Why Latin Names?

The Latin name is the most accurate way to communicate the identity of a plant. Taxonomists honor a plant with a scientific name that is unique to that plant. There can be many different common names for the same plant, varying locally or regionally. The Latin names are universal and specific.

Knowing the Latin names can also help you identify the plant. As you learn more about plants, you will notice unifying features among plants with the same Latin words in their names. Knowing the meaning of the Latin words can also help identify a plant. For example, ponderosa, as in pinus ponderosa, means massive. That is certainly an accurate description of the tree.

The pronunciation of the Latin names for the plants included in this summary is provided under each plant. However, there are a few rules that will help you remember how to pronounce the Latin:

  1. First, there are NO silent syllables. In America the Latin names have been Americanized so that even the vowels are pronounced the way an American would naturally say them. So, if you follow your natural instincts, your pronunciation will be quite acceptable.
  2. As far as consonants are concerned, pronounce them all and as you normally would. The letters c and g are pronounce as in cat and go when they precede the vowels a, o, and u. In front of e and i they are soft as in Cecil and gentle. The letters ch are usually pronounced like the letter k, except in the name Echeveria where they are pronounced as in the word etch.
  3. Vowels are long in a stressed syllable, i.e., Acer – AY-ser; Pinus – PIE-nus; Verbena – ver-BEE-nuh. Otherwise they are short.
  4. Diphthongs (two vowels sounded as one) are pronounced as follows: ae sounds like ee (sometimes ay), au as aw in shawl, eu as u in hue, and oi as oy in boy.
  5. There are as many syllables in a word as there are vowels or diphthongs. So if the word is particularly long, divide it into individual syllables, and pronounce each in turn. As an easy device to divide the word, try this. End each syllable in a vowel unless there are two consonants together after the vowel. In this case, split the consonants up. For example; Rudbeckia > rud-bec-ki-a, pronounced rood-BEK-ee-uh; or, Miscanthus sinensis > mis-can-thus si-nen-sis, pronounced miss-CAN-thus seye-NEN-siss
  6. In two-syllable words, always accent the first syllable, i.e., Cornus = KOR-nus. In most other words, stress the syllable BEFORE the last syllable, i.e., Clerodendrum quadriloculare = klay-ro-DEN-drum kwad-rih-lo-cue-LAR-ee. If the last syllable consists of two vowels or seems naturally short, stress the THIRD to last syllable, i.e., Buddleia = BUD-lee-uh, Campanula = kam-PA-nu-la.

Excerpted from:
Latin for Gardeners: a Brief Pronunciation Guide
Phil Peters, Adams County Pennsylvania Master Gardener