Scientific Names

Their origin and importance

     Scientific names are used almost every day, and quite often by ordinary people. When you go to a nursery and ask for a Chrysanthemum, you are using a scientific name. Every plant and animal discovered and described by science has one, and only one, so there can be no confusion what you are talking about. For example, cats are named Felis domesticus, which means "cat of the house" (house cat).
     This was all started by a gentleman named Carl von Linne, a Swedish physician, who lived from 1707 to 1778. In 1735 he wrote a book called Systema Nature where he described his classification system. This system of classification is still used today with some modifications. You can read a short biography of him at
     In this system, all living things are categorized into groups by relationship. The cat would be like this:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: Felis domesticus

Plants are just like this, except Botanists use "division" instead of "phylum". In the scientific world, and also the world of the nursery business, plants are called by a binomial (animals are too), that is, "two names". The first one, the Genus, shows relationship. The House Cat is related to other small cats. This is sort of like the family names with people. The second name is the "trivial name" or "specific epithet". This pair of names separates that species from all others on this planet. You never use the trivial name on its own; the trivial name "muscula" is used for the house mouse (Mus musculus) and the Blue Whale (Baelenoptera muscula). This could of course be somewhat confusing.

In scientific naming the author's name is commonly placed after the species binomial, as you will see in the following pages. This allows Botanists to look up the original publication of the decription of the plant in question. A lot of times with Zoologists, they leave off the authorities names, but almost all Botanists will include them.

I have tried to include the common names in English for all plants listed, but remember that common names are confusing; almost all of the Pitcher Plants are called "Flycatchers", as is the Venus Fly Trap, and sometimes folks call Sundews this also.

Alex Netherton, the Appalachian Naturalist