Latin (more properly called botanical) names can seem like a nightmare invented to put off the new gardener but I encourage you to reconsider and develop a little knowledge about how plants are named. The practical use is that botanical names identify an individual variety of any given plant uniquely across the world, no matter what language the gardener is speaking: there is no risk of buying the wrong plant if you check the botanical name, whereas common names are just that, often common to just one area and even differing across the UK. For some plants the botanical name is the one that everyone uses e.g. Buddleja but some are rarely used: we say Rose not ‘Rosa’. Botanical names come in several parts and each makes the name more specific: first the ‘genus’ which is a grouping of similar plants, 2nd the ‘species’ which narrows it down within the genus and lastly the English name identfies the unique variety. Often the names tell you something about the plant: Sedum spectabile ‘Iceberg’ is in the genus Sedum, a large group of plants with fleshy leaves, spectabile is a species with spectacular flowers and ‘Iceberg’ has been bred for white flowers. Similarly, a plant named ‘palustris’ likes boggy soil (latin for marsh) and ‘salicifolia’ indicates leaves (folia) shaped like willow (salix) i.e. narrow & pointed. So read a few labels, expand your vocabulary and discover things you never knew about your favourite plants.
Blog Jan 23rd 2014; photo snowdrop; galanthus nivalis