What are Genus and Species in Plants?

You may remember that I provided a general introduction to Botanical Latin in the first edition of this series, describing why Latin is employed and some of the regulations. It was also my stated goal to debunk some of the common misconceptions about this intriguing topic.

Everyone should have learned from the previous two episodes that Latin words are made up of pieces and that those parts interact with one another. The root is the most significant component of the word since it is the irreducible portion of the word on which all other forms of the word are built. The root may be changed by adding meaningful prefixes or suffixes, which are the other components of the term. Many botanical names are just compound terms, or words made up of two ordinarily distinct nouns, for example, giganticaerulea or leucocephala. I also noted that having a solid grasp of some of the more popular Latin terms and word modifiers can assist a person to comprehend their organism and why it was given the name that it has.

Another element of noun organization deserves to be mentioned here. It’s the idea of noun declensions. As previously established, nouns (Latin, substantia) are separated into cases to reflect their location within a specific context, either as Latin text or as Scientific Latin. Declensions are noun groups based on the last letter of the root word and the ends that are customarily linked to the roots. There are five distinct declensions. It should be noted that the declension system emerged after there was already a language, rather than the other way around when the language would be jammed into a created set of rules. This is only an illustration of how the language developed. It is not necessary to be aware of this in order to comprehend Latin names, but it is useful to be aware that it exists and that you may encounter it. You could even find it useful now and again, if only to comprehend what it means when a term in a dictionary states, “Galactose: galactosum (s.n. II), gen. sing.” The parenthesis indicates that the word is in the second declension, II, that it is a neuter noun (n.), and that the example provided, galactosum, is singular (s).

The first declension includes all feminine nouns with roots that finish in the letter a, which is the majority of them. Nouns ending in o are included in the second declension. This category includes all three genders: male, female, and neuter. The third declension is a catch-all for nouns that terminate in consonants and begin with the letter i. Fourth declension words have roots that finish in u, whereas fifth declension words have roots that end in e. The table below organizes all of the endings by declension. This approach is arbitrary, yet contrary to what most young Latin students may claim, it is valuable to serious linguistics students.

In the first episode, I indicated that one of the most essential things that can be gleaned from a scientific name is the place that an organism, or group of species, has within the taxonomic ladder. Knowing specific suffixes allows you to discern whether a word represents a species, a genus, a family, or something else. Most people only recall the ends up to the level of families (-aceae), which is also OK. In general, there is no need for a casual observer to know anything else. Remember that the names of bigger groupings are generally taken from one of the representative genera or species within the broader grouping. You can always tell what is being discussed if you know which suffix is linked with whatever degree of differentiation. Of fact, different genera are generally found within the family. Most taxonomists consider the family Nymphaeaceae, the genera Nelumbo, Nuphar, Victoria, Eurayle, and others to be members in good standing. This kind of knowledge is essentially a memory game.

I also highlighted that the suffixes on the nouns we encounter may indicate much more than their place in the hierarchy. I noted that there are various suffixes that have nothing to do with hierarchy and instead have anything to do with the individual organism being identified or described. It will be noted that most organism names are descriptive, or phenotypic, in the sense that they describe some aspect of the organism’s appearance. Alternatively, they may describe life characteristics that distinguish it from all other species in the genus. They may do both or neither. As a result, several species from other genera have the same particular name, such as Ludwigia repens, Ranunculus repens, Juncus repens, and so on. The fact that all of these plants share the same particular name suggests that they all have something in common. They’re all creeping. Repens is Latin for “creeping.” Reptans is another variant of the term, while reptile is a well-known derivation of the same root, repere (L., to crawl). Prostrata would not work since these plants do not always grow close to the earth. They are not vines, however, they commonly grow into higher plants, hence the contrast between creeping and prostrate. There are other individuals of Ludwigia who creep, for example, but this is the one that received the moniker initially. The others are called for some other characteristic.

The endings -oides or -odes are often seen. They imply “in the shape of,” as stated in the first episode. The term being changed in this scenario is invariably that of another genus of plant or animal. To continue with the Ludwigia example, the species L. peploides is named after the genus Peplis, sometimes known as Didiplis, a genus of common annual marsh plants native to eastern North America. The likeness was certainly more significant to the taxonomist who developed the term than to the casual viewer, although it is not hard to see. Myosotis scorpioides, whose blooms emerge in a scorpion tail-like fashion, is an example of a plant defined in terms of an animal. In Greek terms, the suffixes -oides and -odes, as well as -morphus, are employed. The suffix -formis is used for individuals of Latin origin.

It’s worth noting that Linnaeus, the inventor of Botanical Latin, despised the usage of the -oides suffix to imply basic likeness. He considered the conclusion to be “the usual and secure shelter of the idle.” He desired that the plant be called for itself or in honor of someone. To that goal, he renamed multiple genera and insisted on using different naming approaches. His efforts, however, were not in vain; now, there are hundreds of instances of their utilization across the plant world. The ending is still used in English today. We have terms like “asteroid” (similar to a star), “anthropoid” (like a man), “humanoid” (similar to a human), etceteroid.

In fact, some names have nothing to do with the appearance of the plant or animal. You may come across names that have been created to commemorate a certain individual, generally a botanist, or to inform us where the plant was discovered or can be found readily. To continue with the Ludwigia theme, L. peruensis (from Peru) comes to mind. Ludwig is the name given to the whole genus. The genus Eichornia, which contains water hyacinth, is named after the botanist Eichorn. Because Ludwigia and Eichornia are genus names, they are in the nominative case, thus the -ia suffix. If they were species, for example, helmsii, they would be in the genitive case and contain the -ii suffix. Other honorific suffixes include -iana (Nymphaea robinsoniana) and -ea (Barbarea spp.)

-ata is another often used suffix. This is a shape or form shown by a floral part, leaf, or stem. It’s the same as our final -ate. For example, prostrata means prostrate, hastata means hastate, crenata means crenate, and so on. This conclusion is in the XXXX case. When used to describe the shape of a leaf, stem, or flower, this ending differs from -formes, -oides, and -odes in that it describes a geometric shape rather than a similarity to another plant.

Some plant names seem to be inaccurate in their depiction of the plant’s life behaviors. Myriophyllum brasiliense, sometimes known as “Parrot’s Feather,” is one such specimen. This plant is common and, in my view, mistakenly referred to as M. aquatica in the literature. This, I feel, is inaccurate since it is among the least strictly “aquatic” members of the genus, being more amphibious than the majority of Myriophyllum species. The majority of Myriophyllums emerge from the water just to bloom. They perish if you take them out of the water. M. brasiliense may climb out of the pond and grow to be several feet above the water. This is an instance of an inaccurate name, but it might also be a discounted or antiquated synonym that was picked up by a careless author and then spread around the many interest groups. To my astonishment, the term M. aquatica appears in Hortus III, a well-known source of knowledge, giving it a legitimacy that I do not believe it merits. But who am I to judge?


The names of genera, as indicated in the first episode, are in the nominative case. This is because genera are the names most usually associated with a species, and the nominative case is the ideal one for the task since it deals primarily with the direct object within a context, and because many of the names of genera are those of persons or places. “Oh, it’s a Sagittarius, all right,” we hear. I’m not sure what species it is, but the bloom is clearly a Sagittaria of some kind.” We seldom hear individuals refer to plants by their scientific names. I’ve approached individuals and said, “Did you notice that montevidensis (or that paniculata)?” in reference to Sagittaria montevidensis or Eichornia paniculata, but only to those who are “in the know” and will understand what I’m saying. To make myself appear to a layperson, I would like to utilize more of my name. I may even use a popular name (perish the notion). The idea is that most individuals are more familiar with general names than unique ones. This is exactly as it should be. As previously stated, the nominative case is employed to denote the topic of the issue. It talks in broad strokes, referring to the most well-recognized groups of species. Family names relate to too many species, while particular names are both too specific to be recognized and used too often to imply anything without the generic name.

Typically, generic names are established by treating adjectives as nouns. This implies that adjectives, terms like huge, red, or ciliated, that modify nouns in some manner, are given the same ends as the nouns with which they are related, based on the endings of the adjectives. Of course, everything is in agreement in terms of number, case, and gender. Gender is derived from the root word’s ending, and it is normally feminine, as in Sagittaria, nom, fem., sing. of Sagittarius. Pontederia is a feminine name for Pontederius. We’ve all heard names like this before: scientists (Copernicus), gods (Aesclepius), popes (Sextus), and musicians (Preatorius). If they were plant genera, they could be altered to Copernica, Asclepias, Sextia, or even Praetoria CHECK ENDINGS!!!!!!!

Generic names may also be used to honor persons or locations. Indeed, quite a few do. A taxonomist might offer a great honor to a colleague or an acclaimed scientist from the past or present by naming a genus. These names are suffixed with -ia, -ea, or simply -a.

Certain generic names break the rules by using an uncommon version of the name. The majority of these instances are names of genera that were given long ago, before, or by Linneus and other early taxonomists.

Few allude to geographical concerns, which are reserved for species, but many refer to plant characteristics (Ceratophyllum => cerato, horn + phyllo, leaf or horn leaf, alluding to tiny, hornlike protrusions placed along the edges of the leaflets). Polygonum, which translates to “many reproductive organs,” is another example of this.


As you are aware, individual names are connected with a variety of suffixes. As previously stated, they are used to represent shape, origin, or to commemorate a person. I’ll go through each of them in turn.
Because there are so many options, names that convey shape are the most difficult to express. They may discuss the amount of flower or leaf components. The following prefixes are used in these cases:
Geographical names (pg. 208). Substantives (nouns) in the genitive case, for example, saharae, of the Sahara; novae-angliae, of New England, and so on.

Adjectives with the ends -ensis, -anus are preferred (-a, -um)

-acus, -aeus, -enus, -inus, and -us are uncommon forms.

When a name is for a group of persons, it is in the genitive plural.

When a plant is native to a specific location, not necessarily geographically, as with a parasitic species called for the substrate on which it grows, the ending -cola is used, as in the name Schefflera arboricola, which refers to a Schefflera species that lives in trees.

The common prefix a- means “without,” “lacking,” “un-,” or “less.” Without petals, for example, apetalus.
The -aceus prefix means “resembling, having the character of, or pertaining to.” Used to create adj from nouns, such as foliaceus from folium.

-alis, suf. having a connotation of belonging, resembling, furnished with, or related to Used to make adj from noun, e.g., dorsalis from dorsum, pedalis from ped, etc. -aris sufix with the meaning of belonging to resembling, provided with acicularis from acicula (little needle), orbicularis from orbiculus (small disc).

The -ascens ending is used to construct adj to imply a process of becoming but also a lack of complete accomplishment, for example, purpurascens, turning purple or purplish.

The prefix per- means “extremely, thoroughly, thoroughly.”

A lexicon of common adjectives that may be used as components of compound names or as separate names is provided below. We have instances such as Iris giganticaerulea and Nymphaea gigantea. One is an Iris species with huge blue (flowers, presumably), and the other is a Nymphaea that is larger than the typical Nymphaea.


Numerical prefixes:

  • Number Derived from Latin Derived from Greek Example
  • ½ semi- hemi- semiannulatus, hemipterus
  • 1 uni- mono- unifolius, monophyllus
  • 2 bi- di- biformis, dimorphus
  • 3 tri- tri- tripartitus, trimerus
  • 4 quadri- tetra- quadiricolor, tetrachromus
  • 5 quinque- penta- quinqunervis, pentaneurus
  • 6 sex- hexa- sexangularis, hexagonus
  • 7 septem- hepta- septemcostatus, heptapleurus
  • 8 octo- octo- octosepalus, octopetalus
  • 9 novem- ennea-
  • 10 decem- deca-
  • 11 undecim- endeca-, or hendeca-
  • 12 duodecim- dodeca-
  • 20 viginti- icosa-
  • few pauci- oligo- paucistamineus, oligostemon
  • many multi- poly- mutidentatus, polydontus
  • … or they may speak of the form or size of a plant:
  • Meaning Derived from Latin Derived from Greek Aquatic plant Ex.
  • in the form of -oides, -formes, -is -forma, -is
  • large grandis, magnus
  • small parvus
  • erect erectus
  • short brevis
  • long longus, elongatus
  • shiny nitens
  • hairy pubescens
  • toothed dentate
  • saw-edged serratus
  • smooth laevis
  • thin tenuis filiformis gracilis
  • beaked rostris
  • horned cornis, cerato ceras Trapa bicornis
  • rigid rigidus
  • ridge crista
  • knobby nodosus
  • bony osseus
  • bordered marginatus
  • Names may have parts that refer to the various parts of the plant:
  • Plant part Derived from Latin Derived from Greek
  • root radix rhiz -, rhizi-
  • shoot blasto-
  • blade lamina
  • stem caulis stamato (stamen)
  • branch ramus klados
  • branchlet ramulus
  • leaf folium phyllum
  • veins nervis phleba (phlebitis)
  • flower flora anthos
  • petal petalum
  • corolla corolla
  • calyx caucis
  • stamen stamineum
  • pistil pistillum
  • ovary ovarium oothiki
  • seed semen spermus
  • bark cortex
  • They may refer to growth habits:
  • Habit Derived from Latin Derived from Greek
  • prostrate prostrata
  • producing long runners sarmentosus
  • twining volubilis
  • outspread patens
  • creeping repens
  • upright erecta
  • They may refer to growing conditions
  • palustris relating to marshes
  • campestris relating to plains
  • sylvestris relating to woodlands
  • terrestris relating to earth
  • palus, uliginosus bog, boggy
  • -ensis from
  • -alis connected with, pertaining to
  • -ineus indicating resemblance or pessession
  • -aceus made of, resembling
  • Shapes
  • angustis narrow
  • lanceo- narrow, lance-like

Colors present a special problem to the student of Botanical Latin. This is because the names of colors are frequently derived from the various pigments used by ancient peoples to produce dyes and stains. This is one case in which colloquialisms play a major role in the derivation of “Latin” words. There are no suffixes that are drawn from the lists above or below to indicate color. Intensity, or distribution of color, perhaps, but not the colors themselves. Colors have entire words of their own, which are modified as any others are by all of those damned endings. The following is a list of more commonly encountered colors.

the color or Colors:

  • albens, albus, -a white
  • blanca
  • leuc-, leuco- white, paleness
  • rosea red/pink
  • carnea pink
  • sanguineus blood red
  • caerulea blue
  • azurea blue
  • purpurea. Ata purple
  • violacea violet
  • verde green
  • sulfurea yellow
  • chrom-, chromat-, chromus yellow
  • arcu-

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