latin for the accidental gardener

Cherry Blossom Newhalem, WA photo l. fowler

Not often do gardeners have the opportunity to bring something back to life.

Latin is now considered a dead language, meaning it’s still used in specific contexts, but does not have any native speakers.

Before diving farther into the ‘A’s’ of botanical Latin – I would like to pause and take a look at some common Latin prefixes and suffixes. I’m sure you will recognize many of these and along with their meanings – you will have the tools to unlock botanical Latin and often the key to a plant part descriptor for plant identification. I put these on post-a-notes around my desk for a month or so and ran through them each morning. Whatever memory tool works for you – add this to your study program.

The following tables are the more common suffixes and meanings found in publications and nursery stock. They will assist you in testing for certifications both CPH (Certified Professional Horticulturist) and ISA (International Arborist Association).

common suffixes
Latin suffixpronunciationexamplepronunciation
-ae (female)eenovae-angliaenoe´vee  – ann´glih-ee
-aeus, -aea, -aeumee´-us, ee´-ah, ee´-umeuropaeumyure-oh-pea´-um
-anus, -ana, -anumay´nuss, ay´-nah, ay´-numay´nuss, ay´-nah, ay´-numa-mair-ih-kay´nah
-atus, -ata, -atumay´-tuss, ay´-tah, ay´tumdivaricatusdye-vair-ih-kay´tuss
-eum, -ea, -eusee-um, ee-ah, ee-uscaeruleumtawn-go-lenn´-siss
-ius, -ia, -iumee-us, ee-ah, ee-umtenuifoliatenn-yew-ih-foe´-lee-ah
-iaeee-ee or ih-eejuliaeyou´lih-ee
-ii (male)ee-eyejackmaniijack-mann´-ee-eye
-inus, -ina, -inumeye´-nuss, eye´nah, eye´numalpinusal-pine´uss
-uus, -ua, -uumyou-uss, you-ah, you-umcernuumsir´-new-um
reference to plant parts
phyl-fillreferring to a leafpol-y-phyl´-la – having multiple leaves
caul-callreferring to a stemcau-li-flo´-rus – having flowers on the stems
cocc-coxreferring to a seed or berrycoc-ci´fer-a – having berries
coni-konn-ifreferring to a coneco-ni´fer-us – having cones
flor-florereferring to a slowerflo´-rid-a – free-flowering
foli-foe-leereferring to foliagefo´li-us – leaved
frond-frondreferring to a leafron-do´sus –
misc-miskreferring to a stemmisc-an´thus
nod-nodereferring to a nodeno-do´-sus – jointed, with joints or nodes
palm-palmreferring to a palm or handpal-ma´-tus – hand-shaped
panicul-pann-ih-kulereferring to a petiole or leaf stalkpa-ni-cu-la´-tus – having flowers in a panicle
petiol-peh-tee-olereferring to a petiole or leaf stalkpe-ti-o-la´-tus – with a leaf stalk
racem-ra-semmreferring to a racemera-ce-mo´-sus – with elongated flower racemes
ramos-ra-mosereferring to branchesra-mo´-sus – branched
rhiz-risereferring to a rootmac-ro-rhi´-zum – large-rooted
scap-skappreferring to a scapesca-po´-sa – with scapes arising at the ground
ven-vennreferring to a veinve-no´-sus – notably veined
descriptive words
acuminat-pointed – taperingAllium acuminatuma-cue-mih-nay´-tum
acut-pointed – sharpCalamagrostis x acutifloraa-cu-ti-floe´-ruh
aestiv-referring to summerAsphodelus aestivusee´-stih-vuss
alpestr-referring to alpine regionsMyosotis alpestrisal-pess´-truss
amabil-lovelyAbies amabilisa-ma´-buh-liss
angust-narrowCrocus angustifoliusan-goose-tih-fo´lee-us
aquil-eagle-likeThalictrum aquilegifoliuma-quih-lee´-jih-foe-lee-um
arena-referring to sandDianthus arenariusair-uh-nair´-ee-us
barbat-beardedDianthus barbatusbar-bay´-tuss
bland-mild – pleasantAnemone blandablann´-duh
brevi-shortRanunculus brevifoliusbreh-vi-cau´-liss
campan-referring to a bellPenstemon campanulatuskam-pann-you-lay´-tuss
cernu-bending – droopingAllium cernuumsir´-new-um
caespitos-tufted – clumpedErigeron caespitosussee-spih-toe´-suss
columb-like a doveScabiosa columbariacoll-um-bare´-ee-uh
cucul-referring to a hoodDicentra cucullaria
deltoid-triangularAubrieta deltoideadell-toy´-dee-uh
divari-spreading – divergentCaryopteris divaricatadie-vair-ih-kay´-tuh
dumos-bushyAster dumosusdoo-moe´-suss
elat-tallDelphinium elatusah-lay´-tuss
flabell-fan-shapedAquilegia flabellataflah-buh-lay´-tuh
fulg-shiningRudbeckia fulgidafull´-juh-duh
color references
alb-albwhitealbiflo´ra – white-flowered
albomargina´ta – having white edges
arg-ardge or argsilverargen´teus
canacann-ahwhite or greycanalicula´tus;
chrys-krissyellow, goldenchrysan´thus
flav-flay-vuhyellowHemerocallis fla´va
glauc-glockmilky, with greyish bloomglau´cus
incarn-in-karnreferring to flesh coloredincarna´tus
the ending determines where the accent lies
niv-nivesnow or whiteni´vea
(the ending determines where the accent lies)
rhod-roadred or rosero´seus
rose-rowsrose coloredro´seus
country of origin
Latincountry of origin
aethiopi-referring to Ethiopia or Africa
calabri-referring to southern Italy
cambr-referring to Wales
capens-referring to any cape or Cape of Good Hope
carpath-referring to the Carpathian Mountains in Europe
formosan-referring to Taiwan
gall-referring to France
graec-referring to Greece
helvetic-referring to Switzerland
iber-referring to Spain
illyr-referring to Greece
ital-referring to Italy
japon-referring to Japan
lusitan-referring to Portugal
magellan-referring to the Straits of Magellan
maurit-referring to North Africa
moldav-referring to Romania
molucc-referring to the East indies
orient-referring in general to the Orient
patagon-referring to Argentina
persic-referring to Iran
phryg-referring to Asia Minor
sibir-referring to Siberia
sikkim-referring to Northern India
sino-referring to China
tartar-referring to Central Asia
zeylan-referring to Sri Lanka


  1. Latin for Gardeners, Lorraine Harrison, University of Chicago Press

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: