Sunday, July 8, 2018


How important is it to know the latin names of your plants? Knowing the genus is one thing but how important is it to get the species name correct? Sometimes that can be difficult as I found today when I was researching my flapjack plant. Or shall we call it paddle plant. Can we not get by just knowing the common name? Flapjack plant just wasn't quite enough for me.

 I was trying to find if these two plants I have are the same species.

This one is growing in a hypertufa planter, west facing. All green with just a touch of yellow.

And this one in an east facing pot with companion cactus. Lots of rosy tips to the leaves.

Yes, I knew it was a kalanchoe, but K. thyrsifloraK. luciae or K. tetraphylla? You'll find all three of these names bandied about on the internet and lots of photos showing these colorful ones but there seems to be a tremendous amount of confusion, even among the growers. The internet is not necessarily the most accurate place to go for the identification of plants. How I would love the pale one to be K. tetraphylla because by all accounts it is very rare.

I know that winter cold can often cause the coloring of this kalanchoe but why is it so colorful own the heat of summer? Similar stress? But why isn't the other one stressed to color?

After spending a lot of time reading articles and blog postings about this kalanchoe I have reached the conclusion that all three of mine are probably K. luciae. Is there an expert out there who can confirm this for me?

Next in line for a true id is this plant.

Variously known as walking iris, fan iris, apostle plant, I bought it from a nursery where plants are often not labeled. I was given a small rhizome of this plant by a garden friend last year but it failed to make it though the winter. Determined to try it out in the shady part of my English garden I bought two 1 gallon plants this spring. Just this morning I noticed a bloom. Time for a proper id.
Neomarica was easy but then scrolling though photos and id on Google I came across species, N.gracilis, N.candida, northiana and N.caerulea. Not to mention Nlongifolia but that flower is yellow. I think I finally narrowed it down to be N. gracilis.

I heard a story about a lady that went into a local nursery asking if they could procure a bird of paradise plant for her. When it arrived she was disappointed to find it was a Mexican bird of paradise. Not the Hawaiian one she wanted. Birds with the same name but quite different latin names. If she had just given the nursery the name Strelitzia reginae there would have been no confusion and she would not have received, Caesalpinia pulcherrima.


  1. Agreed! I’m of no help with ID on your plants but I can share that I’ve hear many a nursery employee trying to coax out clues about what the customer really wants when they ask for a plant by common names. The bird of paradise is an excellent example.

  2. I've become a stickler for Latin names in recent years, although I find it frustrating that doesn't always help in tracking down specific plants. The staff in local garden centers many times aren't familiar with proper plant names and seem clueless as to how to proceed with a search. Even more frustrating, my local botanic garden actively discouraged my use of Latin names when I went through training as a docent!

  3. What always confuses me is when the Latin names change! But I agree, in general I prefer knowing the formal name for my plants, even if I don't know how to pronounce them! That Neomarica is pretty!

  4. I think plant IDs are like bird IDs: start with the most common species as possible ID and go from there. :)

  5. Yes, it does get tricky, doesn't it? ... especially when science and genetics keep changing the names. I do like to know the common and the Latin names, as much out of curiosity as anything else. Lucky you to have a Neomarica. My understanding is that N. longifolia is now Trimezia martinicensis. I only know this because I have one...or had one. Mine appears to have expired. I'm sad because it survived several overwinterings in my sunroom for several years. Time to get a new one, I guess. They are so awesome! Your Kalanchoes are beautiful, too!

  6. I agree that changing taxonomy is hard to follow, but I LOVE Latin names - they say so much about what the plant looks like, who discovered it, and sometimes even if there was a little spat going on between the person in charge of naming and the one who discovered the plant. This was not only a beautiful post to see, but I enjoyed your pursuit.

  7. My husband is awesome with Latin names. It's freaky how well he can remember them all. I am the complete opposite, only I've gotten worse because I don't have to remember them, I have him. The poor man is constantly getting texts from asking him for names. That said, they are really important. It's the only way to make sure everyone is talking about the same plant.

  8. The definitive ID on the Kalanchoe will be the flowers.

    I make a big effort to always use the botanical name with plants, but make little or no effort for birds, bugs, and lizards. What's with that?

    1. That's interesting. I had one flower last year. In fact it was the one that has the color. Must hunt it down and maybe you can id it for me.

  9. I don't know if you saw this page or not but it shows the difference between luciae and thrysiflora. Basically the rare thrysiflora stem is pretty short with flowers mostly towards the top, while luciae has flowers all along the stem and the stem can get pretty tall, five feet here sometimes. The San Marcos website is my go-to site for so many plants!

  10. But. Strelitzia reginae is ours. South African!