What’s in a Name?
(Or A Gesneriad by Any Other Name Would Still be Hard to Pronounce)
by Homo sapiens ‘Laurene Jones'
  from The Dixie News Apr/May/Jun 97

(Editor’s Note: The AVSA Handbook For Growers, Exhibitors, and Judges does not show how to use the binomial system of identifying other gesneriads or Saintpaulia species on entry cards or on the labels we put on plant stakes. This article explains how to do that. This guidance is universally accepted throughout the scientific community, and is the standard.)

Have you ever had someone call you by someone else’s name? Have they ever completely mistaken you for another person? In the movies this is comedy but in real life it is not funny.

In the horticultural world, naming is critical. Before Linnaeus organized binomial nomenclature (every individual plant or animal has a unique two word name), a plant could have a name a paragraph long. The binomial system identifies each living thing by a two word name--genus and species--that is unique from every other living thing.

The genus name comes first. It is capitalized and identifies the plant as belonging to a group of very similar plants. These plants may or may not have similar growth patterns, but their blossom structures will be similar. The second name, the species, is NOT capitalized, such as Columnea grandiflora. The species name separates an individual type of plant from all others of the same genus. All plants with the same genus and species name will be identical. If you cross them, the seedlings will be identical to the parents. If you cross two plants with the same genus name but different species names (which may be similar or dissimilar), the cross should produce viable seed but the seedlings should combine the characteristics of the parents.

Now you ask SO WHAT?

It is important to have correct names on a plant. The common name of a plant will be different in each language and often in different areas of a country. They do not absolutely identify a plant in the international community but a Latin binomial will. "Goldfish plant" may be a Columnea or a Nematanthus, but Columnea grandiflora identifies a specific plant. (Notice the genus name is capitalized and the species name is not) A judge in any plant show will be able to find out what they should expect of a plant bearing this name. Sometimes a further division of a species is made to separate a specific plant which differs in some way, usually a more decorative way. These plants are called cultivars or varieties or subspecies. We will only need to deal with the first two in our shows. A cultivar name (either a sport or hybrid) is set off by single quotes and capitalized--Columnea hirta ’Light Prince’ or Episcia ‘Filigree’. A variety is a subgroup of a species and is not capitalized--Saintpaulia magungensis var. minima. The genus name should never be abbreviated. These are the conventions followed by the international scientific community. If we name our plants correctly in our shows, judges know the standard by which to judge and strangers can know the correct name of the plant.

Some common mistakes at our African violet shows are:

- Chirita "Hisako" should be Chirita sinensis ‘Hisako’

- Strep. ‘Might Mouse’ should be Streptocarpus ‘Mighty Mouse’

- Species ionantha should be Saintpaulia ionantha

- S. speciosa or S. orbicularis should be Sinningia speciosa or Saintpaulia orbicularis....you get the idea, spell it out.

Im sure you have seen others. If we are careful with our names, we put out a better impression that we care.