149. Naming Plants

If you look at the plant labels in the Garden, you’ll see that they usually list a common name, such as coffee, as well as a Latin scientific name, such as Coffea arabica.


The first part of the scientific name, the genus, is capitalized. The second part, in lower case, is known as the specific epithet. Together they make up the species name. This two-part naming system follows the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and was first developed by the famous naturalist Carl Linnaeus over 250 years ago.


How does a plant get its name? Sometimes it’s based on appearance, such as Acer rubrum, which means red maple. Or a name can reflect the plant’s use, such as Acer saccharum, the sugar maple, which is used in the production of maple syrup.


Plants are often named in honor of a person or a place, such as Franklinia alatamaha, named after Benjamin Franklin and the Altamaha River where the tree was discovered. A plant can also be named after the person who first discovered it. For example: Hibiscus brackenridgei gets its name from William Brackenridge, who identified it during the 19th-century U.S. Exploring Expedition.