En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - March 16, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Other
Topic: General Botany
Title: Smarty Plants on plant names
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I want to learn what the scientific names of plants indicate about the plant physiology, its namer, its evolutionary relation to other plants, etc. Could you give a print or web source for looking up the meaning of plant names?


A good place to start is by reading The Rules for Naming Plants on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden web page. Here are several internet sites that give meanings for some botanical/scientific names: Glossary of Roots of Botanical Names from The Garden Gate, Botanical Binomials - What Do Plant Names Means? from Tom Clothier's Garden Walk and Talk; Dictionary of Botanical Epithets from Winternet.com; and finally the specialized Dictionary of Carnivorous Plant Names. You can find more by "googling" on "plant names dictionary".

Several print references come to mind. You might be able to find these at your local library, bookstore, or on line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

1. Borror, Donald J. 1960. Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.

2. Gledhill, David. 2002. The Names of Plants. 3d ed. Cambridge University Press.

3. Stearns, William T. 2002. Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners. 2nd ed. Oregon: Timber Press.

More General Botany Questions

Clover in grass in Marysville WA
March 05, 2009 - I noticed clover growing in my grass and know that this is a sign of poor nitrogen in my soil. I would like to know of some native plants / shrubs that I could put near my house in Washington that ...
view the full question and answer

Ruffly foliage on native lantana
November 05, 2013 - A native lantana in my front yard has developed ruffly foliage on one stem. It looks like miniature broccoli. What can this be?
view the full question and answer

Wild Native Hybrids and Cultivars?
June 14, 2010 - It is my understanding that hybrids can occur with or without human intervention whereas cultivars always involve human intervention. Strictly speaking does this mean native wildflowers can never be ...
view the full question and answer

Does music affect growth of necklace pod plants?
May 15, 2009 - Does music affect the growth of the necklace pod plants? this is for a science project! Please help!
view the full question and answer

Determining male/female wax myrtles
March 06, 2009 - We are planning to use Wax Myrtle as a screen plant, and want to be sure that we are successful in having berries for the birds. We have read that berries are only on the female plants. When we aske...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center