Mistaken Identity: Will the Real Tropical Sage Please Step Forward
By Laurie Sheldon
|The image shown is of a non-native|
Salvia sp. often referred to as "tropical sage"
|Plants' common names are like people's nicknames in|
that they are rarely unique to one plant/person.
|My idea of a "flamboyant tree" is|
not necessarily universal
What is so intimidating about botanical names? I'd really like to know. I get that it's frustrating when a plant that you learned to identify when it was in the Zingiberaceae seems to have suddenly jumped ship to the Costaceae. I feel your pain - really! Isn't it more frustrating, though, not to know what someone is talking about because they refuse to embrace the UNIQUE NAME a plant is given? Like most sciences, plant taxonomy isn't static. DNA sequencing has provided us with information that we could previously only hypothesize about based on morphological characteristics. It is nothing short of awesome! Sure, it forces us to rethink faulty assumptions we'd previously made. Big whoop! If it wasn't for someone who challenged the scientific beliefs of his time, we'd all live on top of one another, fearful of falling off the edge of a flat earth.
|Native "tropical sage" - Salvia coccinea -|
comes in hues of peach and red.
|The label on the left is in a F.L.E.P.P.C.Category 1 invasive from|
Ceylon. The pot on the right contains a native of east Asia.
Individuals who feel that no blog is complete without a bulleted list may be comforted by the following:
- Only good for the language (and often region) being used. Even in English, what they call a plant in the Bahamas may be different from Florida, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, etc.. therefore one species of plant may have several common names depending on where you are in addition to what language you speak. Scientific names are the same whether you are in China, Mozambique, or Iceland.
- Often shared by many different species of plants. Pennyroyal is a common name for both the native Piloblephis rigida, and the commercial herb Mentha pulegium; Firebush is a common name used for not only the native Hamelia patens, but also all of the non-native “look-alikes”.
- Occasionally misleading. Australian-pine is not a pine. Scrub rosemary is not a rosemary, although it is in the same family.
- Uncommon! Most plants in the world don’t have common names.
- Unregulated. Scientific names must follow the rules set forth by the International Code of Nomenclature. Anyone can call any plant whatever common name he/she wants.
Image sources and additional credits:
Sage article - screenshot of undisclosed newspaper
Photographer by Microsoft Office
Flamboyant tree illustration by Laurie Sheldon
Peach Salvia coccinea by Shirley Denton
Red Salvia coccinea by Shirley Denton
Misleading plant labels/containers by Laurie Sheldon