How plants are technically named

Human beings have the need to name everything, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to relate them to others as easily as we do. The problem is that, just as we have created different languages, each town or region calls its plants in one way or another . Thus, what for the Spanish is a Ceratonia siliqua , for the South Americans is a Prosopis pallida . They are two very different trees, but both are known as carob trees.

To avoid confusion , it was urgent to create a scientific name , which was also universal, for each type of plant being discovered or to be discovered. And so we have reached our days, in which now the question is… how are plants technically named?


  • 1 What are the plants called?
    • 1.1 Gender
    • 1.2 Species
    • 1.3 Variety
  • 2 Other words you have to know

What are the plants called?

Leaves of Acer palmatum 'Atropurpureum'

Acer palmatum var. Atropurpureum , from my collection.

To make this article easier to understand, we will use the scientific name Acer palmatum var. Atropurpureum , which is known as Japanese purple maple .


The genus is a group that brings together several related species . In the case of maples, their most common characteristics are palmate deciduous leaves, beautiful fall colors, and temperate habitats. It is always placed first, with the first letter capitalized.

If we see in the example, Acer is the genre.


A species is a set of individuals that are capable of interbreeding and having fertile offspring . Keep in mind that each specimen is unique and unrepeatable, even if it has siblings from the same parents. That is why it is so easy to have two sister plants and for one to grow wonderfully and the other to have problems. It is written after the gender, in lower case.

In the example palmatum it is the species.


The variety is a population that has characters that make it recognizable even though it can hybridize with other populations of the same species . Formally, it is put var. after the species and then the variety itself, but you may find that it is enclosed in quotes.

In the example atropurpureum is the variety.

Other words you have to know

Leaves of Acer palmatum 'Seyriu'

Acer palmatum subsp. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ from my collection.

There are other terms that are important to know when you want to learn how to write the technical name of plants correctly, which are:

  • Subspecies : is a population that, in addition to having all the characteristics of the species, has others that make it unique. For example: Acer palmatum subsp. dissectum , which has highly divided palmate leaves.
  • Form : it is a population that presents an occasional modification of the species, associated or not with its natural habitat.
  • Hybrid : is a population with characteristics of two different species. For example: the crossing of palm trees Syagrus romanzoffiana with Butia capitata gives rise to X Butyagrus nabonnandii .
  • Cultivar : a cultivar is a group of plants that have been artificially selected from a variable crop in order to fix or enhance some characters that are of interest. For example: Acer palmatum cv Little Princess is a small Japanese maple cultivar, not exceeding two meters in height.

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