can be almost anything. They may be more or less
descriptive terms such as "white oak," "thunderwood,"
"butternut," "pokesalad," etc.; or corruptions of Latin
names, such as "elm" from Ulmus.
have multiple common names -- for example, Maclura
pomifera is known to various people as Osage-orange,
hedgeapple, horse-apple, bois d'arc, bodark, etc. "Tuliptree,"
"tulip-poplar", "poplar," "yellow poplar," "white-poplar,"
and "whitewood" are all common names for a member of the
magnolia family -- neither a tulip relative, nor a poplar!
And the term "white oak" has been used to refer to Durand
oak, overcup oak, swamp chestnut-oak, chestnut-oak, and
post oak -- as well as to "the" true white oak.
the only rule in common names is that a borrowed name does
not stand as a separate word in another tree's name -- it
must be hyphenated or wholly included: for example, a
white oak is an oak; but an Osage-orange is neither an
orange nor an apple; and a red cedar is a Juniper, not a
true cedar (Cedrus)
botanical or "scientific" names helps simplify this
problem -- especially to a person who has picked up any
French, Spanish, Italian, or especially Latin along the
way. Some of the Language connections are evident even in
botanical name usually consists of two parts: The first
word, which is capitalized, identifies the "Genus" or
"kind," and is a Latin noun (such as Quercus, which means
second word identifies the "Species" -- an uncapitalized
Latin adjective (such as alba, meaning "white"), and it
describes the plant in terms of its color, size, origin,
normal habitat, discoverer, or some other unique feature.
Both words are underlined or italicized, to indicate that
they are from a foreign language. In formal situations
these should be followed by an abbreviation of the name of
the person credited with first describing the species
accurately. Thus ...
alba L. (oak, white, identified by Linneaus)
Hamamelis virginiana L. (discovered in Virginia)
Liquidambar styraciflua L. (flowing styrax or storax)
rategus pyracanthoides Beadle (like a Pyracantha)
Quercus caput-rivuli Ashe (growing near the
headwaters of small streams, and discovered by the
Magnolia ashei Weatherby (named for botanist Ashe)
Carya aquatica (a bottomland hickory)
Varieties are Latin adjectives, italicized or underlined;
cultivars are English nicknames, in quotes.
florida 'White Cloud' ('White Cloud' dogwood)
Quercus falcata v. falcata (southern red oak)
Quercus falcata v. pagodaefolia (cherrybark oak)
names don't all provide accurate information, naturally.
Pinus palustris means "pond pine," but it designates
"longleaf pine," an upland species! There is a "pond
pine," but it was discovered later, and ended up as Pinus
serotina ("late pine"), referring to its flowering cycle.
And there are plenty of disagreements over names, with new
discoveries and occasional renamings. But with all its
imperfections, the system gives scientists and others a
vocabulary that is well understood and accepted around the
world. All in all, it helps to
know both types of names!
WHAT THE HECK IS
taxon is a grouping unit, with certain conservative
(relatively unchanging) identifying traits that are
dependable over wide expanses of time and geography; most
traits important in taxonomy are related to basic
structure and to reproduction.
The following is a hierarchy of taxonomic units, not all
of which are used in all cases; the most common levels
are marked with "*":
Kingdom (plants / animals / fungi / viruses? /
mycoplasmas? / ...)
Phylum (vascular / non-vascular)
seed-leaf -- grasses)
dicotyledons (2 seed-leaves -- broadleaf)
(related by flower/fruit parts)
* Genus (close reproductive similarity)
Species are commonly subdivided, especially in
Variety -- essentially, a
subspecies; often this term is used to designate clones
that have been discovered and commercially exploited as
Variant -- an apparent member
of a species, with differences not strong enough to
warrant separate classification.
Ecotype or Strain -- a
subspecies with localized environmental adaptations.
Clone -- a vegetative
(non-sexual) reproduction of a single plant often for
commercial or research purposes.
Morphological (traditional) --
considers the resence/absence, number, and arrangement
of evolutionarily conservative features assumed to be
under genetic control. For example, the type of flowers
(e.g., catkins vs. ordinary flowers, or whether or not
the petals (if present) are separate or are formed into
Anatomical -- based on
size, shape, and functions of tissues, such as vessels,
Embryological -- based on
the assumption that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"
-- that the development of an individual organism from
an embryo reflects the evolution of the species.
Biochemical -- considers
similarities in the chemical composition of related
species -- hence the occurrence of poisons in many of
the Anacardiaceae, and interesting essences in the
Hamamelidaceae. You can see a connection here with the
science of pharmacognosy, which deals with discovering
the chemical basis of folk and tribal medicine.
Biological -- concentrates
on separation of species according to biological
barriers such as site factors, physical barriers,
phenology (timing of phases in life cycles, etc.).
Statistical -- a
composite method using 50 - 300 characters of all types
to group possible species according to degree of
similarity. This method relies heavily on computers and
advanced statistical concepts.