Common Versus Botanical Names

Question:  Do you grow “gold fish plants” or “lipstick vines”?

Answer:  We do, but that’s not the reason we’ve chose this question to answer.  This is a very frequently asked question, both at the shop and by those calling us.  We’ve chose this to illustrate the importance of using the botanical names of plants.  It’s true that we don’t follow this rule when we call a Saintpaulia by its common name, African violet.  Fortunately, “African violet” is so commonly used and so universally understood to identify Saintpaulia, that there’s almost never any confusion about what one is referring to.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case when referring to other members of the gesneriad family.

What one may see identified as a “goldfish plant” at one garden center is identified differently at another.  Keep in mind that most retailers are interested in selling you plants, not educating.  It’s quite likely that few of those working at the garden center of “X-Mart” even know what they are selling, common name or otherwise.  They realize that common names are far less intimidating and more consumer-friendly than botanical names.  Unfortunately, often because they don’t know any better (or care), there is no real effort to use the same common name on the same plants sold by different retailers.  What you saw identified as a “goldfish plant” at one retailer may have been labeled a “dolphin plant” at another (only yesterday a customer at the shop had this very problem).  Why not simply call the plant a Columnea, the correct botanical name of what most likely is being referred to?  A Columnea, is always a Columnea (pronounced “koe-lum-nee-ah”)–but sometimes a “goldfish plant” is actually something else, like a Nematanthus orAeschynanthus, two other gesneriads usually grown as basket plants and with blooms of the same colors.

Yes, some botanical names can seem a bit intimidating at first, but using them ensures that you get the plant that you are looking for, not what the seller guesses you are looking for.  Besides, when you think about it, are they really any harder to pronounce than the names of some people you know, or things like “cellular” phones or “flourescent” lights, words that you probably say without hesitation?

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