speaking in scientific terms

William Stearn

I was a science nerd so I got into plant science/biology, including botanical Latin names, in the later years of high school. It was Hemerocallis printed on the daylily plant tags my mum brought home that started it all. I remember it clear as day – I was 17, and that year we also did a few lessons on plants in biology class.

Over the years I have done a lot of research on Latin names associated with different plants and how the names came to be. Botanical terms are in Latin or Greek because the features of plants were originally written in Latin or Greek. A scientific terminology of plant descriptions was first established by Aristotle’s student and successor Theophrastus of Eresos (370-285 B.C.).  He inherited the botanic gardens of Athens that Aristotle had founded and arrived at concepts of plant morphology that are still around today. He used the Greek names of the time to describe and name plants. His descriptions describe bark colour, growth form, shape and vein composition of leaves along with leaf margins, the type of wood and its colour, the shape and colour of fruit, type of roots along with the habitat of the plant.

Not long after my love for botany began I discovered Professor William Thomas Stearn, a British botanist. His most important work was Botanical Latin first written in 1966. Basically a bible for botanists and horticulturists and a source of useful and trivial information for avid gardeners and etymologists. I own a copy and reference the book nearly every day. A great collection of grammar and syntax of botanical Latin, and covers the origins of Latin and latinized geographical names, colour terms, symbols and abbreviations, diagnoses and descriptions, and the formation of names and epithet. Great for understanding the way descriptions are built and Latin terms are used in the botanical field. I recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding botany and Latin meanings of plants. Though a bit intense to read it’s a good book to have on hand, especially when you need to know more about that plant you just purchased or if you’re like me and have a love for botany and science.

I have often thought about taking a botany class at the only college in Eastern Ontario I can find that offers it, but the college is still too far away for me to attend every day at this point. Maybe one day. It would be quite an experience and I have always wanted to learn all there is to know about botany.

A quote from John Berkenhout in 1789 – “Those who wish to remain ignorant of the Latin language, have no business with the study of botany”.

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5 thoughts on “speaking in scientific terms

  1. Have you looked into informal courses at our local college or jr. college? I have found that there are some in that vein here where I live. Otherwise, perhaps a correspondence course would be good…..?

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