Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Bob Duke and Dr. Art Markman, reported in one of their NPR segments that “The more you think now, the more you will be able to think later, as you age.” And one opportunity for thinking is to learn another language.
Even if you’re not a gardener, studying how plants are named and naming the ones in your garden can be a new language opportunity. Plant naming, or nomenclature, uses Latin.
In addition to exercising your brain and impressing your friends, there’s another real benefit to learning Latin. Latin is what’s called a “dead” language, one no longer in current use. You won’t be misunderstood when trying to communicate during your travels to other countries!
Want to learn how to pronounce Latin plant names? Check out the alphabetical audio dictionary for plant name pronunciation at Fine Gardening's website.
An earlier blog provided some insight into the structure that scientists use when classifying plants. This is useful to understand how mint, perilla, dead nettle, and patchouli are related. Hint: they all belong to the same family – Lamiaceae. But where Latin really comes in handy is separating different plants that all have the same common name.
The photo heading this post shows 4 different plants that you may hear called “red sage.” Here’s how knowing Latin can help make sure the right plant is growing in the right place:
Latin name: Salvia coccinea
Common names: Red Sage, Tropical Sage
Growing details: Annual except in deep south, reseeds, medium moisture, 1-3 ft tall, blooms throughout summer and fall, good garden soil, likes partial shade
Latin name: Salvia greggii
Common names: Red Sage, Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage
Growing details: Perennial shrub, often evergreen, low moisture requirements, blooms spring and fall, summer dormant, 2-3 ft tall, can get to 5 ft, likes well-drained rocky soil, full sun
Latin name: Salvia pentstemonoides
Common names: Red Sage, Big Red Sage
Growing details: Herbaceous perennial from streambeds and limestone seeps, prefers moist alkaline soils, forms rosette of leaves as plant base to 6” tall, blooming stem 3-6 ft
Latin name: Salvia splendens
Common names: Red Sage, Scarlet Sage, Tropical Sage
Growing details: Native of Brazil, likes heat and humidity, generally grown as annual bedding plant for color, blooms all summer, prefers good garden soil and regular moisture, to 1 ft tall.
Image data, CC images desaturated from originals :
Salvia coccinea [PCD3537_IMG1004] unrestricted, http://www.wildflower.org
Salvia greggii [Texas_sage_(1571020768)] by Carl E. Lewis used under CC Attribution 2.0
Salvia splendens [Salvia_splendens1] by Hanna Zelenko used under CC BY-SA 3.0