Scientific Names of Plants, Listed Alphabetically

Get the Dirt on a Plant Before You Grow It

Image of bluebeard flower.
David Beaulieu

The binomial system that uses the "botanical" or scientific names of plants is frustrating at times, as when the powers that be change their minds as to what a plant should be called. For example, many gardeners quite proud of themselves to have learned that botanists referred to the old-fashioned bleeding heart as Dicentra spectabilis were none too pleased to find out one day that, all of sudden, botanists decided that Lamprocapnos spectabilis would be a better Latin name for it. Such annoyances aside, however, this system still offers a clarity superior to that which the more colorful common names provide.

Indeed, superior clarity is the reason why we use botanical names, even though few living people go around speaking Latin. To be sure, it isn't that Latin is inherently clearer than English (or any other modern language). The key to the clarity behind the binomial system rests not in the specific tongue chosen to implement it, but rather in the fact that people have agreed to use it worldwide: When you use the scientific name for a plant, even someone who speaks a different language knows what you're talking about.

The following pages compose an index to some of your favorite specimens, grouped by scientific name, in alphabetical sections. For example, if you're searching for information on Buxus sempervirens (a type of boxwood), look under the section titled "Scientific Names of Plants, A-B," where the names of all of the entries starting with either an A or a B are housed. 

You may be curious as to why this system of classification is referred to as the "binomial system" or "binomial nomenclature" and how it came into being. A Swede who lived hundreds of years ago (1707–1778) is the one to whom we owe thanks for developing this way of classifying plants using Latin. He was a naturalist named Linnaeus (even his own name, a created moniker, is Latin).

As for the terminology, "binomial nomenclature," "binomial" literally means "using or having two names," and "nomenclature" is from the Latin for "the assigning of names." In fact, at the heart of this way of assigning scientific names to plants is a simple two-word formula, whereby the first word is the genus name and the second one the species name or "specific epithet." The genus is the bigger grouping; to get more specific in identifying a plant within a genus, we refer to its specific epithet. Some genera contain hundreds of species.

Scientific Names of Plants, A-B

A few names on this list will fascinate those interested in the derivation of plant names: Achillea millefoliumAdonis amurensis, and Bougainvillea. The first two come from figures out of Greek mythology. Bougainvillea, meanwhile (a lovely vine whose name is constantly mispronounced and/or misspelled) is named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

Maple tree in fall with mainly golden leaves, some on the ground.
If you can possibly grow a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in your yard, make it a priority to do so. Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Scientific Names of Plants, C-D

You can tell a lot about a plant by studying its scientific name. What you can tell from the "x" in Caryopteris x clandonensis is that this bush is a hybrid. Meanwhile, even if you did not know that Colocasia esculenta (commonly called "taro") has an edible part, the specific epithet, esculenta would give you a clue (if you've studied your botanical Latin): It means "edible." Finally, the stolonifera in Cornus stolonifera is an indicator to the wise that this shrub spreads by underground runners (which fact may either persuade or dissuade you from growing it, depending on your landscaping goals).

Amethyst Dream is a purple Centaurea montana.
Amethyst Dream is a purple cultivar of Centaurea montana. David Beaulieu

Botanical Plant Names, E-F

You'll find quite a variety within the entries presented here, ranging in height from a small ornamental grass to a large tree. In between are two tallish perennials, a rather tall spring bulb plant, shrubs, and a bamboo (Fargesia).

Trout lily in bloom.
Erythronium americanum is commonly known as trout lily. David Beaulieu

Botanical Names of Plants, G-H

"G" is represented by such plants as Galanthus nivalis, better known as the bulb plant, "snowdrops," which bears some of the North's earliest flowers. "H" is dominated by two shrub genera: Hibiscus and Hydrangea

Hepatica americana with pink flowers.
Hepatica americana is a North American wildflower that blooms in mid-spring. David Beaulieu

Latin Names of Plants, I-J

Evergreens are well represented here. Hollies (Ilex) are broad-leaved evergreens, while junipers (Juniperus) bear needles. But included in the mix are an annual vine (Ipomoea tricolor), a bedding plant (Impatiens walleriana), and a deciduous shrub (Itea virginica).

Winterberry with its red berries.
Despite its wintry name, the display of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is at its peak in late fall. David Beaulieu

Latin Plant Names, K-L

Four entries here grab the attention of the geographically-minded: Kerria japonicaLagerstroemia x Natchez, Loropetalum chinense, and Lychnis chalcedonica. Two of them are no-brainers, and those familiar with the Southeast in the U.S. know about Natchez. But only the historically-astute will recognize chalcedonica as being a place reference.

Lewisia cotyledon Rainbow Mix provides light pink and darker pink flowers.
Lewisia cotyledon was named after the great American explorer, Meriwether Lewis. David Beaulieu

Scientific Plant Names, M-N

Everyone will recognize the first few entries here: the magnolias. There are also two entries for a commonly-grown group of ornamental grasses (Miscanthus). Nepeta steals the show with four listings, and even non-gardeners can guess what one of them is (cataria). There's no typo in Myrica pensylvanica (that's how it's spelled).

Montauk daisy flower.
Nipponanthemum nipponicum is the tongue-twister of a botanical name for the Montauk daisy. David Beaulieu

Scientific Plant Names, O-P

All four seasons are represented here. Some of the spring standouts are Phlox subulataPulsatilla vulgarisPaeonia, and Papaver. The other members of the genus, Phlox shine most brightly in summer. Autumn belongs to Parthenocissus quinquefolia and Physalis alkekengi. Finally, there are plenty of evergreens to keep us happy in winter between the Picea and Pinus listings.

Virginia creeper is at its best in fall, with its red leaves.
Fall is prime time for Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). David Beaulieu

Plants by Botanical Name, Q-R

The entries here include both spring stalwarts and autumn stars. The Rhododendron genus (which gives us azaleas) falls into the former camp. Meanwhile, Quercus (oak) and Rhus (sumac) grace our yards with wonderful fall color. Sumacs (shrubs such as Tiger Eyes, not poison sumac) usher in the fall-foliage season, being some of the first plants to give autumn color. Oaks reside at the opposite end of the spectrum, furnishing color later in fall after many trees have already lost their leaves.

Black-eyed Susan flower is known for its cheery look.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) provides summer cheer. David Beaulieu

Database of Scientific Plant Names, S-T

All four seasons have their champions here. Spring is represented by such plants as Salix and Syringa vulgaris. In summer, Salvia minds the store, stocking our yards with blooms month after month. Sedum rupestre Autumn Joy's name leaves no doubt about when this perennial shines most brightly. Solidago gives a perennial option for fall in another color (gold). Finally, TaxusThuja, and Tsuga, as evergreens, are good choices for winter interest.

Sanguinaria canadensis in bloom in spring, with its white flowers.
Sanguinaria canadensis is a type of poppy native to eastern North America. David Beaulieu

Plants by Scientific Names, U-Z

The listings here hold a few gems of particular interest for the history buff. Ulmus americana was long an important street tree in North America. The common name for Viburnum dentatum, "arrowwood," is indicative of its traditional use in the making of arrows. Last but not least, Viscum album is enshrined in lore and an integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Golden weigela bears attractive leaves as well as flowers.
Weigela florida has a golden-leaved cultivar that is quite striking. David Beaulieu