Descriptive botanical names

Descriptive botanical names

Descriptive botanical names are names that are governed by Article 16 of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), which rules that a name above the rank of family may be either descriptive or formed from the name of an included family. The latter leads to names such as Magnoliophyta and Magnoliopsida.

Descriptive plant names are decreasing in importance but many are still in use, such as Plantae, Algae, Musci, Fungi, Embryophyta, Tracheophyta, Spermatophyta, Gymnospermae, Coniferae, Coniferales, Angiospermae, Monocotyledones, Dicotyledones. Such descriptive names have a very long history, often preceding Carl Linnaeus. As Latin was the universal scientific language in those days such names are in good Latin, and usually take the form of nouns in the plural.

At the rank of family

Article 18 of the ICBN allows a descriptive name[1], of long usage, for the following eight families. For each of these families there also exists a name based on the name of an included genus (an alternative name that is also allowed, here in parentheses):

family Compositae = "composites"

family Cruciferae = "cross-bearers"

family Gramineae = "grasses"

family Guttiferae = "latex-carriers"

family Labiatae = "lipped ones"

family Leguminosae = "legumes"

family Palmae = "palms"

family Umbelliferae = "parasol-bearers" -









Special provision has been made for what might be described as one of the subunits in Leguminosae. If this were more universally adopted it would help in avoiding the confusion attending the name Fabaceae (which can refer to either of two, quite differently sized, families). This subunit has two special names (in both the ranks relevant here):

family Papilionaceae = "butterfly-like" - -

subfamily Papilionoideae