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|Nomenclature - naming plants|
Plant names are confusing. Whether you prefer to use botanical names, common English names or Maori names it can be confusing knowing exactly what plant is being referred to.
Improved classification and additional knowledge means even the botanical names are constantly changing. This is good, as each change means we are nearer to the true relationships between plants.
Using the scientific name avoids confusion because it is based on an international system in which every single plant in the world is given a unique name.
Some plants are found naturally in many countries. No matter what country you are in, the botanical name of the plant will be the same.
Today scientists are able to confirm these classifications using chromosome counts, pollen structure, plant chemistry and DNA.
New research has sometimes led scientists to reclassify plants, eg. cabbage trees (Cordyline species) used to be considered members of the lily family, but have now been given a family of their own (Asphodelaceae).
Leucopogon fasciculatus used to be called Cyathodes fasciculata until new research forced scientists to reassess its classification.
Families give a very broad classification rather like ‘European/Asian/African’ for humans.
Genera (singular = genus) are the plant equivalent of surnames, and always have a capital letter.
Species are like first names, and always begin with a lower case letter.
Subspecies (subsp. or ssp.) are a further division of a species (‘sub’ = under) and are like a middle name.
Varieties (var.) are distinct variants of a species which occur naturally.
Cultivars (cv.) are distinct variants of a species which have been developed by nurserymen through hybridisation, selection or mutation. Propagated by cuttings.
Hybrids (x) are the result of cross-pollination of two different plants, usually from the same genus.
The Rubiaceae family includes the genera Coprosma and Nertera.
In books, normal print is used for the family name, but the genus and species are italicised eg. Sophora fulvida.
Where a plant has had a name change, the old name is often given after 'syn' for synonym (meaning 'the same').
eg. Sophora fulvida
or Macropiper excelsum subsp. peltatum
Names of varieties or cultivars are written in normal print in books, and always have single inverted commas around them, eg. Hebe ‘Azure’ or Coprosma repens ‘Silver Queen’ or alternatively, for cultivars, Coprosma repens cv. Silver Queen.
Hybrids, which result from cross-pollination, have this indicated by an x in their names.
Hebe diosmifolia x H. townsonii would be the usual way of naming a hybrid between Hebe diosmifolia and Hebe townsonii.