How do you pronounce Gomphocarpus physocarpus? What is it? And how can we ever remember how to spell it? What’s Aquilegia caerulea? You might know it as Colorado’s native Blue Columbine (right). Or how about Symphyotrichum novae-angliae? Isn’t it simpler just to say New England Aster? Scientific names are enough to drive gardeners crazy, so why in the world do we need to bother with them?
Scientific names, also called Latin names, can be annoying, but they serve a valuable purpose. We owe a huge thank you to Carl von Linné, the Swedish biologist who, back in the 1700s, invented what we now call binomial nomenclature. He also had the bright idea to use Latin, or at least to Latinize the words from another language, in order to avoid giving preference to any nationality. Scientists all around the world use the same Latin name to designate a particular species.