Plant Common Names

People name things. Scientists devise a single name for each animal and plant. Plant common names aren’t that way.

A scientific name can describe some trait of a plant. More commonly they are from a person’s name or the place the plant was found.

There are mistakes. Our common milkweed has the name syriaca and is not found in Syria. The origin of this mistake goes back a few hundred years and is traced in “The Syrian Milkweed”.

Plant common names tend to describe some aspect of a plant. There is the purple milkweed called that because of its purple flowers. The swamp milkweed grows in swampy areas. Butterfly Weed is a milkweed that attracts butterflies.

A good plant to never taste is poison hemlock. Other plants to avoid are poison oak, ivy and sumac. However aromatic sumac is well worth a moment to take a whiff.

plant common names include bloodroot
Bloodroot is a poppy and a spring ephemeral wildflower. As soon as the weather warms, the plant sends up its single flower stalk. The flowers last for one day. A single leaf is wrapped around the flower stalk and unfurls. Once the seeds are made, the plant vanishes until the next spring.

In my garden chickweed tries to take the place over every spring. Chickens love it.

Back in the ravines the bloodroot is an early spring wildflower. Its root is blood red.

Another spring wildflower is dead nettle. The leaves are similar to those of stinging nettle, but without the sting.

plant common names include dead nettles
A member of the mint family, dead nettle seeds sprout in the fall, but grow fast and bloom in the spring. It is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom and are favorites of bumblebees. The plant is an annual and produces lots of seeds.

Presently one of the cranebills is blooming along the road and in the lawn. This common name is from the seed pod with its round top and long ‘bill’ hanging down resembling the head and bill of a crane.

Some plant common names are confusing as more than one refers to the same plant. The calloway pear can be called the Bradford pear and a couple of other names. The Rose of Sharon is also the Althea bush.

Just as there are books giving the meanings and origins of people’s names, there are books about the origins and meaning of common plant names. I have one called “Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose?” by Mary Durant on my shelf. It is interesting to browse through a few names now and then.

Knowing a name for a plant does make the plant more interesting.