Latin is hard!


Nursery industry magazines to garden centers:  Latin names confuse your customers.  Use happy, easy, common names.

Garden center to nursery industry magazine:  Our customers are smarter than you think, and besides, Latin names are cool.

GlatinThe Garden Latin Club meets here:  the golden gecko garden blog: Latin Names

And oh, by the way–a darned useful book to have is Gardener’s Latin by Bill Neal.

And…based on another very useful comment…the Fine Gardening Latin pronounciation guide.


  1. Was just thinking to myself yesterday, “I need to take Latin.” Sure would help in pronounciation – if nothing else. I try to use both common and latin for plant IDs in article. It is interesting how regional common names can be and very confusing for those from the South or Northwest who come to the Midatlantic – ex. bluebells, money plant, etc.

  2. I live in Quebec, Canada where the official language is French. If I walk into a nursery and ask for daylilies, I will get a blank look.

    However, if I ask for hemerocalis, hey, the language gulf is bridged and I’m pointed to their little corner of the nursery. Latin makes gardening a universal language, which is quite cool.

  3. I’ll agree with the garden centers. Knowing the Latin name of the plant helps the garden center people help you. Nothing annoys me more than seeing the cheaper sort of gardening catalogs that make up new and silly common names for garden plants, like “Golden Sunshine” for plain old Rudbeckia or “Purple Wonder” for Liatris, which only confuses the whole plant name thing even further.

    As for pronunciation, I earned a Master’s in systematic botany and I recall my major professor telling us most firmly: “There is only ONE way to pronounce scientific names correctly — and that is WITH CONFIDENCE!”

    So no matter how you pronounce Agastache or Hemerocalis, say it with confidence!

  4. A Latin class will not help you pronounce botanical names, because they are systematically mangled by botanists. But Latin pronunciation is taught differently in every country, and the relationship of these systems to the way Latin was spoken at any given point during the 1500-odd years it was a living language is tenuous anyway. Thus, Reading Dirt’s professor had the right idea.

    If people really want to be “correct”, they should try to pronounce it like an 18th-century Swede.

  5. Ditto what Max says… don’t worry too much about ‘correct’ pronunciation, because ‘correct’ varies so wildly.

    Do try not to follow in my shoes…

    Geum is gee-um, not gwem… oops!

  6. The Royal Horticultural Society tells me that there are thirteen different plants that have the common name “bluebell”. These include a campanula (Campanula rotundifolia) from the PNW, Scotland, Russia etc;, a relative of the hyacinth (Hyacinoides non-scripta) which is the bulb that carpets English woods and the familiar American woodlander (Mertensia pulmonarioides) related to the Pulmonaria. No wonder gardeners around the world – and even around the country – get confused. At least if we use the botanical names we know which plants we’re talking about. The pronunciation matters much less – how often is it impossible to work out what someone means when they pronounce a botanical name in an unfamiliar way? Almost never. Clem-ay-tis… Clem-ar-tis… we get it. Bluebell? Who knows what they mean?

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