Learning the lingo

One thing you notice when you first get into gardening and plants is that there is a lot of terminology involved. If you've not had any exposure to Latin or Greek before, you will when you visit your local garden center and start reading plant tags. Although knowing the common names of plants may be a good starting point, that's often not enough to narrow it down to a specific plant. Try going to the nursery and asking for a "moonflower", or "daisy". Plant genus and species names are usually in latin, and asking for "Chrysanthemum maximum" is going to get you exactly the plant you wanted (Shasta daisy).

But the terminology goes further than just plant names. Have you ever tried to describe a plant to somebody when you didn't know the name? Or have you read a description of a plant somewhere (maybe in a field guide of some sort) and tried to understand what it meant? Every part of a plant: the leaf edges, the stems, the parts of the flower, even the tiny hairs that usually go unnoticed -- they all have specific names to describe them. Although it's not necessary to learn all of them, it's sometimes quite helpful. Without turning to a textbook on botany, how do you learn them? One way is on Tony Foster's excellent reference blog: Phytography.


I've been following Tony's blog for almost a year now, and although I'm not sure how much of the terminology is sinking in, I expect that I'm learning something. I'm definitely enjoying it!

Tony lives in New Zealand and has access to a huge selection of beautiful and fascinating native plants, which he photographs each day, identifies, and uses to illustrate particular botanical terms. (Yes, there is a new term posted every day!)

Some of the terms are simple, and easy to understand:

Others are more complicated, less common:

Tony provides pronunciation guides, as well as the root words (and definition of course) for each term, but to me the most useful aspect is the photographs.

They are so helpful, and always so well done. Usually quite beautiful too:

I'd go so far as to say that even if you don't care to learn any botanical terminology (or can't read) you'll enjoy the site for the photography alone.

Tony recently redesigned his site, utilizing one of the  newer Blogger layouts: Flipcard. This shows all posts as a grid of images which you click to open (as seen in the first photo of this post). It's a great format for a reference like this, but if it gets to be too much you can switch to another layout using the menu at the upper left of the site:

"Classic" is the regular old "post after post" layout that you're familiar with, and may be what you want to use if you plan on reading many posts in a row (as I sometimes do), or if your computer is slower and can't handle the flipcard animations.

That menu at the top also contains links to some "general" botanical information, like prefixes and suffixes:

Learning those may be one of the easiest ways to make sense of the largest number of botanical terms without having to memorize too much.

But again, even if you're not interested in learning (at the end of some days I'm certainly not), visit Tony's site just for the beautiful imagery:

My only complaint about Phytography is that I'll rarely see a plant that I can grow in my own garden. That's not much of a negative though, as New Zealand has some amazing flora.

So visit Phytography and expand your knowledge of botanical terminology!

Phytography: Botanical word of the day explained

(all images in today's post were captured from Phytography, and are © Tony Foster)


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Christine @ The Gardening Blog  – (December 17, 2011 at 9:06 AM)  

Phew, this really is a great resource! Thanks for telling us about it, I'm enjoying learning all the latin names and horticultural terms (keeps the grey matter active, ya know), so I'll be following this one, for sure!

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (December 17, 2011 at 5:42 PM)  

Alan, I'll check this out right away. It sounds like the perfect resource. I love botanical names and I keep emphasizing how important they are in ensuring that everybody is on the same page when talking about plants.

Katie M  – (December 18, 2011 at 6:27 AM)  

Great link! I can't tell you how many times at work someone will ring asking if we have a certain plant but they only know the common name, or, indeed, ask if we have 'those white daisies you see on the side of the road'! ~sigh~

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