Have you ever watched a nature show on TV or read a garden book about a Plant and heard them use strange, hard-to-pronounce names? Ever try get more information about that specific plant by the name listed on the plant label or from memories of grandma's garden without knowing how to get results? Plants, microorganisms, and animals are often referred to by their common name, which is sort of like a nickname, but they also have a Scientific name. This system is known as the Binomial Nomenclature. With this article you'll be better able to unlock the mystery behind these names and use them to your advantage.
EditKnowing the Importance of Binomial Nomenclature
- Understand how scientific names can be more helpful than common names. Let's take a lovely trip to the zoo, conservatory or aquarium. For example the species of cat we call a lion is known scientifically as Panthera leo. The more specific and precise name can help you identify and distinguish between animals that would be lumped together under one common name.
- The gopher common name for example can be referring to not only the gopher rodent species but also 5 species of turtle (Gopherus polyphemus) or snake (Pituophis catenifer) as well. Lady's Slipper flower in even the same garden center can mean two totally different plants! Also certain species of the same genus can be different sizes and have different environmental needs.
- Scientific names like your first and last name remain the same all over the world. The common names we use like giraffe and tiger aren't the same names used in other countries of the world.
- Many organisms don't have a common name for them. Often times these are new discoveries or ignored species. Many species of organisms still have to be completely examined and sorted out. Many common names are actually the organisms exact scientific name. This is really common in plant names like Poinsettia or Petunia. Sometimes the scientific name is accented or abstracted like Peony is the same name for Paeonia.
- Make use of the binomial nomenclature whenever your involved in any form of natural science. Geologic, astronomic, and medical fields for example have names that come from the same Latin language root and concept as the scientific name system only with one part or name instead of two. Canis Major is the Latin name of the dog constellation (pattern of stars).
- The same goes for dealing with anything even slightly or indirectly involving plants, microorganisms and/or animals. Natural herbal supplements(especially in drinks and food) and whenever you are looking for how toxic or potent a certain plant or animal is it's much better to know the scientific name as many such sites and companies only list that name and not the common name. This can be really handy when ordering herbs from foreign country. Knowing the scientific name of a venomous snake or plant can save the medical staff minutes if not hours of additional resource which can save a life as well. The names of many viral, parasitic and bacterial illnesses are in fact the names of the microorganisms causing the illness, flu is short for influenza. Streptococcus pneumoniae give us the pneumonia.
EditKnowing the Rules of Binomial Nomenclature
- Use the basic three rules of Binomial Nomenclature to help you recognize a scientific name of an organism.
- All scientific names are in Latin. This is understood by members of the scientific community. Most of the names in this system come from the Latin language root. The same root where English Spanish and French languages come from. Often times the names are accented with extra letters like "sis" "ens" "ica".
- The scientific name always contains 2 words. Unless it's a subspecies or cultivar which is explained in further steps.
- The scientific name has very specific grammar rules. The genus is always the first name which is always capitalized. The species is always the second name without capitalization.
- The scientific name is most cases italicized.
EditRecognizing the Basic Parts of a Scientific Name
- Approach this procedure as a process of elimination. Just like isolating a specific single pair of red designer sneakers from 12 similar pairs of shoes we are using the same mindset.
- Think of the scientific name as your own name, with the first and last parts reversed. It's similar to how an encyclopedia, dictionary or teacher will list last names first and first names last. Your last name designates your family of which your were born and your first name is referring to you a specific member of your family.
- Recognize that the first part of the scientific name is the genus. The genus refers to a specific group of organisms with something in common. Let's take the group of animals called Canis, also called the dog or wolf group. This includes wolves, foxes, coyotes and dogs. When we think of these animals we think about all the things associated with the wolf. A moderate to large size, their massive, well developed skulls and sharp teeth (called canines), long legs, and comparatively short ears and tails. They belong to the same genus.
- Learn that the last part of the scientific name is the species. Now we are going to pick a more specific group of animals with identical characteristics. From the large Canis genus group, we are going to take a creature many are very familiar with the gray wolf. The species name is lupus.
- Accept the fact that some organisms have more than one scientific name which is called a synonyms. As technology and natural science studies grow more advanced old scientific names are updated. The Norway spruce tree, was once called Pinus abies. This name is no longer in use: it is now a synonym of the current scientific name which is Picea abies. That's because in earlier years of scientific studies any tree that had needle-like leaves and bearing cones was classified as a tree species of the genus Pinus (pine) and later research soon considered the fact that this "pine" tree had very different features from other pine trees (different cone shape) thus the genus Picea (spruce) genus was created.
EditRecognizing Changes and Exceptions in Naming
- Learn how to recognize hybrids. A hybrid is a mixing of two distinct species of the same genus or two genus within a family (larger group of organisms with characteristics in common), whether by man or in nature. Hybrids are designated somewhere in the name by a x.
- The family in Binomial Nomenclature is a more broader group classification than the genus. It's like now we are not only dealing with one's simple immediate family but cousins (even far way) and other distant relatives. A good example is the diverse (Pinaceae) or pine family. All these species are species we use as Christmas Trees and they all produce fruits we call pine cones.
- Intergeneric hybrids are hybrids between two species from two separate genus within the same family. xFatshedera lizei a common houseplant is an example of this. Fatsia japonica (Japanese Fatsia) and Hedera helix (English Ivy) got crossed by humans. Notice how the two genus names got stuck together. The x is in the front of the genus.
- Interspecific hybrids are when two species within the same genus are involved. Petunia × hybrida, which is the typical Petunia flower sold in garden centers as a bedding plant, is a good example. This plant was created by crossing P. axillaris and P. integrifolia, two different species. Other times the two or more species are listed with the x presented before each species. The x in the case is in the middle. Even if the species name is missing like in named hybrids you'll see the x after the genus name.
- Some hybrid organisms do not have any binomial nomenclature and are not considered existing species by most scientists. The blood parrot cichlid (or more commonly and formally known as parrot cichlid; no binomial nomenclature) is a hybrid of the midas (A. citrinellus) and the redhead cichlid (Paraneetroplus synspilus) is an example of such a case.
- Watch for the signs of a subspecies or cultivar. Be careful here and don't worry a lot about this part because different situations change the rules here greatly. There's also a great deal of controversy here that professionals debate about. The only real rule here is there are three or more names in the scientific name. Two basic rules to keep in mind include:
- A subspecies is a specific population group that got isolated from the main group in some way and developed into a slightly different population with slight different characteristics. The subspecies name is in most cases written in Latin and italicized.The dog is a subspecies Canis lupus familiaris. This population of grey wolf started joining hunter gathering humans on hunts and became domesticated and did not breed with other wolves. All kinds of dogs from the poodle to rottweillers came from this ancient extinct wolf subspecies.
- There are 6 existing subspecies of the familiar jungle cat the tiger (Panthera tigris). The tiger we most likely see in zoos or associate with tigers is the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) which lives in India. However there's another tiger called the Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) lives in Siberia also called Russia. This subspecies has paler colors, longer fur and is much larger than other tigers. The two populations of tiger are isolated by landscape and do not breed together.
- A cultivar is like a subspecies created by human. However they can also be hybrids. The specific cultivar name is designated with quotation marks and is not italicized and not always in Latin. We run into these a lot when we go shopping for fruits and vegetables. Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Yellow Delicious, Gala are all cultivars of Apples. Tagetes erecta ‘Crackerjack Mix’ is also a cultivar.
- Many cultivars are indeed natural subspecies marketed under a totally different name. This is very common in plant trades and in the aquarium fish market.
- There are also what are called sports, variants and mutants that humans isolate from main population and reproduce them for their own purposes. For example in a garden bed of red tulips the bulb breeding suddenly runs into a red tulip with yellow stripes. In a tank of regular goldfish one swims around with longer fins. The striped tulip and long finned goldfish are examples of a sport, variant, or mutant
EditFiguring the Meanings Behind the Names
- Look for obvious and not so obvious clues within the name. Break down the names into smaller parts and mentally remove the accents. Look for other familiar words within the name.
- Believe it a huge number of the scientific names of plants and animals come from the name of the actual explorer or as a dedication to an loved or admired person. Joel Roberts Poinsett is the explorer of the Poinsettia.
- Many other names even come from Greek mythology like Helianthus the scientific name of the sunflower genus comes from Helios the sun god. Narcissus the genus of the familiar daffodil spring bulb flower comes from a Greek hunter who was so in love with his own looks he couldn't stop looking down at a reflection in the water until he died.
- Other names can from the name of a specific location. Chinensis, Japonica, are indeed the names of a country or even a tribe of people that live there. However Australia in some names means just south and not referring to the continent.
- Color names include Rubus (red) like the gemstone ruby, Aurea (yellow), Blanca (white), Niger (black). Azurea and Ceruleans also Lapis like the gemstone (blue).
- Names that explain sizes include superbus, gigantea (big), pumila miniata (minute size), reptans (low) altissima (tall).
- The word pseudo in any part of a name means false, or fake. If a species is easily confused with another similar species or genus it has this often added somewhere to the name. This also goes for any name ending in "oides".
- Use a reference to find out the origins of more difficult names. Yes, there are some scientific names that not fully understood even to the professionals. Some names have unknown origins. A good example is Chlorophytum comosum the name of the spider plant a popular houseplant, genus name practically means "Chlorophyll producing plant" yet every plant on earth produces chlorophyll.
- Sometimes scientists will change the scientific names for even tiny reasons. So scientific names can change very recently and the rest of us may never know it.