In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
August, 2005
Regional Report

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Blue glory bower is also known as blue butterfly, which is also the name of a particular delphinium. Thank goodness for scientific names!

Why Plants Have Names

Whether you know it or not, people gather every year to argue about the scientific names of plants. This science is known as taxonomy; the naming of plants is botanical nomenclature.

A Storied History
Plant names reveal much. Whereas common names may be shared by many plants (look up "buttercup" as an example), botanical names are very specific. They may tell you what the plant looks like. For example, no matter what other words are in the name, if it says "alba marginata" the plant's foliage has white (alba) margins. Same with "tricolor" -- the plant has three colors.

Plant names also tell great stories, often about who is honored by having a newly identified plant named for them. A most recent plant find occurred in Arkansas, and it is named for the veteran wildflower enthusiast who found it. Even in the 21st century there are new plants being discovered, and taxonomists put them into the family tree that best suits them.

How it Works
Plants are divided into families based on their botanical relationships. Under those groupings are the genus and species names. Genus refers to a broad group of associated plants within the family that are more closely related. Within the genus, species designates particular plants. Many species have varieties, cultivars, or selections that arise from them. Knowing a bit about these relationships can guide you in shopping for plants and reading about them.

The blue glory bower is named Clerodendrum ugandense. Clerodendrum is one of about 100 genera in the Verbenaceae family, a wide-ranging bunch noted for square stems and aromatic leaves, among other things. If that makes you think immediately of lantana, you're right, it's in that family. When you see a duranta in the garden center and note that it has square stems, you know its relatives. The fact that verbena is in this family might not surprise you, but you might not expect chaste tree and beautyberry to be relations, too.

Practical Results
Plant names often convey important growing information. Many of the species names are referential; that is, they tell you why this particular species is different from another of the same genera. In the case of blue glory bower (C. ugandense), the species name tells us that the plant is native to Uganda, a tropical, fairly dry climate.

True too is that if you know one Clerodendrum, you know them all to a great extent. Like cashmere bouquet (C. bungei) and harlequin glorybower (C. trichotomum), blue glory bower has wanderlust; it spreads into a thicket and beyond in good garden soil. That tells you that to enjoy these beautiful, unusual, butterfly magnets, you want to isolate or contain the Clerodendrums.


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