Introduction to Vegetable Families

Why Learn Those Fancy Latin Names?

Vegetables belong to botanical plant families, which are known by Latin names. Why is it important to know a vegetable’s botanical, or Latin name? First, botanical names positively identify plants, distinguishing between related varieties. Common names may differ regionally. For example, the vegetable whose Latin botanical name is Solanum melongena is called an eggplant in North America and an aubergine in Britain. Secondly, for gardening purposes, plants in the same botanical grouping have common growth requirements and are susceptible to the same diseases and pests. Thirdly, plants in the same species can cross‐pollinate, important when deciding where to plant crops in the garden. And lastly, crop rotation requires knowing if crops are in the same family.

What’s in a (Botanical) Name?

A botanical plant name has two parts: the first word is the genus, the second the species. For example, Allium cepa is the grouping to which the common onion belongs. Allium is the genus, cepa the species. A variety is a variation within a species, indicated by “var.” in the name, for example Allium cepa var. Yellow Sweet Spanish. A cultivar ‐ a cultivated variety ‐ is one that doesn’t reproduce true to form naturally without human intervention. In other words, if you plant a seed from a cultivar, you won’t necessarily get the same plant. A cultivar name is always enclosed in single quotes. An example of a cultivar is Allium cepa ‘Sweet Vidalia’.

That’s it for the Latin lesson! Now take a look at some our other articles, to see some of the members of the most common botanical families.

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