This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I have not seen all that has appeared in The Garden on the English names of plants, but from what has come under my notice it would seem that greater zeal than discretion is being mani- fested in assailing the nomenclature which, with some drawbacks, has served its purpose admir- ably for many years. The advocates of English names may hold that a scientific nomenclature is indispensable to botany in its largest sense - the popular being good only for home use - for they do not seem so far gone in prejudice against Latin and Greek as not to believe that those languages are more capable of being compounded to express the great qualities and characteristic traits of plants than the English. They admit this by making large use of them in their published lists; the English names, so far as are known, being placed in the first column against the scientific in the second; and but for the support they thus receive many of them would be unintelligible, as they merely express the color of the flowers, the natural habitats of the plants, or the countries whence they come; and in many instances other species in the same genus are equally entitled to the same designations.
English names are also, in many cases, misleading,as Jasaminum grandiflorum is booked as Catalonian Jessamine, when it is not a native of Spain but of the East Indies; Gardenia Florida as Cape Jasmine when it is not a Jessamine at all, nor does it come from the Cape but from China. And then again, there are many which are extremely whimsical, such as Johnny-jump-ups for Pansies, Red-hot Poker for Trito-ma; Dutchman's Breeches for Dielytra; Jacob's Ladder for Polemonium; P. reptans, therefore, should be Creeping Jacob's Ladder; P. coeru-leum, Blue Jacob's Ladder; the one conveying a false idea of the uses of a ladder, the other unnecessarily specific as to color. We would also have for P. gracile, Slender Jacob's Ladder; for P. bursitolium, Shephard's Purse-leaved Jacob's Ladder; for Arum triphyllum, Three-leaved Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and by way of distinguishing this species from Dracontium, Green Dragon Jack-in-the-Pulpit. But it would be impossible to enumerate all the absurdities likely to creep into an English nomenclature, made more objectionable still by the verbosity and in-definiteness inseparable therefrom.
But, say the advocates of the English method: "The employment of technical names is pedantic, and none but those who wish to appear learned encourage their use." This objection does not amount to much although applicable to a numerous class of both Greeks and Barbarians; and those who raise it might know that in every other human pursuit the same weakness is apt to show itself. The weakness being in human nature, similar displays of vanity would be common were the advocates of the English system to have their way, as that upon which it feeds thrives equally well in an English as in a scientific dress. But the fact that pedants will have their way is no reason why one system of nomenclature should be substituted for another, when upon the whole the new is open to graver objections than the one they seek to supplant.
We do not object to English names when they can be advantageously employed, but that is no more than what now generally prevails, and there is no botanical writer of distinction who is not careful to give the English or popular names of the plants they describe so far as they know them. Such was the practice of W. J. Hooker. Such is that of Dr. A. Gray; but above all is this carried out in the works of J. C. Loudon. Those gardeners, therefore, who have not been favored with a classical education, owe much to Loudon for placing within easy reach the means to overcome the obstacles which stand in the way of understanding the botanical names of plants; and those who would substitute another nomenclature for the one he has done so much to popularize, might do well to consider the disadvantage which would result to mere English scholars by the change. It is true many of those names are hard to pronounce and anything but euphonious, but they are mostly significant and convey an amount of information regarding the plants to which they are applied that could not be readily obtained from any other source.
Instead, therefore, of educated men bestowing their attention upon what, to say the least, might prove of doubtful advantage, would it not be better to advocate the issuing of revised editions of Loudon's Hortus Brittannicus and Encyclopaedia of Plants, with supplements bringing them up to the present time? We say this from the belief that more good would result to gardeners from the undertaking than could possibly come from any catalogue of English names, however carefully gotten up.
Mr. Veitch, in another column, presents some views on this question; which, coming from an intelligent florist, will command attention. There is no doubt but when we get long names, with sounds uncouth to the popular ear, we are glad to get out of it by a simple English one. We all thank the man who first gave us "Herb Robert" for Geranium Robertianum, and the "Sweet William" for Dianthus barbatus. But it is no less true that these names grew out of some popular point, and were not made deliberately, as botanical names are made.
All attempts to make such names have failed unless there were some evident appropriateness in or about them Mr. A. J. Downing's suggestion that Forsythia viridissima be called "Golden Bell," has been generally adopted here, but we are not sure it has in England. It is just here that the trouble arises. There is a recognized authority in botanical names, and we get only the one as a rule. Any one may give a common name, and we may have a hundred. The choice lies between an uniform name, sometimes hard, and a Babel only worse confounded.