Click on the links below for alphabetic sections of the dictionary
   


Introduction


These word meanings and name derivations of California plants have been taken from a variety of sources. I am not an expert in Latin or Greek, and I make no firm guarantees as to the accuracy or legitimacy of these definitions. Further, I take no original credit for the work represented here, and claim merely to have compiled information from published and online sources and presented it in one location.  Many, indeed most, of the definitions and derivations that are presented here are drawn from David Gledhill's The Names of Plants, William Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, and Edmund Jaeger's A Source-book of Biological Names and Terms. When none of these produce a satisfactory entry, I have turned to the internet to such sites as the Biological Heritage Library and Flora of North America. Species publication information mostly comes from the International Plant Name Index (IPNI), World Flora Online (WFO) and the Tropicos website of the Missouri Botanical Garden. In addition to those many other sources I have relied on, I wish to acknowledge the work of Dr. Umberto Quattrocchi of Sicily, whose massive World Dictionary of Plant Names, published in 4 volumes, includes some 22,500 genera and well over 200,000 species. I particularly want to acknowledge and thank David Hollombe of the Santa Monica chapter California Native Plant Society for his tremendous research and fine scholarship, and for his numerous invaluable and unfailingly generous biographical contributions and corrections. Without his knowledge and help, this would be a far poorer effort. I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of many professional botanists who have led or participated in field trips I've taken and shared their expertise such as Bruce Baldwin, Jim Andre, Tasha La Doux, Jon Rebman, Scott McMillan, Steve Junak, Dana York, Naomi Fraga, Fred Roberts, Steve Schoenig, Steve Matson, Tim Krantz, Jim Morefield, Jeff Greenhouse, John Game, Bob Allen, Neal Kramer, and others, and I thank them. For help with botanical terminology and etymology, particularly with Latin words, I express my appreciation to Mike Simpson and E. Nicholas Genovese at SDSU. There are other people who have occasionally written with suggestions and corrections, and I am always extremely appreciative for that.

A careful peruser of these pages may note different spellings for the same root word. This is unavoidable whenever a foreign language is translated into English.  In some instances different references give different derivations for the same name, reflecting perhaps a certain amount of guesswork.  It is not always easy or even possible to say where a name came from, what it means or what it refers to. Many of these names were assigned decades or in some cases centuries ago, and the namers have not always left records as to why particular names were selected. Sometimes the generic name alludes to a characteristic of a single species that may have been the first one of its genus to be identified but is not typical of all its related species, and therefore may seem oddly chosen.  Similarly, a specific name may reflect a characteristic that is not typical of all known subspecies or geographical variants.  In many cases, the reader will regretfully be left to guess for him or herself just how these meanings actually relate to the plant in question.  This list should therefore be considered mainly as an interesting source of information which may help to illustrate why some plants have the names they do, and may at least point people in the direction of learning more about the names of plants.

The reader should also be aware that a specific epithet for one genus might have a different derivation or meaning than the same epithet for another genus, just as the names baileyi or bakeri can refer to more than one individual. It is often difficult to discern exactly where these names came from, or what was in the mind of the author who published them. No doubt this may have resulted in mistakes in the derivations or meanings I have given for particular taxa. In many cases the author of the taxonomic name is no longer available to explain what he or she meant by the name or why it was chosen, and sometimes there was never any published explanation even while the author was alive. A source such as Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names may give a derivation which applies to a taxon in Europe for example, but may not apply to our California taxon. There is no official compilation or other published work which may absolutely be relied upon, and I am only too aware that information given on the internet is not always accurate. For all these reasons the reader must be aware of the limitations of a site such as this, but I believe that I have made a good faith effort to present correct information, and am willing to change it if necessary.

In the names included here the stressed vowel is the one preceding the stress mark. It is not always easy to ascertain where such stress should be placed, especially in the case of epithets derived from personal names. Some may say IVES-ee-a, while others say I-vees-ee-a. In the case of epithets derived from people's names, I have tried to follow the principle of maintaining the stress of the original personal name, and have abandoned it only when it was awkward. Not everyone will agree with the choices I have made, but I have tried to follow the rules of pronunciation, despite occasional uncertainty on my part as to what is correct. Where no credit is given for photos, they are in public domain mostly from Wikipedia.

About the author: Michael L. Charters (1946- ), an amateur botanist, wildflower photographer and researcher of botanical names. He was born in Tryon, North Carolina, while his family was living in Somerset, Bermuda. His father was the manager of a hotel there, and he moved with his family to Albemarle County, Virginia, in about 1956. He attended local schools and then in 1960 entered the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. After being expelled for various infractions, he transferred to Worcester Academy, where he was the editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, graduating in 1964. Uncertain as to what would be his preferred area of education, he was accepted into the engineering school of Boston University. This not turning out to be what he was most interested in or qualified for, he transferred to Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, where he studied history and political science. Not having sufficient credits to graduate in 1968, he was drafted into the US Army, and spent eleven months at Vietnamese Language School in El Paso, Texas, and then 17 months in Danang, South Vietnam, where he was assigned to a psychological operations battalion. Returning to the States in 1971, he went back to Ohio Wesleyan to acquire his BA degree. Following that there ensued a period of several years during which he worked at several jobs and ended up as a postal clerk in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was there he met his future wife Miriam Trogdon, a graduate in play-writing at the University of Virginia, whose eventual ambition was to write for television comedies. In 1984 the couple moved to the Los Angeles area where Miriam landed a job as a writer on the Newhart television show. There followed many years of different writing assignments and shows, and a daughter, Gracie, having been born in 1988, Charters became what has come to be known as a house husband. His duties were such that he was able to take on volunteer positions first as a tour guide at the Los Angeles Zoo, and then as a worker in the paleontology lab at the La Brea Tar Pits, an activity he continued for 25 years. During that time he travelled extensively to Europe, Chile and Argentina, Belize, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Indonesian Borneo, South Africa and the North Pole (on the Russian nuclear icebreaker Yamal). In the early 1990s an interest in wildflowers began to consume him, and he travelled and explored all over southern California from Imperial County to Kern County, mountains and shorelines, riparian and deserts, chaparral and coastal sage scrub, learning the names of plants and taking hundreds of thousands of photographs. He documented his excursions first in a blog, and then in photo galleries exhibiting pictures of all the flowers he had encountered. Learning the names of plants led to the project of recording where the botanical names came from and what they meant, and this became his eventual occupation. He was the author of California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations, and followed that up with Virginia Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations, websites that included the names of all the species of plants in California and Virginia. In 2018 he was blessed by the arrival of his granddaughter Poppy, followed by that of his grandson Mack in 2021, two events that changed his life irrevocably. In 2024 he was honored when his California Plant Names website was adopted by the Jepson eflora organization to insure that it would remain as a permanent fixture of the California botanical landscape.