Species Tulip Rule Breaker

I was taught that botanical names include a Genus and a species, and maybe a variety or cultivated variety name.

The Genus comes first and is capitalized, followed by the species which is not capitalized, then the variety or cultivated variety name.

If you are handwriting the botanical name as part a document, the Genus and species should be underlined. If you are typing it, then the Genus and species should be italicized. The variety name is also italicized and is preceded by "var".

A cultivated variety name is always in single quotes, whether handwritten or typed, and is not underlined or italicized.

Those are the rules. I don’t make ‘em up, I just follow them.

Imagine my surprise, as a Botanical Name Rule Follower (BoNaRF) when I looked up the name of this little beauty of a species tulip that was blooming in my garden today. It is Tulipa humilis alba coerulea oculata.

Sputter, gasp, but… what? How’s come? Hey that’s more than one species name!

I did some online searching and found that some suppliers write this name as Tulipa humilis ‘alba coerulea oculata’. That’s a little better, but it still doesn’t seem quite right.

But for this little tulip, this pretty little rule-breaking tulip, I’ll get over it.


  1. What a beautiful colour of tulip. No matter the name, it is lovely. I think I'm probably a bit weird because I read every botanical latin book I can get my hands on ~ definitely cheap and fun entertainment for me!!

    Hope you have a wonderful time in Chicago. Wish I could go. Maybe next year. Hope does spring eternal!

  2. Nomenclutter!

    i love the tulip tho'!

  3. What frustrates several of us at work is the fact that the local newspapers use the Associated Press Grammer guidelines. This automated feature does not recognize single quotes and puts doubles on all of the cultivar names when we submit plant information. It makes us look like we do not know proper procedure. Calls to editors produce blank stares coming across the phone lines.

  4. I've always liked botanical names, so you know precisely what you're talking about, and as an editor, I like to get things right. As far as I've gleaned from lectures and whatnot, the variety is listed in single quotes, but is not italicized. Thanks for bringing up this issue!

  5. Sometimes it is fun to break the rules. Just look waht turned up, a beautiful tulip.

  6. What a mouthful of a name for such a delicate beauty! I wish I could grow her.

  7. Hi Carol, you are so right about the great minds thing. Or are we just over zealous sticklers? HA Now Monica has thrown a wrench in the works with the cultivar name not in italics. I started putting all the names properly after reading your post about it last year too. If the latin for your pretty little tulip is translated does it mean white and blue eyeball?

  8. I'm also a BoNaRF, so I understand your concern here. I love this Tulip. This is the species Tulip I had that died out after a couple of years. It's so lovely. I think Frances' translation is right.

  9. I think part of the problem is this tulip was named before the rules were written. And I remember reading something about the rules being refined, and you are no longer supposed to use Latin in the cultivar name, but they grandfathered in the ones that were already named that way.

    By the time we all catch up they will have changed the rules again.

  10. I always knew to the rule about Capital etc but never about italicizing- so from now on I'll be getting it right and I do like to be right.


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