How Do You Pronounce The Name Of That Plant, Anyway?

I sometimes get asked about correct pronunciations of plant names.  This is pretty common because most schools do not teach Latin anymore, and all plants have Latin botanical names as well as common names that gardeners give them.  I have three good resources for you if you are curious about the correct way to pronounce the name of a plant:

  • Webster’s Dictionary online has an audio pronunciation guide.  Make sure your speakers are turned up on your computer, click on the link, and you are good to go.  Here is a link for pronouncing the word “peony”: http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?peony001.wav=peony
  • Another excellent pronunciation resource is the online version of Fine Gardening magazine.  They have a large listing of plant names with an audio pronunciation guide.  Find it here: http://www.finegardening.com/pguide/pronunciation-guide-to-botanical-latin.aspx      They also offer a pronunciation guide in the back of every print issue of the magazine as well.
  • In the back reference section of the Sunset Western Garden Book–you can find this at the library, or there are often older copies available for purchase at second hand stores–there are two sections that can be very helpful.  They offer a Glossary, which defines certain basic gardening and plant terms that you will run across and may not know exactly what they are talking about, such as sport, sepal, layering, node, etc.  They also offer a very short and helpful section called A Guide To Understanding Botanical Names.  This takes you in a very easy manner–it’s only one page long– through the Latin for the colors of flowers and foliage, form of leaf, shape of plants, where it came from and plant peculiarities.  If you learn a few Latin terms, you will find that they are used repeatedly throughout the plant world, so knowing a few key terms can help you when you are looking at plant labels at a nursery of plants unfamiliar to you.  Copy that page and stick it in your back pocket for reference the next time you go plant shopping.

This is something that the botanists, scientists who know a lot about  plants but nothing about what to name plants for brand recognition and ease of pronunciation, have a lot to learn about.  It can be intimidating for the home gardener to go to a gardening center and try to ask for a particular plant, and not really know how to pronounce the name of the plant correctly. 

It is always a good idea, if you are shopping for a particular plant, to know both the Latin name and common name of it.  While different regions of the country may use a plethora of common names for a plant, the plant has only one Latin name, so if you use that when making a purchase, you are sure to get the plant you want. 

If all else fails, look it up online, and write down the Latin and common names of the plant and take it with you to the nursery.  The staff there can usually also help you with pronunciations–it is part of their job to know them, and they are there to help you.  Also, here is a tip from my radio days–if you do not know how to pronounce something, go with your best guess and say it with conviction.

Hope this helps you!

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