Using Temporary Botanical Names

A friend of mine, who knows not a whit about gardening, often likes to test my knowledge of plants by pointing at a tree or shrub or flower and asking “What’s that?”

Then I fire back with the botanical and common name of the plant.

Then she says, “You could be making that up and I’d never know!”

What? How could anyone think that I would make up botanical names?

Well, I might find it helpful to have a few temporary botanical names to use in those situations where I don’t know the actual botanical name of the plant.

It would sound better than “blah blah blah”, smarter than “uh uh uh”, and merely serve as a place holder of sorts until I had a chance to either remember the real botanical name or look it up. No harm done!

I can think of several temporary genus names that would be useful…

Forgetia, pronounced “for-get-ia”. Use this genus name along with an appropriate descriptive species name when you have honestly forgotten the botanical name and are going to have to spend some time searching online or looking in reference books trying to jog your memory to remember it.

For example, Forgetia rosea might be a plant with a pink flower. Or Forgetia giantosa might be the biggest plant in your garden, the one you can’t believe you can’t remember the botanical name for.

Lookupsia, pronounced “loo-kup-sia”. Use this temporary genus name when you know you’ve recorded the name of the plant in your garden journal or a garden catalog and you just need a minute to go in and look it up. Again, you can combine it with any descriptive species name so it sounds more complete.

For example, Lookupsia orchida is a good temporary name for that hardy orchid you planted last spring, the one that you can’t remember the name of and have to look up each time someone asks you about it. (Coincidentally pictured above, it has the actual botanical name of Bletilla striata.)

Neverknewia, pronounced “nev-a-new-ia”. Use this genus name if you took over an existing garden and it includes plants that you never knew the name of to begin with. Or use it for that plant you just had to buy from the garden center, even though it had no label and you had no idea what it was. (Shame on you for buying it, by the way, it could have been invasive or maybe a weed that grew in the pot after the plant actually for sale died!)

Eventually, some other gardener will come along and ask you what is, you’ll say "Neverknewia plantsia" in a soft little voice, and then she or he will politely correct you saying, “Really, it looks more like a rose to me.” And at that very moment you can drop the temporary botanical name and call it by its real botanical name, Rosa (or whatever it turns out to be).

Weedisia, pronounced “wee-de-sia”. Use this genus name when someone asks you the name of something you are pretty sure is a weed you should have pulled. Then when the other person isn’t looking or has left your garden, pull that darn weed. And absolutely, even if they beg, do not dig and divide it and give it to them as a passalong plant.

For example, Weedisia prolifica would probably work for most weeds, because they are usually prolific.

Now if you think all these temporary botanical names are just foolishness and want to know how to avoid being in situations where you feel you need to use one of them, I have one suggestion…

Embrace plant labels!

You don’t have to stick the label right next to the plant in the garden to embrace it. In fact, I would prefer you didn’t unless you are running a botanical garden. But do keep your plant labels for future reference.

Suggestions on what to do with the labels include:

- Put them in a plant catalog of all the plants in your garden.

- Keep them in envelopes, with one envelope for each garden bed or area of the garden.

- Scan them into your computer and then save the images online, filed by garden bed or uploaded to a special blog with one entry per plant.

-Hang them on bulletin boards in your garden shed or garage.

Or come up with your own method.

You might still have to use the genus name Lookupsia as a temporary place holder, but at least you know you will be able to find the botanical name when you need it.

Embrace plant labels for a happier life!


  1. Oh Carol, I have been about to fall off my chair reading this. I love it. I will have to try to remember all of these tactical names. Most I will be able to say are of the Forgetia variety when people ask me what I have in my garden. Ha... Yes, I'm lovin this post. You are Gigaicas Amongus of the Embracable genus.

  2. Weedisia prolifica ... I have a lot of those in my garden!

  3. In a slight variation of this, I have memorized the botanical names of many of my weeds, especially the ones that keep coming back. Really, a lot of people can't distinguish between Arctium minus and Rheum palmatum.

  4. My personal favorite is Haventgottacluea thingiea, which I usually shorten down to "haven't got a clue." This usually applies to tropical plants and bog plants.

  5. Funny, (or maybe not so funny), I don't know of a single person who would ever think to ask me the botanical name of a plant, so I think I'm safe on this one. Very, clever and entertaining post as usual, Carol!

  6. These are too good! The novelist Rosamunde Pilcher (who almost always has a gardening character in her books) uses Forgetanama inapoticum.

  7. I use the metal hairpin markers and labelmaker stickers for mine. I try to hide them behind the foliage of the plant so they aren't quite so obvious. In the winter, however, most of the garden looks like a plant graveyard! LOL!

    It does save me in the spring though, especially when I forget where the oriental lilies were. Again, in the fall, after the annuals have died back and I might want to plant bulbs, the label tells me there were daffodils there. The annuals hide the label for the bulbs.

  8. I admit to having labels on some plants..just to keep salvias straight or remember where to expect something to pop up. But I will be remembering a few of these temporary names for future use!

  9. I do labels during Garden Walk, just for a few plants that people always ask about.

    Otherwise, I find many people don't even want to know the name. They are able to enjoy the plant without that. I couldn't, but they can't.

  10. How about Forgetia perimenopausia for the name you forget because you lost your brain during that time of life. Oh, wait, that's me. Loved it.~~Dee

  11. So funny and so perfect! Wish I had known of this naming system years ago.

    I would like to submit this to our Master Gardeners newsletter. All our members will appreciate the humor of it. Do I have your permission?

  12. Embrace funny, fake botanical names! I love it. Thanks for the chuckles.

  13. *Giggle*
    An additional problem for me is the quirky way I end up pronouncing many of these names. I have this problem with other words as well - I read them, come up with a pronunciation in my mind, then embarrass myself when I open my mouth later. Hopefully all gardeners have such a good sense of humor as you, Carol! - VW

  14. You're so clever, Carol, and this post made me laugh! At this point, I can't even remember common names, much less Latin ones.

    I keep all those little tags in a basket in the garage and go through them every once in a while. This one's dead...don't know where I planted this one...

  15. Very amusing - I definately have some neverkewsias in my garden

  16. I'm with Robin. I don't know anyone that would ever ask me the botanical name of a plant. I do wish I had saved those labels though, or written them down. I hate that I have a rudebeckia and I haven't a clue as to which kind. And I'm really, really praying that the blueberry labels are still on the plants. I put in 5 varieties last year, but never wrote them down.

  17. The names are amusing enough but the pronunciation guide is priceless. You've really hit the tone. And I think Dee is spot on with her addition. Made my day.

  18. I laughed and laughed.

    I figure you'll know the answer to this question (or make one up). Why do we tend to know the botanical names of flowers and perennials but not vegetables? Are vegetables too common for high-falutin' talk?

  19. This was wonderful for a good belly laugh!! Try as I might to save ALL of my tags, I have misplaced a few along the way. For those, I shall adopt your suggestion... Forgetia lovelyosa or Forgetia dreamyosa or Forgetia digituposa...

  20. I'll put a few of those under my belt for the next time I am at the WFC. I'll just add texensis as I did several times when I gave you guys the tour last spring. I like MSS comment about flowers and vegs. I hardly know any veg names although I sometimes know the genus. Curious.

  21. Thanks all for the nice comments, and adding some very good suggestions. I did think of another genus... Losttagia which is for when you've lost the tag. All of these genuses (genera) are part of the plant family Missingnameacea, one of the biggest plant families I know of.

    (Checkingitout... send me an email about your newsletter... my email address is on the sidebar)

    (MSS@ZanthanGardens, I am only too happy to answer the question about why we don't use botanical names for vegetables. I'll do it on a future post. I actually know the answer!)

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens (where the older I get, the more Forgetia I find in my garden!)

  22. Whenever my wife and I see one of those colorful seahorse bird baths we simultaneously say "Equs marinus ornamentalis"

  23. This is so funny Carol. I think you should submit it to a magazine.

  24. You've got me crying! Too Funny!
    This is a keeper!

  25. Very amuzing, Carol and would you mind terribly if I prefer to embrace the temporary name thingy instead of plant labels? ;-)

    A Bliss and May Dreamful 2009 to you and yours, Carol!

  26. LOL! Too cute, Carol. And I've definitely made up a few botanical names of my own, but am going to keep yours in reserve, too. ;)

  27. I almost missed this post, Carol; so glad I didn't! I am going to add these very helpful temporary blotanical names to my vocabulary.

    This reminds me of friend who had beautiful blooms in containers all around his house last spring. Not recognizing them from a distance, I asked what they were. "Hoblobia," he informed me. Later I realized they were artificial stems he'd purchased from Hobby Lobby!

  28. I love this post, thanks for the good laugh! Very creative!
    I sometimes cheat at Scrabble by adding "let" (ex., Kinglet, Figlet) to the end of another word and claiming its a type of bird. My friends know i'm a bird nut so they fall for it...

  29. Wow, I had no idea my entire garden was comprised of a single genus of plants. They're all Lookupsias! LOL!

  30. Oooooh, it's a good thing my stitches are mostly healed up because I laughed a LOT at this post. I've missed visiting regularly, Carol, but this time I AM back.....


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