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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - January 16, 2008

From: London, England
Region: Other
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Source for common names of plants in the United States
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Hello Mr. Plants! I am writing to you on behalf of Carol Sharp who is one of the leading plant and flower photographers here in the UK. We will shortly be making her collections of work available to the US stock photographic market. As such, we need to tag each image with the subjects botanical and common name to allow them to be easily found on a database. As you will probably be aware, there are differences in common names between here and the US, for example, what we in the UK would know as a 'cornflower' would be known as 'bachelors buttons' in the US. This is where I'm hoping you might be able to help us. I am looking for a book/resource which has the UK and US common names for plants to compare. Would you or your colleagues be able to help? Thank you in advance for your advice.

ANSWER:

First of all, you need to realize that many common names are regional and not agreed upon by all; however, we do have some sources that will provide a collection of common names. For plants native to North America your best source would be the USDA Plants Database. This database also includes plants that have been introduced to North America but now commonly occur in many areas—for instance, Centaurea cyanus (garden cornflower).

Another source is the online version of Flora of North America. Not all the botanical families have been put online yet, but those that are there have common names included. Again, this source includes some introduced species. For instance, Centaurea cyanus has a long list of common names associated with it on their entry.

Now, for cultivated garden plants that don't happen to occur in the USDA Plants Database or in Flora of North America, we suggest the following:

1) Botanica: the illustrated A-Z of over 10,000 garden plants and how to cultivate them. 1999. Wellcome Rain Publishers. It has common names from UK, Australia, New Zealand and North America.

2) Sunset's gardening publications. They have "Top Ten Garden Guides" for most areas of the United States.

 

 

 

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