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[BOTANY] Botanical Nomenclature

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#1 Andrea B.

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 17:57

Updated: 26 Nov 2014

Botanical Nomenclature

There are many online references showing the proper form for botanical names. Frank Bisby's 1994 write-up is particularly clear: Plant Names in Botanical Databases. But do search out other sources - including the Wikipedia entries - to learn more about this. Formal botanical naming for non-cultivated plants is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi and plants (ICN). That is a Wikipedia link which will lead you to other links. See also Botanical nomenclature and Botanical name.

I'm going to list the basics (with a nod to Bisby's paper) here for our easy reference. If you encounter anything beyond this, you should be able to search it out online or post a query in this thread for help.

Of course, comments, questions and typo corrections are encouraged.

Required Full Name of a Botanical Species

The full name of a botanical species must consist of at least three parts.
  • genus name: capitalized in italics
  • species name: uncapitalized in italics
    If the species is not known, then use the un-italicized abbreviation "sp." in place of the species name.
  • author citation: capitalized, typically abbreviated but not mandatory, no italics.
    If the species is not known, then provide the genus author.
    • example: Hieracium scrabum Michx.
    • example: Gebera sp. L.
Botanical Author Citations

A plant's author is the botanist who first published the name of the plant as per the requirements of the ICN. An author string may be more complex to indicate revisions and other details of a plant's taxonomic status.
You can read more about author citations here: Author citation (botany).
If you want to see more about the botanist behind the abbreviation: List of botanists by author abbreviation.

Examples of complex author citations:
Note the use of the terms 'ex' and 'in', use of parentheses, multiple authors and publication reference.
  • Andropogon aromaticus Sieber ex Schult.
  • Verrucaria aethiobola Wahlenb. in Acharius, Methodus, Suppl.: 17. 1803
  • Helianthemum conquense (Borja & Rivas Goday ex G.López) Mateo & V.J.Arán Resó
Botanical Names which include Subspecies, Variety or Form

First, please note that we are not asking you to attempt subspecies identification for any posts here on UVP. Subspecies identification is often extremely difficult and may rely on microscopic tissue analysis, DNA analysis, seed morphology or similar not-easily-performed tasks.

Within a species, the ICBN allows further identification of a plant as a subspecies, variety or form. Subvariety and subform are also permitted by the ICBN. Subspecies, variety and form are infraspecific (within a species) designations and each has a marker and a botanical author.

Designating a botanical subspecies is generally based on recognition of obvious grouped differences within a species and the lack of interbreeding with other species members even though possible. Geographical isolation or ecosystem differences, for example, may cause subspecies formation.

When a taxonomist creates a subspecies designation, the remaining plants within the species are automatically grouped into their own subspecies named with the species name. For example, Solidago altissima was split into two subspecies by Rydberg (and later that split was refined by Semple). Rydberg named the new subspecies gilvocanescens. The remaining Solidago altissima thus became part of the default subspecies named altissima. No subspecies author is given for the default subspecies.
  • Solidago altissima L. subsp. gilvocanescens (Rydberg) Semple
  • Solidago altissima L. subsp. altissima
A botanical form is designated to refer to very small differences within a species such as color or leaf shape. It is very common, for example, to see the white flowered Vinca minor designated as:
  • Vinca minor L. f. alba
Designating a botanical variety is typically up to the taxonomist and is not clear-cut but lies somewhere between the larger differences between subspecies and the very minor differences between forms.
Some botanists consider variety and form labeling unnecessary. Let's just say that subspecies, varieties and forms cause a lot of discussion and disagreement. Here's a variety example:
  • Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala DC.
  • Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata L.
Format for Names including Subspecies, Variety or Form
  • genus name: capitalized in italics.
  • species name: uncapitalized in italics.
  • species author: capitalized, typically abbreviated but not mandatory, no italics.
  • infraspecific marker:
    'subsp.' for subspecies, 'var.' for variety, or 'f.' for form.
    abbreviated and not italicized.
  • infraspecific name: uncapitalized in italics.
  • infraspecific author: capitalized, typically abbreviated but not mandatory, no italics.
Cultivar Names

The unique proper names of cultivars are governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants under the auspices of the ICN. Click that link for further details. The naming schemes are quite complex. An additional complication is added when a cultivar is given another name for marketing purposes.
For posting here on UVP, we will accept whatever name you find associated with the cultivar taken from the garden marker or plant tag sold with the plant.
Note that the cultivar name is capitalized in single quotes after the genus/species/author.

Here are some actual examples from our Cultivar section:
  • Angelonia angustifolia Bentham 'Anbluim' PP22390
    There was a US plant patent number associated with this named cultivar.
  • Crocus L. sp.
    Here neither the species nor the cultivar name was known for these garden crocus
    so the 'sp.' abbreviation was used after the genus name.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora Van Houtte 'Goblin'
    The 'x' indicates a hybrid cultivar.
  • Echinacea 'Marmalade' PP22602
    This particular echinacea is a cross between a proprietary echinacea hybrid with an unknown echinacea hybrid.
    Thus it gets only a genus name and cultivar name in the literature so far.

Andrea G. Blum
Often found hanging out with flowers & bees.

#2 igoriginal


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Posted 08 June 2014 - 02:46

Thanks so much for putting this together for us, Andrea!

Igor Butorsky

#3 JCDowdy


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Posted 13 June 2014 - 16:42

Thanks, this is helpful for a non-botanist.
I suggest you cross reference this into the Publishing & Posting Guidelines.

#4 Andrea B.

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 17:55

Yes, will do. Or, maybe I'll simply move it there.
Andrea G. Blum
Often found hanging out with flowers & bees.