Where Do Tree Names Come From?

Toronto Arborists Explain Origin Of Tree Names

When it comes to common names, trees (and all natural objects) also have other names, known as Taxonomic or biological names, or sometimes erroneously, Latin names. Strictly speaking, the names originate from a variety of languages, including Latin and Greek. For example, “saccharum” as in “Acer saccharum” (sugar maple) comes from the Latin word for sugar.

This system was invented to be able to identify the plant globally, as many completely different plants and trees of different countries and habitats are often called by the same name.

A good example would be Ironwood. This tree is botanically called Ostrya virginiana in North America, but it is also called Hornbeam, which is a different tree in Europe, sometimes called Blue-Beech, though it is not a Beech, and also Ironwood could refer to any one of up to 30-40 different trees across the globe! To confuse you further, Ostrya virginiana is a member of the Birch (“betula”) family! (because it has catkins, like Birch).

Botanical names are therefore useful because they identify a type of tree the same way the world over.

The inventor of the system of classification was Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), a Swedish botanist, who also practised medicine, taught and travelled widely, a busy guy! His books, Species plantarum (1753) and Systema naturae (1758) are still used today as the basis for naming plants and animals. The actual classification system is based on similarities of plants or trees, grouping them together into various units.

“Kindly Please Close Old Farm Gates Shut” is a good way to remember the basic units: Kingdom, Phyllum, Class, Order, Family and Genus, Species. The two names used for a description are the Genus (Ostrya) and the Species (virginiana). Often the Species names are related to someone or something, sometimes where the plant was first found, or a more recent phenomenon, naming it after someone the ‘finder’ knows.

Both common and botanical names can be named after anything from a meaning related to qualities of the tree, to something made from it. For example, Beech (“Fagus”) is from old English/German possibly meaning “food” from “Phagous”, which is Greek.

So if you were confused about botanical names before reading this article, you probably still are! So best leave it to the experts who spent long hours learning all this, and call Ontree for your tree care needs!

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