If I had a I’m a Plant Geek t-shirt, I’d wear it proudly. But my geekery goes beyond the plants themselves. I also love the language that goes with it. Not necessarily the hardcore science of botany—that can make my eyes glaze over just as easily as an explanation of string theory—but the precise terminology used to describe plants and every aspect of their appearance and behavior.
I should add that I’m a linguist by profession and had five years of Latin in high school (not an uncommon thing at a European grammar school in the late 1970s) so understanding the language of botany is a bit easier for me. But you don’t need any prior knowledge of Latin or Greek to figure things out. There’s a lot of help on the internet. As always, Wikipedia is a great place to start. Check out their List of Latin and Greek words commonly used in systematic names and Glossary of Botanical Terms. The Missouri Botanical Garden has a detailed Grammatical Dictionary of Botanical Latin. A quick Google search will yield even more useful hits.
But if you’re a bit old school—like me—and prefer a printed book, you’re in a luck. Timber Press, ever on the leading edge of publishing in gardening and horticulture, has just released A Botanist’s Vocabulary. This 224-page hardcover reference contains definitions of 1,300 botanical terms, many of them accompanied by clear and accurate illustrations. The text was written by Susan Pell, Science and Public Programs Manager at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., and the illustrations are by Bobbi Angell, a scientific illustrator for the New York Botanical Garden and other academic institutions.