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17 September 2014
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how to be a gardener - The complete online guide

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2 - Plant names
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Plant names
No-one knows how many different plants there are on the planet. New ones are being discovered every year. The gardener's bible, from the Royal Horticultural Society The Plant Finder, lists all the hardy plants available in Britain and where to buy them. It has more than 70,000 different plants listed. This does not include fruit and vegetables, or specialist plants, such as cacti and orchids!

With such large numbers, it is clear that huge confusions are just waiting to happen, unless there is a system by which each plant has a unique name.

Carl Linnaeus - Image supplied by The Linnean Society of London ( such a cunning system already exists, and it allows gardeners all over the world to communicate, even if they don't speak the same language. It was invented by a Swedish chap called Carl von Linne (Carl Linnaeus) in 1753, so it's tried and tested.
Find out more about Carl Linnaeus at The Linnean Society of London.
But there is one thing about Linnaeus's system that scares people - it's in Latin. This is deliberate. Because no-one speaks it, it's a universal language. So gardeners in Brighton, Bangalore, Brisbane and Boston will all know what Crocus sativus is - the crocus from which the spice saffron is derived.

Why don't we use its 'common name'?
It can cause confusion as a single common name sometimes refers to several different plants. For example, in the UK, woodbine is the common name for honeysuckle (Lonicera pericyclamenum), while in the US it is used to mean a clematis (Clematis virginiana).
Even in the UK some of our common wild flowers have many different common names (not always polite!) depending on what part of the country you are in.

But don't be put off. Latin names are as easy to use as common names.

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