Osteospermum eklonis (African daisy) Malvella leprosa (Alkali mallow) Hulsea algida (Alpine gold hulsea) Medicago sativa (Alfalfa) Angelica tomentosa (Woolly angelica) Bahia dissecta (Ragged-leaf bahia) Lunaria annua (Annual moonwort) Gilia brecciarum ssp. neglecta (Argus gilia) Prunus fremontii (Desert apricot) Aptenia cordifolia (Baby sun rose)


This website is intended to be a companion one to my California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations, a work that has been in progress for well over 20 years. It will include those names that are derived from botanists, plant collectors, scientists, explorers and ordinary people like me who have in some way contributed to the world of botany, and those other names that are in some way descriptive of the taxa to which they are attached. I am not an expert in Latin or Greek, and I make no firm guarantees as to the accuracy or legitimacy of these definitions. Further, I take no original credit for the work represented here, and claim merely to have compiled information from published and online sources and presented it in one location. Many, indeed most, of the definitions and derivations that are presented here are drawn from David Gledhill's The Names of Plants, William Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, and Edmund Jaeger's A Source-book of Biological Names and Terms. When none of these produce a satisfactory entry, I have turned to the internet to such sites as the Biological Heritage Library, SEINet, and Flora of North America. Species publication and other taxonomic information mostly comes from the International Plant Name Index (IPNI), World Flora Online (WFO), the Plants of the World Online website of Kew Gardens, and the Tropicos website of the Missouri Botanical Garden. In addition to those many other sources I have relied on, I wish to acknowledge the work of Dr. Umberto Quattrocchi of Sicily, whose massive World Dictionary of Plant Names, published in four volumes, includes some 22,500 genera and well over 200,000 species.   I particularly want to thank David Hollombe of the Santa Monica chapter California Native Plant Society for his tremendous research and fine scholarship, and for his numerous invaluable and unfailingly generous biographical contributions and corrections. Without his knowledge and help, this would be a far poorer effort. I have been fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Roderick Cameron, President of the International Oak Society, who has made numerous valuable contributions particularly with regard to oak epithets. I also express appreciation to Doug Coleman, Biologist and Executive Director of the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen. in whose company I spent a very enjoyable day exploring plants in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and for whose friendship I am grateful. I especially want to acknowledge the Herbarium and Education staffs at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont who, although not involved in the creation of this work, have nevertheless contributed greatly to the furtherance of my botanical knowledge and to my enjoyment of native plants. I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of many professional botanists such as Bruce Baldwin, Jim Andre, Tasha La Doux, Jon Rebman, Scott McMillan, Steve Junak, Dana York, Naomi Fraga, Fred Roberts, Steve Schoenig, Steve Matson, Tim Krantz, Jim Morefield, Jeff Greenhouse, John Game, Bob Allen, Neal Kramer, and others, and I thank them. For help with botanical terminology and etymology, particularly with Latin words, I express my appreciation to Mike Simpson and E. Nicholas Genovese at San Diego State University. I would be remiss in not also mentioning the wonderful online series of biographical essays entitled "Who's In A Name?" by Larry Blakely that are not only highly informative but equally fun to read. The Dave's Garden website with its Botanary section is also worthy of mention, as is the online Dictionary of Botanical Epithets and the Glossary of Roots of Botanical Names. Other online sources potentially useful are too numerous to list. There are people who have occasionally written with suggestions and corrections, and I am always extremely appreciative for that. This would not be nearly as complete a listing of Virginia plant names if I didn't have the wonderful 1554-page volume entitled simply Flora of Virginia which was first published in 2012, and which is in every way equivalent to and as good as the Jepson Manual which we depend on in California. This website contains all the generic, specific and subspecific epithets in that volume, and also in the list of waifs included at the end of the book.

A careful peruser of these pages may note different spellings for the same root word. This is unavoidable whenever a foreign language is translated into English.  In some instances different references give different derivations for the same name, reflecting perhaps a certain amount of guesswork.  It is not always easy or even possible to say where a name came from, what it means or what it refers to. Many of these names were assigned decades or in some cases centuries ago, and the namers have often not left records as to why particular names were selected. Sometimes the generic name alludes to a characteristic of a single species that may have been the first one of its genus to be identified but is not typical of all its related species, and therefore may seem oddly chosen.  Similarly, a specific name may reflect a characteristic that is not typical of all known subspecies or geographical variants.  In many cases, the reader will regretfully be left to guess for him or herself just how these meanings actually relate to the plant in question.  This list should therefore be considered mainly as an interesting source of information which may help to illustrate why some plants have the names they do, and may at least point people in the direction of learning more about the names of plants.

The reader should be aware that a specific epithet for one genus might have a different derivation or meaning than the same epithet for another genus, just as the names baileyi or bakeri can refer to more than one individual. It is often difficult to discern exactly where these names came from, or what was in the mind of the author who published them. No doubt this may have resulted in mistakes in the derivations or meanings I have given for particular taxa. A source such as Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names may give a derivation which applies to a taxon in Europe for example, but may not apply to a Virginia taxon. There is no official compilation or other published work which may absolutely be relied upon, and I am only too aware that information given on the internet is not always accurate or complete. For all these reasons the reader must be aware of the limitations of a site such as this, but I believe that I have made a good faith effort to present correct information, and am always open to suggestions and/or corrections.

In the names included here the stressed vowel is the one preceding the stress mark. It is not always easy to ascertain where such stress should be placed, especially in the case of epithets derived from personal names. Some may say IVES-ee-a, while others say i-VEES-ee-a. In the case of epithets derived from people's names, I have tried to follow the principle of maintaining the stress of the original personal name, and have abandoned it only when it was awkward. Not everyone will agree with the choices I have made, but I have tried to follow the rules of pronunciation, despite occasional uncertainty on my part as to what is correct. Where no credit is given for photos, they are in public domain mostly from Wikipedia.

An essay on the basic principles of botanical name pronunction is given here. The links at the bottom of the page will take you to sections on Virginia plant communities and the development of botanical nomenclature, as well as a 750-item glossary.  It will be updated periodically as new information becomes available to me. Anyone wishing to see my photographs of Southern California flora in a larger format may look at my other websites, Southern California Wildflowers,  and Field Trips Photo Gallery.  I would greatly appreciate being contacted and corrected with any information contrary or supplemental to that herein noted, or any sources of information on plant names other than those listed on the sources page. If requested, my consent will gladly be given for any non-commercial use of my photographs.

One last note... Anyone who spends much time perusing this etymological dictionary is bound to find the terms 'unknown derivation,' 'uncertain meaning,' 'classical Latin name,' or some such. This merely demonstrates the occasional difficulty in pinning down the exact provenance of some of the names that go back centuries or sometimes millenia. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs and other peoples of the ancient world were certainly aware of many of the plants that we call by different names today, and they had their own names for them which were transmitted from one group to another, and from one language to another, and languages evolve and change, and so do the names. It's just the nature of the beast.

Copyright @ 2023 by Michael L. Charters.
The photographs contained in this website may not be reproduced without the express consent of the author.