How to pronounce plant names

Many succulents and cacti have fun common names, but some only have botanical names. Common names may be used for several plants, that are actually quite different! In the world of succulents, where variation in the colors of the same plant species are common, it’s good to have a grasp on their Latin name, not just their common name.

Latin names are used to prevent the confusion that comes from common ‘nicknames’. I have a horrible time pronouncing some of these names, so I figured, how ’bout we learn together? This article is intended to grow your confidence and help you feel more at ease when using botanical names.

One of the biggest arguments in succulent pronunciation is Echeveria. Do you pronounce it with an “etch” or an “ek”? Latin doesn’t have the soft “ch” sound that we have in English. “Ch” in Latin is borrowed from a Greek word with the letter “chi” which is pronounced “kai”. Is that confusing enough? You will hear people use BOTH ways, but technically “ekeveria” is correct latin pronunciation. But here’s the kicker!!!! The genus echeveria is named after Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy, an 18th century Mexican botanical artist. His name is pronounced with the “sh” Spanish sound. Which way will you pronounce it? Honestly I have been trying to use the Latin pronunciation but sometimes I slip and revert to the “etch” or “sh” sound. As you can see from this example, there is often times no definitive answer on pronunciation.

Now what about all the different parts of the plant name? The genus and species names together make the scientific name. A botanical name consists of 2 words. The first word identifies the genus (and should be capitalized) and the second word identifies the species within the genus (not capitalized). The whole name should also be italicized.

Here’s an example: Aeonium lindleyi

Genus: Aeonium Species: lindleyi

I have an Aeonium lindleyi, but it is varigated, so then you add on variegata for the correct name.

Often times when purchasing succulents you will see names like Echeveria agavoides ‘Romeo’ or Echeveria agavoides cv. Romeo. This is an example of cv., or a cultivated variety. These succulents are selected and cultivated by humans.

Some other nomenclatures you might see on succulent names:

  1. is an unspecified species in a genus. To denote more than one species, you’d write spp. Example: Crassulasp.

var. or v stands for varietyExample: Echeveria agavoidesvar. multifida

f.or forma stand for a mutation of abnormal growth called crested or cristate. Example: Myrtillocactus geometrizans f. cristata

Add on monstrosus to the f. or forma and you have a succulent mutation even more distorted than a crested one. Example: Cereus repandus f. monstrosa

If you see a person’s name after the genus and species, that is the last name of the person that described the plant. If another scientist decided that plant really belonged in a another genus, the original last name is placed in parenthesis and the person who changed the classification follows. Example: Pachyveria pachyphytodies (Smith) Gordon

Many sellers do not properly label their succulents, but hopefully this guide with help you figure out what the plant is by looking at it’s scientific name!

Dave’s Garden has a wonderful botanical dictionary, which you can use to get the phonetic spelling to help you!

OverPlanted also has a botanical Latin pronunciation guide, but it is not strictly succulent related.

If you want to find the most comprehensive list of succulents, go to World of Succulents and check out their Succulentopedia. You can look up plants by scientific name or common name and each plant has both listed on it’s bio page! Unfortunately, it does not have phonetic spellings, so take the name slow and pronounce it as best you can!

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