Gardener’s Latin

  • Post published:11/24/2008
  • Post comments:4 Comments

A gardening friend once told me that what he loved about gardening (besides playing in the dirt) was that it led you down the roads of history and literature and science. Gardening can lead you anywhere.

One place it can lead is to a modest study of Latin. I was proud that I got through high school without studying Latin, but becoming a gardener made me mourn that lost opportunity. I have been making up for it ever since.

Recently at Garden Rant Allan Armitage posted about the problems with garden centers and nurseries that don’t know their Latin. I myself have had problems finding a particular plant I wanted when I only knew a common name, and when shopping, found out there was more than one plant with that name.

Some Latin terms aren’t hard to understand: fragrantissumus for very fragrant; foetidus for bad smelling; hirsutus for covered with hair; mellifera for honeybearing; and orientalis for from the eastern part of the world. There are many more of these fairly simple Latin words.

Others are not so simple, and this beautiful book, Gardener’s Latin: Discovering the Origins, Lore & Meanings of Botanical Names by Bill Neal with an introduction by Barbara Damrosch will not only educate, it will delight and amuse. “onopordum: literally ‘ass-fart’ refers to the effect Scotch thistle, Onopordum, has on donkeys who consume it.”

The book also includes side bars with plant trivia, once again leading down paths of history and literature. Did you know that Achillea is named for Achilles who made a salve of this plant to heal battlefield wounds?

This book is truly illustris (brilliant) and illecebrosus (alluring and enticing).

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Frances

    Hi Pat, my friend gave me that book as a Christmas present one year and it is fabulous. Not at all a dry read either. Every gardener would enjoy this, I think.

  2. TC

    Hello Pat, I’ve been wanting to find a good garden Latin book and your suggestion might just be what I’m lookin for. It’s odd that they don’t provide more botanical Latin with Master Gardener training, at least they don’t here. (And thanks for stopping by my blog.)

  3. Lisa at Greenbow

    I would love to read this book Pat. My Mother wanted me to take Latin in high school Of course at that point and time I thought she had lost her mind…what would I need latin for pray tell me. Obviously I wasn’t a gardener at that time and wasn’t wanting to study much of anything. ha..

    I am glad you posted a comment on my skywatch blog. I popped over to see if I could see your tall arch and through it some sky. Maybe this friday??

  4. Pat Leuchtman

    Frances, anyone who has this book is in for a treat. I’m glad you enjoy yours.
    TC, I’ve seen more official looking books of botanical Latin, but this one has an amazing amount for a small (and pretty) book.
    Lisa, When we are in high school we rarely imagine what we will need in our life. This is probably more true now than ever. I’ll try to get that photo, but my skills are not great. Check in though and see what I make of the attempt.

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