Why You Need to Know Botanical Latin When Shopping for Houseplants

Botanical Latin is the scientific way of naming a plant and ensuring that there is only ONE name for each plant.

Common names for plants are convenient but confusing. This post will show you why Botanical Latin is actually easier to use!

Table of Contents

1. One Name, Many Plants

One of the most popular houseplants at the moment is commonly referred to as the Chinese money plant (Latin name Pilea peperomioides).

There is another plant referred to as the Chinese money plant or the Chinese money tree , even though these two plants share nothing in common (Pachira aquatica). Note that their Latin names are completely different.

Pilea peperomioides on the left below; Pachira aquatica on the right ***

Additionally, the Raindrop Chinese money plant (Peperomia polybotrya) and the money plant (Crassula ovata) also have similar names and little in common with Pilea peperomioides. Four different plants with similar names, different visual appearances, and completely different Latin names.

If you search for the Latin names you can quickly find the plant you want; if you search for the common names it becomes more difficult to find them.

Peperomia polybotrya on the left below; Crassula ovata on the right

2. One Plant, Many Names

Because the common names for plants are often regional, one plant can have several common names.

Pilea peperomioides, for example, is also known as the:

  • Chinese money plant
  • UFO plant
  • Lefse plant
  • Mirror plant
  • Missionary plant
  • Sharing plant
  • Pancake plant
  • Pilea sharing plant
  • Pass-it-on plant
  • Friendship plant

and there are probably more that I didn’t find!

Because a plant can have so many common names, it is possible that you could ask a store whether they have the UFO plant in stock and they could say, “No,” because they don’t realize that you are talking about the same plant that they commonly refer to as the Pancake plant!

Pilea peperomioides

3. One Plant, Many Varieties

I went to a greenhouse a few months ago to buy a chamomile plant to add to my pollinator garden. I couldn’t find it myself and asked one of the people working if they had one available. They asked me which chamomile I wanted.

Uh oh. There is more than one kind? I had no idea.

They said they only had creeping chamomile available currently. Did I want my chamomile to creep? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think so, but I also didn’t know!

Because I didn’t know if the plant I wanted was the plant that they had, I left without buying anything. If I had come with the proper name for the plant I wanted, our conversation could have looked very different.

After going home and doing some research, I learned that there are two main varieties of chamomile plants:
1. a perennial variety that grows as a ground cover, is most commonly referred to as Roman chamomile, but is also sometimes called Creeping Chamomile (Latin name: Chamaemelum nobile)
2. an annual variety that grows tall and is most commonly known as German chamomile (Latin name: Matricaria chamomilla)

It turned out that I did want my chamomile to creep because I wanted the perennial variety. If only I had known that back then!!

Photo credit: Robin Mannhorst, Unsplash

Okay, so Botanical Latin is helpful, but it also seems overwhelming.

I felt that way too. To better understand it, I delved into some Botanical Latin 101. Next week I will share what I learned with you!!

Stay tuned for that post next Thursday!

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