsis auriculata
B


bi
two
Ambrosia bidentata
biennis
biennial (two years)
Gaura biennis
borealis
northern
Linnea borealis
brevis
short
Gratiola brevifolia
C


caerulea (-us) dark blue Hedyotis caerulea
caespitosum
tufted Hieracium caespitosum
callos
beauty
Hymenocallis occidentalis
calyx cup Calycanthus floridus
campana
bell
Campanula divaricata
cardia
heart
Cardiospermum halicacabum
carpus (-a)
fruited

caulon
stemmed

cephal (-a), (-us)
head
Cephalanthus occidentalis
cernuus nodding Saururus cernuus
chelone
tortoise
Chelone glabra
chen
goose
Chenopodium album
chryso (-a)
yellow, gold
Chrysogonum virginianum
ciliata, ciliaris
fringed
Blephilia ciliata
cimex
bug
Cimicifuga racemosa
coccinea (-um)
scarlet
Ipomoea coccinea
coelestinus (-um)
sky-blue
Eupatorium coelestinum
cordatus (-a)
heart(shaped) Tiarella cordifolia
corona
crown
Coronilla varia
cotyle
flat cup
Hydrocotyle ranunculoides
crotolon
rattle
Crotolaria sagittalis
cryptos
hidden
Cryptotaenia canadensis
D


delphinus
dolphin
Delphinium tricorne
dendron
tree
Rhodendron
dens, dentata (-um)
tooth
Dentaria diphylla
desmos
a chain
Desmodium nudiflorum
didyma (-us)
in pairs
Monarda didyma
dioicus
dioecious (separate male and female)
Aruncus dioicus
diphylla
two-leaved
Jeffersonia diphylla
E


epi
upon
Epilobium
eri
early
Erigeron pulchellus
erion
wooly
Eriogonum harperi
erythro
red
Erythronium americana
eximius (-ia)
out of the ordinary
Dicentra eximia
F


fascicularis (-atus, -ata)
clustered
Chamaecrista fasciculata
fistulosa (-us)
hollow-cylindrical (stem)
Monarda fistulosa
flava
yellow
Aureolaria flava
flora
flower
Passiflora incarnata
florida
flowering
Cornus florida
folia leaf Anemone quinquefolia
G


gaea
earth
Epigaea repens
gala
milk
Galax urceolata
geranos
a crane (beak-like)
Geranium maculatum
geron
old man
Erigeron philadelphicus
glaber (-a, -us)
smooth

gonu
knee
Polygonum scandens
gramineus
grass-like (leaves)
Heterotheca graminifolia
grand
large
gynus
pistils

H


helios
Sun Helianthus anuus
hepaticus (-a)
of the liver
Hepatica acutiloba
hetero different
Hexastylus heterophylla
hierax
hawk
Hieracium venosum
hirsutus
hairy
Helianthus hirsutus
hispidus
hairy
Ranunculus hispidus
horridum (-us)
horridly prickly
Cirsium horridulum
hydro
water
Hydrocotyle ranunculoides
hymen
membrane
Hymenocallis occidentalis
I


incarnata
flesh-colored
Asclepias incarnata
J


japonica
Japan
Lonicera japonica
L


lac; lactatus (-a)
milk (white sap)
Lactuca floridana
lacinata (-us)
torn
Rudbeckia lacinata
laevis
smooth

lanceolata
lanceolate
Phyla lanceolata
languinosus (-um)
wooly
Disporum languinosum
latifolia
wide-leafed
Kalmia latifolia
lepto
thin
Phyrma leptostachya
leuco
white
Chrysanthemum leucanthemum
lithos
stone
Lithospermum canescens
loba
lobed
Hepatica acutiloba
lochia delivery (birth)
Aristolochia macrophylla
longi-
long

luteum (-a) yellow
Nuphar luteum
lyco
wolf
Lycopus americanus


M




maculata (-um)
spotted Hypericum pseudomaculatum

meli
honey
Melilotus alba
micro
small
Helianthus microcephalus
mille
thousand
Achillea millefolium
mimus
a buffoon
Mimulus ringens
mitra
a cap
Mitella diphylla
mollis
soft-hairy
Helianthus mollis
mono
one turn
Monotropa uniflora
montana
of the mountains
Oxalis montana
multiflora
many-flowered
Rosa multiflora
N


nana (-us), (-ellus)
dwarf

natans
floating

nictitans
moving
Chamaecrista nictitans
nigra (-er)
black

nudi
nude, naked

nutans
nodding
Carduus nutans
O


obtusi blunt Gnaphalium obtusifolium
odoratus, odorus fragrant Solidago odora
officianal (-is, -e) medicinal
Taraxicum officianalis
occidentalis
western
Verbesina occidentalis
-oides like Hypericum hypericoides
oxys sour, sharp Oxalis grandis
P


pachys
thick
Pachysandra procumbens
pallida (-um)
pale
Echinacea pallidum
palustris
marsh-loving
Caltha palustris
patens
spreading
Aster patens
pediculus (-arius)
louse, lousy
Pedicularis canadensis
penta
five
Penstemon calycosus
perfoliata (-us)
leaf surrounding stem
Triodanis perfoliata
pilosa (-us)
shaggy, with soft hairs

platy
broad
Platanthera cillaris
pogon
beard

poly
many, much
Polygonum virginianum
pous, pus, pod
foot
Elephantopus tomentosus
prostratus (-a)
prostrate

pseudo
false
Hypericum pseudomaculatum
psycodes
fragrant
Platanthera psycodes
pterus (-a) winged
pubens, pubescens
hairy, downy
Stellaria pubera
pulchella (-us)
beautiful
Gaillardia pulchella
pulcher handsome

punctata (-us)
spotted

purpurea
purple
Ipomoea purpurea
Q


quadra
four

quercifolia
oak-leaved
Hydrangea quercifolia
quinque five Anemone quinquefolia
R


radicans
rooting
Toxicodendron radicans
ranunculus
little frog
Ranunculus hispidus
reflexus (-a)
bent back

repens, reptans
creeping
Mitchella  repens
rhiza
root
Xanthorhiza simplissima
rhodo
red
Rhododendron viscosum
rosa (-eus)
rose, red, rosy
Streptopus roseus
rotund
round
Viola rotundifolia
S


sagitta
like a spear, arrow
Sagittaria latifolia
sanguineus
bleeding, blood
Sanguinaria canadensis
saponaria
soap
Gentiana saponaria
sativus
cultivated

sauros lizard Saururus cernuus
sempervirens
evergreen
Lonicera sempervirens
serotinus (-a)
late (flowering or ripening)

sessile
without a stalk (flower or leaf)
Diervilla sessilifolia
spectabalis
showy, remarkable
Galearis spectabilis
spermum (-a)
seed
Cardiospermum halicacabum
spinosa
very spiny
Aralia spinosa
stella
star
Stellaria pubera
streptos
twisted
Streptopus roseus
stricta (-um)
stiff
Verbena stricta
stylos
a column
Styloanthes biflora
T


tenui
slender
Pycanthemum tenuifloium
tetra-
four

tiarella
little turban
Tiarella cordifolia
tinctoria
of dyes
Coreopsis tinctoria
tomentotsus (-a)
wooly
Aristolochia tomentosa
toxic (-o, -um); toxifera
poisonous
Toxicodendron radicans
tri
three
Trillium luteum
trope (-a)
turn
Heliotropium indicum
trifolium
three-leafed
Trifolium repens
U


uni
one, single
Monotropa uniflora
V


venenosa
very poisonous
Angelica venenosa
venosum (-us)
veined
Hieracium venosum
vernalis
of spring
Iris Verna
verticillata
whorled (leaves)
Collinsonia verticillata
villosa (-us)
soft-hairy
Dioscorea villosa
viridi (-s)
green
Asclepias viridis
viscosum
sticky
Rhododendron viscosum
vulgaris (-e)
common

X


xanthos
yellow
Xanthorhiza simplissima









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