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So You Want To Dumb Us Down Even More?

I had tried to be unemotional, but the gauntlet was thrown. “Come on now, this is not dumbing down horticulture, it is lifting it up. It makes us more accessible to people like Heather and her generation, making her experience in the retail store that much more comfortable. Baby boomers are looking to simplify—a couple of shrubs is now more in keeping with their lifestyle than a dozen perennials. They will be buying less, and we need to attract the Heathers of the world. We won’t do it by being holier-than-thou. Fortunately, landscapers today are buying more and more plants, but we should not expect them to know all the names. It would be nice, but it’s not going to happen.”

Essentially that was the gist of the friendly repartee on Long Island. It turns out my debating opponent worked at a public Arboretum and saw things in a little different light than we do.

Columbine_2
Aquilegia or columbine?

It seems to me that we in the plant trade have many parallels with the computer industry. Everybody wants a computer that performs well, but if the people at Computer Doodle expected the people who walked into the store to know the difference between ROM and RAM, what a cache was, and how to change the resolution on their screen, well, they’d never make a sale. Instead they talk about speed, reliability and memory, words everyone is familiar with. The computer professionals know their buzzwords, but the computer industry long ago realized that if they were to attract new customers, they had to make the buying experience more friendly. So should we.

So when a gardener like Heather wants some plants for her garden, I hope that the industry people tell her about their lovely baskets of trailing petunias and how beautiful are the fan flowers. She will come back again and again.

Posted by on November 13, 2008 at 5:00 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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61 Responses to “So You Want To Dumb Us Down Even More?”

  1. inadvertentfarmer says:

    “Secondly, it is a grave, grave mistake to think that customers are going to retain common names any better than botanical ones.”

    Of course we retain common names better than botanical ones…if we didn’t there wouldn’t be any common names.

    I love that you all know the latin names, just please don’t expect your customers to. I’m a well educated fairly intelligent person who has too many kids and too many responsibilities and I’m lucky to get to the nursery at all. So please just let me buy my hostas and lillies and willow trees without expecting me to know any more than their common names. If you make me comfortable, have decent prices, and healthy stock I will be back over and over again! Free coffee doesn’t hurt either, lol!

  2. If I must learn cooking terms and measurements to cook, sew, knit, design a blog on Typepad, work as a graphic designer — why is that different than learning botanical Latin? Today in a multicultural world, people’s very names are more unusual and take time to learn how to say and pronounce (think Hamid Karzai, Benazir Buhtto, Barrack Obama). And we’re teaching school chilren to speak a foreign language at younger and younger ages.

    All you have to do is spend a year waiting for a plant to flower and realize you bought the wrong thing because you used the common name and you will start learning Latin. If you belong to a garden club or plant society you have to learn it cause that’s what most folks use — at least around here.

  3. *ahem*

    If the horticultural experts tell Heather about the beautiful Petunias, they ARE using the botanical name. By this logic, we should invent some alternate name for them, then, to make them “friendlier?” And if so, might I suggest “wet-kleenex flower?”

    Secondly, it is a grave, grave mistake to think that customers are going to retain common names any better than botanical ones. I can’t tell you how many circular conversations I’ve had with customers where the only information they could give about a plant they were looking for was that it was green and had [ovalish hand-gesture]-shaped leaves, or that it was “like a tree” and had white flowers.

    Professionals should know both sets of names, but I disagree that it’s a waste of time to try to get customers using the botanical ones. “Ficus” was a scary, alien word to people at one time; now a fair number of the customers I talk to know what a Ficus is (and usually they also know that they don’t want one). They can be taught. They should be taught.

  4. Colleen says:

    I think it’s like just about anything in life: the true geeks will get a kick out of knowing the botanical names (and find it absolutely necessary to do so) but the casual gardener doesn’t want to be bothered with learning something extra. I like Allan’s computer analogy. I just want my PC to work, I don’t care what all the crap that makes it work is called. My husband, on the other hand, is a total tech geek and really gets into all of the specs and terminology. Why should gardeners be any different?

  5. Sylvia (England) says:

    In the UK we use botanical names a lot but I think there is room for both. I use Hosta not plantain lily yet bluebell not Hyacinthoides non-scripta. In Scotland the bluebell is Campanula rotundifolia which I would call Harebell. But any good plants person will know both including local variations. I feel it is very arrogant to insist on one or the other – it doesn’t make any difference to the plant!

    A subject that comes up regularly and will never be resolved. Thank you for an interesting post.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  6. susan harris says:

    All plant labels should have both names, but I agree that for the retail customer, the common name should be dominant. I’ve been gardening for 30 some years, writing about it, blah, blah, and still only know the Latin name for the plants I grow myself and a few others. Customers are overwhelmed and intimidated ENOUGH at garden centers, for crying out loud.

  7. Colleen says:

    And, at least from what I’ve seen, most customers of both big box and many smaller nurseries aren’t “gardeners” as much as they’re “homeowners” who just want their yard to look nice. There is a big difference in the mindset between the two groups. And that’s as it should be–I don’t expect everyone to have the same level of interest in plants that most of us who are commenting do.

  8. Heather may not even care what the common name is. All she may want to know is if it is a bush, a tree, a vine or groundcover and that it has pretty flowers or leaves, stays green and blooms 365 days a year, can be planted and forgotten and will fill a certain space perfectly. At least we can hope she wants to know all that a minimum.

    In my twenty years working as a landscaper, (I know you have a rant about them in you) my use of botanical binomial nomenclature got very very rusty. In order to communicate with my clients I had to speak in a language they understood. That green bush over there would often suffice. Or in the case of Hawaii, that red bush over there. I was even chided at my local nursery for using proper plant names.

    As a professional and plant enthusiast I want and need to know the proper botanical names. I need to know both languages.

    A good label with the correct botanical name and the most common, common name should make everyone happy.

  9. naomi says:

    When I was a carpenter, I was amazed (also very young) at how little people understood about building. Of course, that’s why I was the one working, not they. I know some botanical terms and use them; I thank my mom and our friend Dan Franklin for that. But most people I encounter don’t know those terms. It’s been funny at times in a conversation when we’re both attempting to identify what plants we’re discussing. And pronouncing some of those words! That’s my big problem. I did get my crackhead yardman using latin. I watched him go from shuffling past with his head down, hunched over, to his shoulders back, head high, pointing at a plant, saying, “Don’t tell me, I remember, Butterfly Weed, Asclepias.” But did I teach him wrong, is it Asclepias or Asclepiadaceae? I don’t know.

  10. Lisa - St. Marys says:

    I am a plant geek, and I know that when I nonchalantly, without thinking throw out a latin term, my friends look at me like I’ve grown 2 heads. My friends as you may have figured out, are not plant geeks, they just want their yards to look good. I have also been named a snob, when I got excited talking about plants, and started (again) using the latin names. I often need to stop and think what the common term is to describe what plant I’m talking about, and even then most people in the 30, 40, 50, and 60′s don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Most people don’t want to walk into a store and feel stupid. If you want to sell to them, you need to make them comfortable, and not make them feel substandard. Maybe that’s why they even like the Big Box stores, they don’t feel like everyone else there actually knows something.

  11. Michele Owens says:

    Yeah, Allan! I feel like a horse’s ass using Latin. English, on the other hand, is a very blunt and beautiful language.

  12. Joe Lamp'l says:

    It’s not an “either / or”. Allan’s right about that group of folks that will never have an interest in learning the botanical name of a plant. And although “we” appreciate the value of using a plant’s proper name, other’s don’t care. Of course we understand the downside of trying to identify plants by their common names, I still contend that we need to do what we can to embrace all who want to stick a trowel in the dirt (or even pay someone to do it). If they’re inclined, they’ll learn the botanical name too, but let’s not turn them off in the process.

  13. Pat says:

    As a “non-professional” gardener, I want to see both Latin and common names on ID tags, which ideally will make me bi-lingual. It’s education by habit: if I see the two names together often enough, I might become comfortable using them either/or/both.

  14. Brie says:

    I don’t find it that difficult to learn the botanical names of the plants I’m interested in because my dad was in the nursery trade and would train me with the latin instead of the common names. However, most people don’t have the luxury of exposure.

    Maybe instead of keeping the average plant shopper cozy with common names, exposure of the botanical names should be increased. Not to say that common names aren’t useful, but how can we expect anyone to be comfortable with latin words if they never see them displayed prominently or hear them used in casual discussion of the plant?

    I know a lot of people my age (late 20s/early-mid 30′s) who buy loads of plants. Sometimes they sound funny mispronouncing the latin names they’ve learned, but at least they care to learn, and at least I know what they’re talking about when they fumble with “buddleia”. But I’ve heard people refer to all sorts of things as a “butterfly bush”. My mom likes to refer to her duranta erecta as butterfly plant instead of golden dewdrop, skyflower, etc. (note there’s also a thunbergia people call a skyflower…). Then I hear people drop the “butterfly bush” label when pointing to a clerodendron ugandanese. This is just one example of how confusing common names can be for VERY common plants in Florida.

    Latin names should not be so scary for people. They could be part of the average person’s plant vocabulary if we let them.

  15. eliz says:

    Well, my thing with common names is that the common name for one plant OFTEN gets assigned to another plant. Than you REALLY have a mess. With botanical names, there is only one name for the plant. You know what you have.

  16. Bob Vaiden says:

    Yes to both sides… (how’s THAT for a cop-out?).

    I lead tours and hikes…I use common names. There’s often an historical meaning there (why DID they call it “Mountain Mint???); Who was “Culver”; why “Rattlesnake Master”?

    Common names can be amusing: Orange Glory Flower or Butterflyweed for Asclepias tuberosa…without a mention of it being a Milkweed (that can scare folks off!)

    But how to tell people what to plant? How to be sure yourself of what someone else has? One must know the Latin name to be sure!

    And, of course, in the USA, “Bluebell” is “Mertensia”!

  17. luise h. says:

    When I talk to People about Plants I like to use both botanical and common names.When I plan someones Garden on Paper I also include both botanical and common Names.Avoids confusion and educates in a non condescending way.I would like my Customers and Friends to learn.Gardening is about sharing,sometimes knowledge.

  18. Jean says:

    Amen to plant labels carrying both Latin and common names. (Actually, at some nurseries I’d be happy to get a plant label, period!) I really think that this argument is about knowing your customer. If you live in a place where the Latin names would be appreciated for being more precise, then use that. But if not, use the common name. I only wish there weren’t so many “butterfly bushes” out there…

    I’d also like to rant a bit about the professionals who work in the horticulture business but who don’t know a thing about it, much less any Latin names. I think that would be a good topic for a future G.R. post.

  19. Pam says:

    Yes, but what about Laura, Dr. Armitage? (I went to school with your other daughter!)

    I do both Latin and common names, and I like when the information is there on the plant. I may be looking for a specific cultivar, so I like all the details spelled out for me. I am, however, planting a zoo garden in memory of my son, so I’ve been going by common names for that.

    As a customer I like to feel like the seller knows his product. Using only common names can be confusing. Geranium is a good example.

  20. Lynn says:

    I think there’s a lot to Bob Vaiden’s comment about WHY something is named that way, in Latin or English–those are the interesting bits and get us thinking about plants on different levels. Knowing some back story (and a few poetic terms) also helps you remember what the dang thing’s called!

  21. Insisting that non-professionals use botanical names is like creating an exclusive club where you have to pass a test to gain admittance – exactly the opposite of what gardens are about. I have been reading Chris Grampp’s “From Yard to Garden – The Domestication of America’s Home Grounds” and it makes some interesting points on how people view plants in relation to the whole outdoor experience.

    In the prologue, the author writes about conclusions he gained interviewing 50 people about what their yard meant to them for his master’s thesis in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    His basic conclusion “I learned that habitability was far more important to people than was the pursuit of gardening. This is not to say that people considered gardening objectionable or a waste of time, but rather that it was neither their first concern nor the purpose for their yard.”

    I’m far more interested in creating habital spaces and steering novice gardeners towards culturally appropriate plants than I am in expanding their botanical vocabulary, even if they end up referring to their plants as butterfly bush one, butterfly bush two and butterfly bush three.

  22. Gen Schmidt says:

    I really agree with the thought that as professionals we should know both, but not be snotty or force conversation in one set of names rather than another.

    That said, I’m getting a general air of looking down at younger gardeners and assuming that we’re too *something* to learn the things that the older generation has. Just because Heather hasn’t found the inclination doesn’t mean that assumption should be spread to the rest of us.

    There are passionate gardeners of every ilk, and stereotypes to go along with every generation.

    Even if your stereotypes are meant in a friendly fashion, they aren’t accurate for the many young gardeners I know (and met when I was a nursery pro) nor is that mild condescension helpful in forming a community of people bound by a shared interest.

    There is something delightful about stepping into a new hobby and realizing all that there is to know. It’s great to be friendly and willing to talk at every level, but it takes away a great deal of what makes gardening attractive if we try to remove any sense from newbies that there might be more of value to learn. A general trend towards over-simplification reduces the allure of gardening, not the opposite.

    Also? It’s really hard to have a delightful conversation with someone about her “white bushes” and how I should try one in my garden. Sometimes the things of value in life do require effort.

  23. Kathy says:

    The people who care that they are getting the right plant will learn the botanical name. The people who just keep reading and loving plants will learn it without realizing it. I never set out to learn botanical Latin, but pored over gardening magazines and catalogs in the winter months. It wasn’t until a neighbor gasped and said, “You know the scientific names of plants?!” that I even realized I knew them.

  24. mael says:

    I’m 23. I manage to retain, in my head, the names of plants in botanical Latin, English, and Italian. Honestly? It’s not that hard.

    I am very glad that the nursery I go to uses the botanical names to sort the plants, and has both the botanical name and the common name on the tag. If “casual gardeners” need help finding something, they can simply ask.

  25. I agree that I would want to see both the common name and the Latin binomial on plant tags and in descriptions in catalogs–both online and print. So I can be sure of what I’m getting.

    I use common names in writing my columns with the Latin binomial in parentheses and in my book, “Sustainable Gardening for Florida,” I used common names throughout–the Latin names are only in the plant list appendix.

    That being said, the biggest problems with the Latin binomials, isn’t the snobbishness or the problems with pronouncing the Latin, it that the plant taxonomists unfortunately change the names on a regular basis. Smooth aster is no longer Aster laevis, it’s now Symphyotrichum leave and Zinnia elegans is now Z. violacea. Venus’ Looking-glass used to be known as Specularia perfoliata, but now it’s Triodanis perfoliata. The taxonomists justify these changes by straightening out old herbarium records and giving the first named specimen preference over the one that has been most commonly used. I usually tell people I have a master’s degree in botany and don’t specify that it’s in plant taxonomy because I fear the reactions of people rebelling against these changes.

  26. Gloria says:

    I don’t know the medically correct name for most disease but will not see a doctor that does not know.
    I only buy plants that have a label including the botanical name.The common name added is nice but does not help me find real information about that plant if I decide to do so. A plant is alive but will not stay so if I do not know that it should not be growing at the low end of the garden where water pools or that it needs several hours of sun to produce a flower.
    Labels exist to give buyers information,why would you limit that information?

  27. gardenmentor says:

    Years ago one of the editors I worked with in a large publishing firm spoke up during a heated editorial nitpicking session and reminded us, “language is a means of communications”. What she was trying to tell us is that sometimes it takes more than one way to speak with an individual in order to deliver a message that s/he will retain. I think of this whenever I’m having a discussion about plants. One person’s WhoChairUh is another person’s WhoKerUh is another person’s Coral Bells.

    When having a conversation with clients, I try not to make them go cross-eye’d with all the names I can throw out. As Lisa of the two-heads points out above, it’s easy to get labelled a plant snob. (And in the wrong group, that isn’t always a good thing.) As so many above have pointed out, it’s not an either/or situation. We need to try to recognize all the names and use them in the right context.

    If I’m ordering a specific Heuchera for a client, I’m careful to use the full botanical name in order to get the right thing. But really, most clients don’t care about those details. They just want to make sure they get the plant with the pretty purple leaves and light pink airy flowers rather than the green one with reddish-pink flowers.

    It all just comes down to who I’m communicating with at the moment.

  28. Jeannnie says:

    I fully agree with you and have this as an analogy: I used to work for 2 doctors who very much wanted to communicate well with their patients. They were, however, unable to knock off the latin. They wanted to communicate, but by using words the person didn’t understand, they lost their audience.

  29. Shibaguyz says:

    BRAVO!

    The unabashed snobbery that sometimes comes from those people who feel the “proper” names should be used all the time is off putting at best. There is one particular local nursery where I simply asked if they carried tea plants. I realize there is a proper name for it and I even know it (surprisingly). I just said tea plants. They CORRECTED ME in front of other customers in a tone of voice that was rude and condescending. Not only did I notice but the other customers around me noticed.

    We’re talking about retail establishments here. You start off with common language then, if your goal is education (a valid goal) you move on to the more involved language. It is what we do in our industry and it is what I expect as a customer when I visit a botanically based business.

    As a result of the condescending behavior of the shop owner, we left without purchasing from them and told them exactly why. We then arranged a spring purchase of Camellia sinensis from a local cultivator who took the time to educate us at length about the plants and what it would take to grow a couple.

    “Dumb it down…” Okay… then I’m a dummy… boo-friggin-hoo. I’m also your customer. If I come in asking for a tea plant, don’t talk to me about Camellia sinensis if you know what I’m talking about. Don’t take it upon yourself to educate my idiot mind about the “correct” pronunciation of the Latin name. I don’t care.

    I get it that some plants must be identified this way in order to prevent confusion amongst local derivatives of names. However, if you are going to open a botanical business in a particular part of the country or in a consumer pocket where a common colloquialism is used, it is your job to communicate accordingly to those consumers THEN educate if that is your (valid) goal.

    We ain’t no dummies and if I were to take the time to care enough to find the name of the speaker who said this, I’d educate him/her on the principles of public service and, as an educator myself, the principles of education in the public sector.

    *end of rant*

  30. jenn says:

    My two cents:

    Just make sure that the botanical name is also on that label. Gardeners in fringe climates NEED that information to get accurate information on what they are buying/have bought.

    I’m in Phoenix. Low desert, anyone?

  31. Gloria says:

    Do any of you remember the first time you bought plants for a garden?
    I went to a local nursery looking for something with white flowers that would bloom for as long as possible.
    I wanted them to go with the white roses already growing that some one else had planted.
    All that green grass and white looked really pretty.

    The clerk advised white petunias and said to pinch off the dying flowers to keep more flowers growing. Went home with a couple of trays of white petunias. To this day I love the scent of petunias on a warm summer evening.

    I still say more information is better than less and do not understand how any name used,common or not, would have changed the outcome of that first encounter.

  32. Mathi says:

    Asking someone ‘what is that gorgeous purple flower there in the shade?’ and hearing ‘a violet’ is less helpful than hearing ‘baby blue violet’ which is less helpful than ‘viola banksii’. Still, I think most people can work with a common name, even a general one, go look it up, find the latin name, find someone selling the exact plant, then completely forget that latin name when someone asks what it is in their garden 3 years from now and just answer with ‘some kind of violet’.

  33. Dave M says:

    I had the common v. botanical argument with an old employer, regarding which to use to label plants on our plans. I just found that my homeowners were feeling overwhelmed when presented with that many unfamiliar and exotic-sounding names, especially when they actually knew a fair number of them by their common names. So, now I do both on my plans- common name first, botanical two points smaller and italicized below. That way they’re free to use whichever name makes them feel more comfortable to describe the plant, and I have a list I can fax to my growers and get exactly what I want.

    Funny story about plant names- I did a back yard for a wonderful older woman in Indiana back when I was in college. She loved her purple-flowered vine, and told everyone how wonderful her “Purple Chlamydia” was. I don’t know of a common name for Clematis, but had I told it to her I doubt either one of us would’ve blushed so hard.

  34. As a writer, I tend to use the name that is most “commonly used” among the gardeners that I know —it may be the common name or the botanical name. Sometimes, I include both…but, that’s a lot of typing.

    I just need a spellchecker for the botanical names for plants. Would one of you please invent it? Such a spellchecker add-on will be a big seller.

    Cameron

  35. Plantanista says:

    I like the “can’t we all just get along” responses that encourage both the botanical and common names for plants in the retail trade. And yes, botanicals *always* on professional specs.

    A funny thing has been happening lately with my clients who are now fixated on catchy cultivar names. (We give them copies of the plant tags when we buy retail. It goes something like this:

    Client: “I really liked that cappuccino last year!”

    Me: “Wow, it must have been a memorable cup of coffee!”

    Client: “No, the plant!”

    Me: “Oh… you mean the Heuchera?”

    Client (looking at me aghast): “Heuchera? Who you calling a Heuchera? You know, that chocolaty-colored sunflower.”

    Me: “Right, oh, ok… Helianthus annus!”

    Client: “Who you calling a annus?”

    Me: “No, it’s a cultivar of Helianthus annus… The Greek root of Helianthus is…”

    Client: (Suspicious stare)

    Me: “Nevermind. Yeah. Cappuccinno it is! Can I make that a double?”

  36. Shibaguyz:

    You don’t think maybe the nusery people were just trying to establish whether you wanted tea plants (Camellia sinensis), ti plants (Cordyline terminalis) or Fukien tea plants (Carmona microphylla)?

  37. I like common names. They make me smile in a way that Latin names do not.

    Except for Turdus migratorius. Turdus migratorius makes me smile.

  38. I must be a freak because I know the Latin name of nearly every plant that will grow in my Zone & many which don’t, but I don’t know half of their common names. People will say the common name of a plant & I’m left scratching my head. Then I see the plant & say, oh, that’s a whatever the Latin name is. I’m not in the industry, I just like plants. I love Latin, even when the taxonomists change the names. On my blog, I usually give both the Latin & common name of a plant (if I know it). And I prounounce Heuchera “HOY-ker-uh.”

  39. The comparison to selling computers is right on. First get people interested in plants and gardening and then many WILL want to know more, including the botanical names of the plants in their garden. I’m a big advocate of “dual labeling”, provide both names and everyone is happy!

  40. Layanee says:

    It is always bad form to make someone feel like an idiot. Having both Latin and common names on a tag should be the standard and the horticultural professional at the nursery should learn to play to the audience at hand. What is so hard about treating each customer according to his/her needs? Who knew this was such a controversial topic? If someone asks me about the Coreopsis v. ‘Moonbeam’ in the garden with the intent on purchasing one, I encourage them to write down the latin name or I write it down for them to make sure that they purchase this plant and not Coreopsis grandiflora. All tickseed are not created equal.

  41. Dr. Armitage mentions Rhododendron in his post — does he really think anyone calls this plant rosebay tree? That is its common name. Magnolia, Hydrangea, Ajuga — is it really so scary, so hard? One thing about knowing the names of our plants is that we begin to treat them as individuals, and care for them better. Think of your daughter’s grade school class, Doc. The dynamic changes when the teacher learns the real names of the kids — first and last — and addresses their individual needs.

  42. Bob Vaiden says:

    Just a little added comment…

    What do people expect to see when someone mentions a “Tiger Lily”? I just remembered that an acquaintance uses that term for what I call a “Day Lily”. Does anyone else use the term that way?

    Common names CAN get confusing:)

  43. Barbara says:

    BRAVO Allan.

    I tell coaching clients (and emphasized in my book) that writing down the botanical name is vital in case you want another or need to look up info on it. I tell visitors it’s a slow-growing but-oh-so-worth it Toad Lily!

  44. Use both botanical names (with phonetic spelling guide) and common name.
    Shirley

  45. Yay Allan!
    Point brilliantly made, lines clearly drawn.
    Wonderful discussion.
    Big points for pointing out what should be obvious from a pure business thriving POV, and yet that seems still one of the whipping boys of those who know way more than the common joe.
    I find that the latin comes, but slowly. And I do know many who will very reluctantly pass along their hard won dollars to people who sneer or talk over them.

  46. Anita says:

    I’d love to know the Latin (to get the full story – the wrong plant is just an opportunity to try again later). It’s interesting to know the interrelations between families, and the flowering habits and histories. The truth is that I suck at memorizing things.
    I plan on taking a course, with lab, on botany. That will help some. Then I’m going to take more classes – which will help more. But I wouldn’t pick it up on my own, and I would never expect everyone to shuffle off to college four night a week for a term to get the basic Latin (not even full IDs) down. Plus, I like the folk names – that I might be looking at the same plant Laura Wilder used to make flower garlands, or that Merriwether Lewis admired and sketched. That’s cool.

  47. Germi says:

    I think it’s crazy for any industry professional to think that the average nursery customer or design client needs to know botanical latin. I’ve seen this kind of snobbery – it’s a turn off. Nursery salespersons trying to give the client that comes in asking for a ‘purple grass with puffy flowers’ a lesson in this completely made-up language is laughable, IMO.
    However, I DO think botanical latin as the professional standard needs to be encouraged. I got into an argument with a salesman at a nursery who tried to sell me a Phormium tenax ‘Bronze’ when I was asking for a Pennisetum rubrum.
    I had to ask for a ‘purple grass with puffy flowers’…

  48. Old Kim says:

    There are label laws for plants sold. Where they were grown and the size of the pot is required on all plants. It’s ridiculous that the latin name shouldn’t be required, too. Consumers should have the opportunity to know exactly what they buy.
    How else am I gonna answer how to take care of their amazing Russian Lavendar that they bought from the Sunday Times?
    I laugh at the robin’s latin name, too.

  49. thistleandthorn says:

    Awww, man, I hate getting into the conversation this late!
    But doesn’t the Latin name give us clues to the nature of the plant… color, habit, and so forth? The little Latin I know comes courtesy of the plants I’ve learned the proper names of. I’m with Plantropology, when we know something’s name, we know it as an individual. Necessary for those of us in the biz, and a bit of a stretch for people who barely recognize the difference between a perennial and a shrub.

  50. greg draiss says:

    I think both are correct. Plant snobs can speak latin geek all they want.

    But in business you must give the customer what they want. Like hedge shears, round point shovels, pruning paint etc.
    Try an off them the proper ingrdients to a garden but you will go out of business if you do not have what they want as well as what they need.

    The (bait and switch?) TROLL

  51. Barry Prince says:

    I have heard latin names used sparesely in retail establshments but I frankly expect latin names on the labels so I can look up new plants to see their requirements.

    I would be astonished if a nursery person wanted to conduct business discourse in a retail establishment in Texas where I live using the latin names.

    In fact, the more I roll that scene around in my head, the more I enjoy the mental image of someone only using latin names at a Texas nursery! Especially one like Turdus migratorius…which makes me smile too! :)

  52. One of my biggest regrets starting out as a serious gardener some 30 years ago was not willing to learn the botanical names. I felt I was challanged enough. On the other hand, knowing both allows for more productive and effective communication with professionals, as well as, happy homeowners.

    I find it interesting that this debate seems to only belong in horticulture. You don’t hear birders debating over calling a Purple martin a Progne subis or a lepidopterian calling a Monarch a Danaus plexippus. Common names are, well, common. Perhaps the difference is that in the naming of commons plant, there can be several; whereas in birds and butterflies, there is but one common name. I actually find it charming to learn of the many common names for plants. With Google searches today, most any plant can be found any way it’s searched. For a ironic side note, common names didn’t change when all the renaming of botanical names occured! I found comfort in that.

  53. greg draiss says:

    nonsense……….if you are teaching hort to college students or doing reaerch use the Latin.

    If dealing with the general public use both.

    Greg

  54. Fern says:

    I think plant tags should have both names. More experienced gardeners will want to know that they are purchasing the precise variety they had in mind, but long latin names that beginner gardeners can’t even pronounce are intimidating, not to mention totally useless, to them. To those gardeners, “million bells” sounds like a nice plant. Who wouldn’t like something covered in a “million” “bell”-shaped flowers? But Calibrachoa? What the heck is that?!

    If the gardening world is totally inaccessible to those who are inexperienced but want to learn, then it deserves the slow death that many here fear is on the horizon. Many here seem to be advocating for a world in which everyone must speak a certain language and latin-english dictionaries are forbidden. That sort of snobbery and silliness won’t do much to advance the appreciation of plants in the non-gardening world.

  55. Bob says:

    I consider myself a plant geek and understand latin names easily but find myself needing a common name sometimes to come up with a latin name. In my experience both should be used together when ever possible since they help clarify each other when used in concert.

  56. Gardening With Confidence:

    I mentioned the debate here at a non-gardening blog I visit a lot, and within minutes someone popped up to say that no, a very similar argument happens in the birder community as well, particularly when the group doing the discussing is a multilingual one. Though s/he said that generally everybody is on board with the scientific names except for the Americans, who balk at having to learn the Latin and Greek.

    Presumably the argument is that all the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking people should have to learn English, because Americans should never be inconvenienced by having to learn anything. I didn’t press for details.

  57. Eric says:

    I would like to see all plant nurseries use signs and tags that provide both common AND latin names. To be inclusionary always strikes me as preferable to being exclusionary. Using both common and lain names would help reduce confusion for everyone involved.

  58. Dr A says:

    To say I am astonished by the feedback is an understatement. I am not really surprised since the issue of commmon vs. botanical names has long been on the front burner. What astonishes me is that some of you missed the point entirely (probably my writing skills). I am not disabusing the learning of botanical names, I love them, and if you want to learn them, I will be happy to give you a soft quiz whenever you are ready. My point is that there are many people who are not reading this blog and never will, but who still enjoy the emotion, color and therapy that gardening provides. These people should not be expected to listen to us talk about tricyrtis or ampelopsis (which has nothing to do with Barack Obama or Benazir Buhtto-give me a break!). The same person said “If I must learn cooking terms and measurements to cook, sew, knit, design a blog on Typepad, work as a graphic designer — why is that different than learning botanical Latin?”. My point is that gardening is not something you should have to learn, unless you are supporting your family by growing food, and running a nursery etc. It is something to be enjoyed – if that happens, the learning will occur. We must keep it simple for the Heathers of the world, not because she can’t learn, but because she has no interest in learning it, but still wants to smell her flowers. I would love to reply to all the responses, but I didn’t realize this blogging thing is a full time job. BTW, Pam, thanks for mentioning Laura, she is thankful she does not get picked on like her sister.

  59. Old Kim says:

    Doe’s anyone know what Rose of Sharon is? Just received Stoke’s seed catalog and they list it as a common name for Hypericum Calycinum. Common names can be way off base as in this case.

  60. Adam_W says:

    This is a really interesting thread & one I too am sorry I came into a bit late. Let me throw in my thoughts for what they are worth.
    Here in Australia the Nursery Industry Association spends a lot of time (not to mention money) looking at who is buying & why and who is getting involved in gardening and why. One thing that keeps coming up is that gardening as a pastime has ‘skipped’ a generation. The kids of the boomers whether they be gen X or Y’s have not been taught to garden or to appreciate gardening like their parents were. There are probably a multitude of reasons for this – changes in living patterns, house block size, increased leisure opportunities etc etc.
    The X & Y’s are also as a whole better educated than their folks & they don’t like to appear unknowledgable. So to walk into a garden centre and be confronted by a snooty horticulturist is actually a substantial turn-off to them.
    The nursery industry over here didn’t get this. ‘Serious’ operators couldn’t work out why cheap & cheerful operators that didn’t intimidate their customers were doing so much business while their fine horticultural establishments were in the doldrums or only attracting a hard-core of older customers. Then just when the industry stalwarts felt that the garden industry was in its death throws along came our first ‘hardware barns’ with aheeemmm, garden centres attached.
    Guess what? These barns were beating off the gardening customers with sticks.
    Why? Because people could shop there without fear of their intelligence being called into question.
    What this whole debate boils down to is using the right voice for the audience that you speak to at any given time.
    I agree plant labels should always have precise details of the plants true-name but likewise they should state the common name.
    If you want to ensure that you are attracting new folks into the garden you have to leave the gate open with a welcome sign hung on it.
    Not have the entry barred and manned by a nomenclatural sentry who refuses entry to all but those that know the secret passwords.
    For every new person attracted to gardening the fact is that only a small number will go on to want to know full botanic names etc. Does that matter? No. Should they be excluded from such a wonderful preoccupation because they don’t want to learn our mangled form of Latin? Again, no.
    When I write & talk I use both common & proper names because I want to be inclusive.
    When I talk with or write to my peers I will use true names almost exclusively.
    It’s all about who you are talking with.
    Does the average punter want (or need…) to know that Gardenias are no longer G. augusta but have gone back to G. jasminoides? No, they don’t.
    They want the one that flowers best and only grows to X height. And my example brings up another point… when the botanical nomenclature gurus can’t even formally settle on a plant name how can you expect the casual gardener to keep up with it? Or would you, as some seem to propose, see it as appropriate that we sneer at our customers/readers/viewers/listeners and declare with glee “HAAAH, that’s the old name sir it’s now called…”
    My bottom line on this is don’t specialise yourself into extinction.
    By alienating part of your potential client base because they have no interest in learning botanic Latin is just plain silly, not to mention commercial suicide.
    Rant over ;)

  61. Tom Stebbins says:

    As a former university plant diagnostician and now county agent I have seen both sides of this issue.
    Most plant geeks who always use plant binomials will cringe when they are confronted with insect, diasease or nematode binomial names. Hey, these are a big part of the garden as well, at least there are more species to learn. Most of us just want to know if it is a root rot. I see it as a teachable moment if done at the right time. We should start at the students level then always challenge them to go deeper if they wish.

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