Latin monikers are given to flowers so that the international scientific community can properly categorize and identify them. They are primarily descriptive of some aspect of the plant, whether it refers to color, origin, habitat or growth habit. Some are combined with other descriptive Latin words to form a compound word name.
Many species names in botany use a Latin word that describes the color of a particular aspect of a flower. The Latin binomial of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), contains the Latin word for purple, “purpurea,” denoting the color of its flowers. Blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) is described by the Latin word for blue “caerulea” as part of its botanical name. The descriptive “alba” denotes white varieties as in the rose commonly called White Rose of York (Rosa alba Semi-plena).
Place of Origin or Habitat
The adjective used to more fully describe a species sometimes denotes the origin of the variety or its native habitat. Alpinus is Latin for alpine and refers to flowers originating at high altitudes, such as Aster alpinus, an aster which originates in the mountains of Europe. Canadensis refers to flowers originating in Canada, although it sometimes denotes so-called “wild” varieties of species. An example is Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Occidentalis is a catch-all for flowers from North America, such as the western coneflower (Rudbeckia occidentalis). Orientalis denotes those originating in Asia, such as the spring-flowering bulb hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis).
Flowers are often named for their growth habit or characteristics, such as pendula for a weeping habit, like that of the chenile plant or “kitten's tail” (Acalypha pendula). Prostrata is used for a variety with a creeping habit such as speedwell (Veronica prostrata) and maculata for spotted varieties, as in the coralroot orchid (Corallorhiza maculata).