Why Latin Names ?

We had a guy working with us a while back who was just starting out. He struggled with the idea that we wanted him to learn to recognize plants and to learn plant names, and was quite vocal about it.

So … one day we’re having the same discussion about how ridiculous it was that he should learn to identify plants, when he grabbed hold of the branch of a Pyracantha which has 3 Cms long thorns all over it, and promptly stabbed himself several times. After he had stopped complaining about what had just happened,  I said to him — “That is why you need to be able to recognize different plants and know their names. If you’d been able to identify it you wouldn’t have grabbed hold of it !”

Working with plants as we naturally do , we would not be able to talk about them to each other or to our clients or suppliers unless we knew which plants we were talking about. As I hope my illustration points out, there is a Health and Safety concern as well. After all, most young children find out what a Stinging Nettle is the hard way, and once they know it, they don’t go rushing into a patch of them in ignorance ever again, because they know its name and what it can do to them.

So why do plants have Latin names ?

It gives them a definitive description, the meaning of which never changes because the Latin language is no longer used, and therefore the meaning of its words don’t change.

The meaning of words in our own language changes at an alarming rate. Take the word ‘Gay’ for example. When I was growing up, back in the Stone Age, it meant happy and care free. Today it still means the same thing to some people, but to others it means something else altogether. This then weakens the ability of a word to have only one meaning. If plant names changed in the same fashion, we’d get into a terrible muddle. So because Latin as a living language is no longer used, the meanings if its word remain the same.

So if I’d been online and found an amazingly cheap deal for a variety of Cherry tree that I needed for a job, but the Nursery selling it was in Japan – and I don’t speak Japanese, all I would need to email to get a quote would be …

25 x Prunus ‘Kiku-Shidare Sakura’  2.5 M … £ ?

… And they’ll know exactly what I want.