10 Tips for Learning the Botanical Names of Plants

You don’t need to get bogged down in learning botanical names off by heart if you just want to grow some veggies in your backyard, but if you are studying horticulture, it’s essential.

Here are some tips for students starting out in their studies, based on my experiences at Ryde TAFE in Sydney.

While it can feel overwhelming at first it does get easier with time. Getting through the first list of names is the trickiest.

1. Ensure you copy names correctly

This may sound obvious but I always made at least a couple of errors when I first typed out my study list. If possible get someone else to check it over for you.

2. Break the words up

Long and unfamiliar names can be broken into sound bites so they are much easier to remember.

3. Make a story from the sound bites

Create a story from the sound bites from the first idea that pops into your mind. The sillier the better. For example, for Corymbia citriodora my story was “Dora the Explorer likes to wear her gumboots on trips to Rio”.

4. Clearly differentiate similar plants

On one study list we had three plants that were lemon-scented so I ensured I had stories that clearly distinguished the different botanical references to lemon. For example, “citrinus“, and “citriodora“.

  • When we get together (with “us” citriodorUS) we like to share a bottle of wine (Bottle brUSh).
  • Dora (citrioDORA) likes to wear her GUMboots (Lemon Scented gum).
  • It’s nice to have a cup of tea (TEA Tree) with Peter (PETERsonii) and his son (peterSONii).

5. Get your friends or family to adopt a botanical name

I either do this by thinking of which plants remind me of people or by posting them on social media and asking people to pick their own plant. This is also helpful later on when you need to remember features of plants such as salt tolerance or height because you can liken these to the person.

6. Put up plant names around the house

When possible, pick a small branch or flower and place it in a vase or jar and label it with the botanical name. Even without actively reading the label the general shape and association of the name will start to sink in. I used to also pick out the five hardest names at the beginning of each term, write them out, stick them on the wall and look at them most days so by the time the test came up I felt confident.

7. Remember family names always end in “-aceae”

This means that you only need to learn the first part of each family name so it is easier than it first looks.

8. Make flash cards

These are great for practising, especially before Identification exams. Draw or print out a picture of the plant on the front and write the botanical name on the back. Making an album of photos on your phone can also help.

9. Use Apps

There are a number of inexpensive apps that allow you to create your own content for revision. By working with your classmates you can take turns to create lists that you can share and practice with. Quizlet and Tinycards are two worth trying out.

10. Look up the meaning of botanical names

Botanical names are mainly Latin or Greek based and there are parts of words that are worth knowing because they will come up frequently. It also makes studying more interesting. It’s helpful to have a reference book or ebook but you can search online for meanings. For example:

  • edulis means ‘edible’
  • toxicarius means ‘poisonous’
  • albus means ‘white’
  • orientalis means ‘relating to the Orient’
  • scandens means ‘climbing’
  • pendulus means ‘hanging’

Remember every mistake you make while practicing is a mistake you are less likely to make in the test.

Happy studying and feel free to share further tips and questions below.


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