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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.

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Wednesday - March 16, 2005

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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.
 

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