Proper names

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

I've been paying more attention to those pesky Latin botanical names lately. This is the fault of Mark Weathington of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, who spoke to the garden writers symposium last month in Raleigh. People with horticulture training are sticklers for this; ordinary gardeners, not so much, if at all. But the former have a point and sooner or later, if members of the latter category pursue their hobby to the point where they're actually learning something, they'll soon have to sit up and pay attention. 'Cause it makes sense and it's important. My job has a built-in tension, which is why I paid particular attention to Mark. I write for a general-interest publication that publishes stories on a huge variety of topics. We're not Gourmet magazine; come to think of it, Gourmet's not even Gourmet anymore! We're not Horticulture or Fine Gardening. And we're not Nature or Scientific American. Yet we do have readers who possess a level of sophistication in those specialties that makes them an audience for those specialized journals. Most newspaper readers are regular folks with interests we hope range from the news at the front of the paper, all the way through to the sports at the back. I'm walking a line - not wanting to turn off those at either end of the gardening spectrum. In fact, I'm wanting to engage them all. And botanical names are often the dividing line. You can usually tell how well-trained or educated someone in the garden world is by how much they rely on proper Latin nomenclature. Mark's talk began with a discussion of "rose." We all know what a rose is, right? Well, what about rose of Jericho? Rose campion? Moss rose? Rose-of-sharon, rock rose, sun rose, Lenten rose, and on and on. You get the idea. Mark suggests, on first reference, using a plant's common name with the Latin name in parens behind it and then the common name through the rest of the story. Makes sense to me. Just hope there are enough trees in the forest to accommodate all those ( )s!