Category Archives: Garden fun

botanicals and latin

Did you ever learn in biology the mnemonic phrase “Dear King Philip Came Over For Good Soup”?

It refers to the taxonomy (naming of species) order of Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genius and Species.  The last three of this order helps us horticultural geeks identify our plants!

Let’s take a quick lesson in using botanical Latin terms which is just the scientific name of a plant.  Yeah, I know you might prefer to just use the common names but that could potentially be a problem in the long run.   For example, poison oak, she oak, sumac oak are NOT oaks at all they are in a totally different family of plants so using the common names vary from region to region, can be overly general and can change over time.  When we use botanical Latin names, we are more precise, and the names are universal.

If we look at one of my favorite plants, we can break down the various orders frequently used in botanical Latin naming.

Begoniaceae is the Family for begonias.  Any time you see the suffix  “aceae” at the end of a word it is most likely referring to the order of Family for the plant in question.

For example, Iridaceae is the family for the crocus plant and Amaryllidaceae is the family for daffodils.

The genus and species are the next two main taxonomic orders used on a consistent basis. We call this the binomial naming of plants we only use two of the orders bi=two; genus and species. Let us get back to begonias.

Begoniaceae Begonia bowerae

So the first part is the Family because of the ending of -aceae and the second part is the Genus it is always italicized and the first letter capitalized.  The genus is a group of plants that have similar characteristics they have a common ancestor, similar habits such as growing patterns. The third part is the Species, it too is italicized but begins with a lowercase letter. The species can all reproduce with one another.

You may see a tag that says this : Begonia ‘Tiger Paws’  here the first part is the Genus and the second part is letting you know it is a cultivar because the term Tiger Paws is in quotes.

Monstera sp. Peru which denotes a subspecies and has evolved in a specific geographic area. This Monstera was found in Peru.

Two plants that have crossed naturally in the wild are denoted as a variety; written as such Ilex verticillate var. fastigiate.

When two plants have crossed because of man it is a cultivar and is written as Ilex aquifolium ‘Lily Gold’ or Ilex aquifolium cv. Lily Gold. The quotes tell you the plant is a cultivar as mentioned above.

Sometimes the label will have an f. in the description and is written as such Echeveria agavoides f. Cristata. Cristata is latin for crested or tufted helmet so the plant has mounds of crests or tufts within its shape of the leaves. Whereas a regular Echeveria has a rosette form.

This f. refers to the Form of a plant and tells there is a minor difference shown within the species which could be the shape of plant as discussed above.

The letter X found in a label of a plant refers to it being a hybrid which is a cross between two species of plants. Such as Ilex x koehneana  which is a cross between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex latifolia if it had not been given a name it would have been written Ilex aquifolium x latifolia.

Latin names tell you something about the plant specifically thus the another reason to use latin terms.

Last lesson let’s look at some common Latin terms you may see that will help you identify certain characteristics of plants:

Alba- white

Argenta – silver

Ater, nigra-black


Chrysus, luteus, aurea -yellow

Erythron, rubra – red

Ferrugineus – rusty

Purpureus – purple

Virens- green

Contorta – twisted

Globose- rounded

Maculata- spotted


Nana- dwarf


Reptans, prostrata -creeping

Scadens – climbing

Africanus -Africa

Canadensis – Canada

Indicus- India

Japonicus, japonica, nipponicus – Japan

Chinensis, sinensis – China

Maritima- seaside

Montana- mountains

Occidentalis – western hemisphere

Orientalis – eastern hemisphere

Sylvestris- woodland

Dentata- toothed

Odorata- perfumed

There are many more but hopefully these are some to get you started, now go look at some of your labels and you may see some of the identifications listed above.

Hopefully this has been helpful for you and maybe gave you the courage to start using botanical Latin names instead of the common names for plants.  Plus you will sound even more amazingly intelligent, giggling.  Have fun and please give it a try!

See this lovely beauty, now you know why it is given the name Begonia maculata, pretty cool huh?

Mazus reptans ‘Alba’ : Based on what we learned, what can we say about this plant’s label? It is a creeping white mazus plant!

Till next time, get hands dirty, walk barefoot on grass and sit still in your gardens in joy!

Seeds, seeds and more seeds!

I recently went to visit a dear friend who is doing their very best to deal with some difficult life challenges, as I pulled into the driveway I immediately noticed a really sweet little garden and of course as any gardener would do I cheesed a big grin and might have said out loud “So cute, I love it!” It was quaint and had some mature plantings along with unique garden artifacts such as an old cement horse post, really cool!  After our awesome visit and my escort back to the car following numerous hugs and kisses, we proceeded to check out this side garden by the driveway. I was happy to see some very unusual coneflower seed heads that were then gifted to me to take home to my garden; I received them with gratitude and pleasure. To be honest it was more about having a part of my friend in my garden, for when this coneflower blooms it would be a warm and fuzzy reminder of our friendship. I’m quite sentimental about these types of exchanges they mean the world to me!

So once we said our final good byes I drove off but did think more about seed exchange and how it’s an amazing trade, both sentimental and economical. It cost nothing; my price tag was BIG HUGS and KISSES can’t beat that!

Thought it might be fun to share how a seed becomes a seed and to invite us to start collecting when things in our gardens’ start going to seed at the end of the season (always leave enough for our feather friends for winter snacks of course) but let’s harvest some seeds and then do a seed exchange maybe in November when we are in the giving and thankful mode and reflecting on those we are grateful for and our love of gardens when they are being put to sleep for winter. We can plant them indoors starting in February or wait and plant them outside in pots or directly into our gardens after the first frost.

Here’s a picture of my seed heads and then the next picture is one in which the seeds have been separated notice the long brown part is NOT the seed, it’s the prickly portion of the seed head and just protects the seed which is actually the tan portion attached.


See the lone seed separated from the prickly portion. Always store your seed heads or separated seeds in a paper bag or paper envelope and NEVER in plastic. Remember it is a living thing and it needs to breathe in its dormancy until you plant it. Yup that’s right unplanted seeds are in dormancy, so when you are eating trail mix with pumpkin seeds, almonds etc.. you are actually eating dormant seeds 😊. Popcorn kernels, peas, rice and acorns are seeds too! Just in their dormancy stage, all of these can be sprouted! (That’s another story for another time)

So what is a seed? A small part of a flowering plant that grows into a new plant.

A seed has three parts:

  1. Seed coat – protects the entire seed
  2. Embryo- this is where the baby plant lives
  3. Endosperm – food storage of the plant

Note: If you eat whole grains you are eating all three parts. The seed coat is called bran and the embryo is called germ; if you are eating refined grains you are eating just the endosperm which is mainly carbohydrates. That’s why it’s encouraged to eat the whole grain which has more nutrients and more benefits to our bodies.

Back to the fabulous seed, the seed is formed when pollen fuses with the ovules this fusion creates a fertilized seed. The pollen comes from the anther which sits on top of the filament these are the male parts collectively called the stamen. If you have ever touched a flower and a powdery residue gets on you that’s the pollen or sperm to be exact. The female parts are the stigma, style, ovary and ovules (eggs to be exact) this collectively is called the pistil. The pollen from the anther adheres to the sticky stigma then travels down into the ovary and fuses with the ovules and voila’ a fertilized seed is created. See anatomy of a flower below. Oh yeah the flower is the reproductive unit and the petals are the pretty part of the flower which we all enjoy and the sepals are at the base of the flower they are green and protect the bud of the flower.

Parts of the flower infographics. Lily flower anatomy. Science for kids.

(Thanks Adobe for the pic)

Common pollinators are honey bees, bats, birds, butterflies and moths.

Seeds need water (moisture), temperature (warmth), sunlight, nutrient rich soil and to be a good quality seed. Once it has all of these conditions in place, roots are the first to form within the soil and then the seed pushes up thru the soil towards sunlight and then loses its seed coat and the baby plant emerges (a sprout) and is equipped with two new leaves, the roots push down deeper and get stronger to prepare to support the new plant.

So are you ready to produce new plants from seeds? If so, get out there and start collecting and lets see what we come up with, it should be a wonderful seedy event!

Till next time, visit a friend, garden with joy and prepare to share the blessings from your garden.


Are you a Moth-ER??

Its a hot, humid, steamy night, totally pitch black outside but the intense sound of fluttering is the only sound heard in the stillness of the night.  Those flutters are coming  from Hypercompe scribonia, Zeuzera pyrina pyrina, Dyrocampa rubicunda, Eudryas grata and Hemithea aestivaria! Or commonly known as Giant leopard moth, Tiger moth, Rosy maple moth, Beautiful wood nymph and Emerald moth.

National Moth week this year was 7/21-7/29/2018 but the moths I witnessed were at the end of the first week of August only because viewing them had been rescheduled twice due to our excessive heavy rain and thunderstorms in our local area.

Mothing is popular summer nighttime event; all that is required is a white sheet/cloth a black light or if you are a true moth geek and have the budget to own a mercury vapor bulb moths will gather from far and beyond to come towards that particular light.  The mercury vapor bulb has a very high intensity UV (which should not be looked into for long periods with the human eye) that attracts moths with great intensity.  However, most of us can afford a black light or a normal outside bulb which allows you to search near and/or close to the area where the light is being emitted.

The life cycle of a moth is egg, larva(caterpillar), cocoon, adult moth.  What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly? The most prominent difference is their antennae, a butterfly’s is clubbed and smooth and a moth’s is feathered or fuzzy. Moths are also nocturnal although some are seen during the day such as the hummingbird moth which looks like a hummingbird and pollinates during the day. Most adult moths only live a short life about a week or two because most do not have mouths so therefore they do not eat, because their sole purpose is just to mate and lay eggs once they have reached adulthood.  A male moth can smell a female up to 7 miles away, this capability just ensures these creatures mean business in their short lived lives to get things done and with a mission.  Moths emerge from a cocoon which is silken wrapped, where as a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis a smooth stretched structure which is a pupa.  The moth pupa is found inside the cocoon. See the photo below.

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Moths out number butterflies 10 to 1 and there are currently over 11,000 species in the US alone!

The Giant leopard moth spotted was unusual and was a special find and will be documented in a special moth database. The Rosy maple moth was found fluttering in the grass with the Tiger Moth which was a “virgin” its appearance let the experts know it had recently emerged into the world :), the Rosy maple moth loves to eat maple trees and you will always find a moth near the particular tree it likes to lay its eggs and then eat as a caterpillar; it’s appearance looked like a scoop of rainbow sherbet or as if it had been tie dyed, the Beautiful wood nymph moth has outstanding mimicry and fools you in thinking it is droppings from a bird!  The Emerald moth was found at the end of our mothing night and was a gem indeed, its beautiful green color was so amazing and was a wonderful find since the other green moth I really wanted to find was the popular lunar moth. It apparently was just was too shy I guess to join the party, so maybe the Grand Dam will show the next time. If you have a walnut or hickory tree in your area she is bound to appear and in all her glory:)

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So if you have not tried mothing this summer, give it a try in your night time garden before it gets too cool for these amazing species to dance in the light and officially make you a