Why scientific names?

Why scientific names?

Today I was looking for a certain kind of grass, when I found the website of a nursery, where I could read the following lines.:

„There was a time in the not too distant past, when life was simple and this gorgeous ornamental grass was simply known as Pheasant’s Tail Grass or, for those that had been to college, Stipa arundinacea.
Now, life is that bit more complicated and its new name is Anemanthele lessoniana, which is apparently pronounced ăn-e-man-thee-le less-o-nee-ana – and is so much harder to remember not to mention a bit of a mouthful! “


Well, I don’t know where to start … first, no one needs to go to a college to remember a simple name, may it be Anemanthele lessoniana or Stipa arundinacea or whatsoever.

By the way, it doesn’t actually matter how You pronounce these scientific names …, and, the correct way to use this names actually is Anemanthele lessoniana (Steud.) Veldkamp and Stipa arundinacea (Hook. f.) Benth. – and they always refer to the same, one and only species!

The first is the valid name, the other one is a synonym not used for the plant any longer, yet still valid, but just as a synonym.

That’s all.

Wait, there’s one thing more: scientific names, genus and species names are always written in italics, that’s just an international rule (it doesn’t harm You to do so).


Common names or vernacular names in contrast can be used for whatever You wish, the grass discussed here is commonly known as Gossamer Grass, New Zealand Wind Grass, Pheasant’s Tail Grass, and probably as many other grassy things more.

Gossamer Grass fits very well to this species, as it fits to many other grass species as well, in numerous cases even more then to this species; New Zealand Wind Grass is even more bad, it doesn’t say anything aside from that we talk about a grass that probably comes from New Zealand and that is sweeping in the wind (do You know how many grass species are found in New Zealand – and all of them are sweeping in the wind); Pheasant’s Tail Grass, um, the grass discussed here doesn’t look like the tail of a pheasant at all, so …?

I think it is much easier to keep a single scientific name in mind than the numerous vernacular ones that a single species can have.

Now You see what scientific names are for: they can always be assigned to a certain species (subspecies, variety or forma, if You wish), leaving no doubt which species someone is talking about.

Don’t be afraid, use them!   🙂


After all, my words are not meant to criticize the nursery from whom the abovementioned citation comes!


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