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The Scheme for Scientific Naming of Plants

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Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. When we use scientific names for plants, we use two names. The first is the genus the plant belongs to, which is a general group so to speak. The second name is the specific epithet, or species, which narrows it down to one individual plant with its own distinguishing characteristics. A plant in bloom now is redbud, Cercis canadensis. If someone finds a redbud growing in nature that’s somewhat different, maybe with a white rather than pink flower color, that plant gets a third name – a variety, and usually that plant can reproduce by seed.  A plant developed by a grower which has a special characteristic is considered a cultivar and it, too, gets a third name. Here are examples of each. An example of a variety is Cercis canadensis variety alba -- a naturally occurring white flowered tree.  Forest Pansy is a cultivar.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.