Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Garden Club News

- Linda Jaquet -

Horticultural Latin

Consider how puzzled an American searching for blueberries in British supermarkets must feel when in Kent what he has called a blueberry all his life, is called a bilberry and in the south west of England is known as a whortleberry. In York it is a winberrry, in Scotland a blaeberry and in the Midlands it is called a huckleberry. And all the while, in the United States, the huckleberry is something completely different. This is an indication of how the common names of plants are often so much more confusing than their Latin botanical names.

Horticultural Latin was the subject of a well-researched and entertaining talk at the Garden Club’s March meeting. Neil Dixon, a British-trained horticulturalist now living in Prince Albert, led his enthusiastic audience through the history of the development of botanical plant names: from the times of the Greeks, who started using Latin names, to the Middle Ages when there was an interest in what were regarded as useful plants.

Later, Leonhart Fuchs, one of the fathers of botany continued the task and in the 1700s, Carl Linnaeus, now known as the father of taxonomy, finally created the binomial (literally “two name”) system, which he thought would make plant names easier to understand.This system, still in use today, of giving formal botanical names to plants is guided by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which can only be changed by the International Botanical Congress.

While all this may sound rather complicated, what it means is that every plant is a member of a family with common features in a unique combination, for example, the Rosacea – belonging to the Rose family or Orchidacea – belonging to the Orchid family. Every plant’s name is made up of a Genus, - like a person’s surname – usually a noun which can be commemorative or descriptive, such as Acacia (meaning spine or thorn) and its specific epithet or species, which describes the plant’s characteristics, appearance, origins, habitat, flower or aroma. For instance pendulum, (weeping), capense (from the Cape), rubra, (red) and suaveolens (sweet scented). Thus we have the Acacia karoo and Bijlia cana, the vygie unique to Prince Albert and the Nerine marincowitzii Snijman, a member of the Amaryllidaceae family, discovered by Pat Marincowitz on his farm, Kleinsleutelfontein outside Prince Albert.

As Neil showed his audience, a little Latin can go a long way and most amateur gardeners know more meanings of Latin words than they realise.In fact, Neil and his wife, Jacqui, have found their knowledge of horticultural Latin has been tremendously helpful in identifying the right kinds of plants for their garden in Prince Albert.Not yet familiar with most South African indigenous plants or plants suited to local conditions, they have relied on their understanding of botanical names when sourcing for plants at nurseries in the area.Should anyone be interested in learning more, Neil has copies of his speaking notes available.

April Outing with Cultural Foundation

The Garden Club will join the Prince Albert Cultural Foundation’s outing on 24 April.The morning excursion “Water, Energy, Waste will shape your future”, is led by Sue and Richard Dean and will start at Eerstewater at 08h30 and will visit the Council waterworks, the sewage works, the Renu-Karoo composting, the woodlot and food garden allotments.Please wear walking shoes, a hat and bring water along with you. You are free to break away from the excursion whenever you choose.The outing costs R20.00 per person.

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