Priestgate

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 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 grabs hold of the branch of a shrub which has 3 Cms long thorns all over it, and promptly stabs himself several times. After he has stopped complaining about what has just happened , I say to him — “That is why you need to be able to recognise different plants. If you’d been able to identify it you wouldn’t have grabbed hold of it !”

Working with plants as we naturally do , we can’t talk about them to each other or to our clients or suppliers unless we know which plants we are 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 means something else altogether. If plant names changed in the same fashion, we’d get into a terrible muddle.