Families of Vascular Plants - EEB337H1

What are common names?


In this course, the scientific names of families, genera, and species are used, rather than so-called common names. Scientific names are in Latin and there can be only a single one that is correct for any known group in the taxonomic hierarchy. In contrast, common names are the names given to plants in other languages. Thus a plant with a circumboreal distribution like Rhododendron lapponicum might have names not only in English (Lappland rosebay), but also in Cree, Norwegian, Lapp, and Russian, among others. Other species might have no common name at all. Moreover, common names can confuse bacause the same name in a given language may be applied to more than one plant. For example, "snakeroot" is used not only for Eupatorium rugosum (Asteraceae), but also for several members of the genus Sanicula L. (Apiaceae). Not only that, Seneca snakeroot is also the common name of Polygala senega L. (Polygalaceae). In another example, two common woodland plants are snowberry and creeping snowberry. The first, Symphoricarpos albus (L.) Blake is a member of the Caprifoliaceae, whereas Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula (L.) Muhl.) belongs to the Ericaceae.

The common names applied to plants (or any organisms) in any given language can often be seen to represent elements of a folk taxonomy. Folk taxonomies have a structure similar to that seen in scientific taxonomies, and often is clear that folk taxonomies capture features of organisms that are important in scientific classifications.

Click HERE to access the more extensive discussion of common names by Jane Bowles from which the examples above were drawn.


| What are plant families? | How do we distinguish them? | How and why do we study them? | Selected vascular plant families of Ontario | Reading List | Course outline |

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Please send your comments to tim.dickinson@utoronto.ca; last updated 1-Sep-2008