I Say Tomato

Brainerd, MN

I Say Tomato,You Say Lycopersicon -- Let's Call a Master Gardener

I have a lot of fun looking at the taxonomic names given to plants in spite of the fact that I can never remember any of them. (I probably should have paid more attention to my high school biology teacher than to Gina Delarussia -- the girl sitting in front of me). When I look at the brief "Info" on these names at PlantFiles I often wish there was even more information about these names (including more examples). Just how common is it for experienced gardeners to use these names in their gardening practice and how much additional help are they to you?

Does knowing what a name means actually provide you with even more information than the simple description found in the DG Info.

And which name (family or species) would be more likely used in speech or writing to reference, say a tomato? Would you refer to it as a Lycopersicon, a lycopersicun, or a Lycopersicon lycopersicun? (And please don't say, "Tomato".)

West Pottsgrove, PA(Zone 6b)

I think using Latin names is a lot more common than people realize - a lot of plants are referred to by their Latin names ordinarily: Salvia, Geranium, Sedum, Chrysanthemum, Delphinium, and Iris are all Latin names most of us are familiar with. One advantage to using these names is you can be sure you're talking about the same plant with someone else. If you say,"I'm growing Geranium maculatum this year", somebody may or may not know what you're talking about. But if they were to look it up, they'd know exactly what you're talking about, and not what is commonly called a "Geranuim" in the stores, which is really a Pelargonium.

It's a big help to know what some of the names mean, but not always. Many names refer to the color or structural parts of a plant, others are obscure references to Greek or Roman mythology, like Artemisia (Artemis) or Narcissus, etc. A lot of names refer to where the plant is from originally and that can be a big help in choosing plants. If you live in the tropics you probably won't have much success growing species named siberica, or borealis. But to me, most of the value of knowing a plant's name is accuracy when talking to other people. There are so many local and slang names for plants that are just as confusing as Latin names, and communicating with people from somewhere else is a lot more accurate with Latin names.

To answer your last question, I really don't know, but in general people often refer to plants by the genus name, the first of the two words that refer to a species.
But that raises another point, there are so many hybrids of tomatoes that you almost have to call it by the hybrid name to be clear, like "Bush Champion" or "Red Alert", etc.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I'm also a big fan of using Latin names for things rather than common--often there are 20 different common names for a given plant, and each of those common names also refers to 10 other completely unrelated plants, so when someone asks about a plant and only uses the common name, it's often very hard to know what plant they're talking about. I realize not everyone knows Latin names, but it's easy to plug it into Google and find out all about the plant, and at least you know that they're going to find information about the actual plant they were interested in.

And as far as what name to use--in a casual conversation when referring to a plant with a unique common name (such as tomato) I will use the common name, or else just the genus name (for example telling someone who's not really that much into gardening that the pretty plant with red flowers is a Salvia). But if someone's looking for an ID or if I'm trying to convey more info about the plant, then it's better to include the species and cultivar in the name as well if you know them. Also, you would generally never refer to the plant by the species name alone because species names are not unique to a particular genus. Unless you're at a meeting of the Salvia society or some other situation where the conversation is centered only on a particular genus, nobody would know what you're talking about if you just use the species. (for example, if you go to Plant Files and search for species "grandiflora", you'll find Portulaca grandiflora, Magnolia grandiflora, Thunbergia grandiflora, and on and on.)

Benton, KY(Zone 7a)

It depends on my audience...If I'm talking to my Aunt Irma, I use common names because she doesn't know...and furthermore doesn't care, about Latin proper names. We're from the same geographical location and culture, so I know the common names she would be able to relate to.

If I'm doing a lecture on heirloom vegetables for the Extension Office, or even the local garden club, I use the Latin. I feel that these folks should know....and even if they don't, they should make the effort to educate themselves.

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

When I look at the brief "Info" on these names at PlantFiles I often wish there was even more information about these names

A good place to start looking for more information is here, in Botanary and Gardenology. http://davesgarden.com/glossary/

I just looked up Lycopersicon in Botanary and learned something new.
Wolf peach, referring to belief that tomatoes were poisonous
I hadn't heard the reference wolf peach before.

I am getting so I'm using more and more of the latin names when referring to plants, and virtually ALL of my friends, co-workers and family are not gardeners at all. They look at me like I've sprouted thorns.

Independence, MO(Zone 6a)

I use Latin names when I talk flowers/shrubs/trees, for several reasons: 1) local common names can be different from the ones I grew up with (don't get me started on "tulip trees"), or shared (yellowwood may be Podophyllum or Cladrastis and they're VERY different plants). 2) I talk gardening with my German uncle and as I'm writing in English and he's writing in German, the only way we can understand each other wrt the plants we're growing is to use the Latin. 3) When I buy a plant I want the nursery to be very clear on exactly which plant I want. I don't want to order bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) and receive Dutchman's breeches (D. exima) instead -- let alone, God forbid, one of those 46 species of Allium that the mail order nurseries like to invent cute names for.

For vegetables the common name has stood well for me so far. All I have needed is the variety name, tomato 'Brandywine' or 'Ladybug' or 'Sweet Pea'. I have not had to specify that 'Sweet Pea' is Lycopersicum pimpinellifolia instead of the regular species, although it's useful to know in case I want to read up on specific culture or history or diseases.

Brimfield, MA(Zone 5a)

Most of the time when I use the latin word, it's because I memorized all the plant tags. Not on purpose, but I just started to "know" the latin names for many plants until it became the name I used the most. For my mom and sis in law, I use the common names because they don't know the other... And yes, I'm sorry to say it, but when it comes to tomato-speak, I say "tomato," or the heirloom name. If I used the word lycopersicon to folks, they would look at me like I had 2 heads... and that's my 2 cents. :)

Edited to add a silly thought that amused me. It would surely make restaurant menu's a hoot if they used lycopersicon instead of tomato (and basil fettucine for example). People would be all kinds of confused... tee hee.

This message was edited Mar 31, 2007 5:51 PM

Glasgow, KY(Zone 6a)

i can't even remember the names on the packages of all i planted (and the empty packages are gone now). but i do know, i scattered seeds, threw some potting soil on it all, & miracle grow.. and now everything is growing so i'm happy-considering my mother said i have come a long way from growing mold experiments in my room as a teenager.lol

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

As mentioned above, I tend to use what the company calls for.

My mother is still learning, so I'd rather not flood her head with
additional nonsense she doesn't need.

Latin comes in handy when someone asks for something by
it's common name. Moonflower. Well, half a dozen flowers are
called this depending on which part of the country one is from,
exactly which one are you looking for? :-)

The times I don't appreciate the Latin is when someone at
the local farmer's market is using them only to impress the crowd,
correcting others when they deem a word pronounced incorrectly.

For pete's sake, it's small town Oklahoma. People ask for
flowers by color. LOL.

I learned my botanical terms by reading the J.L. Hudson catalogs
word for word for a few years. Soon I remembered things and realized
the importance of the terms. At times.


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