Naming of Plants

Linnaeus also developed a system that all scientists in the world use to name living things. We call this the ‘binomial system’ [say: buy-no-me-al] because each species is given two (bi) names.
The first is the genus name and the second is the species name. The binomial is often written in italics and the binomial system is based on ancient languages (Latin and Greek) that are no longer spoken.

An example of a binomial:
‘Protea compacta’

  • The first name tells us that it belongs to the group (or genus) Protea.
  • The second name, compacta, tells us what particular type or species of Protea it is.

Sometimes the scientific name will tell you something about the plant. In this case, the name ‘compacta’ tells us about the leaves that press together in a ‘compact’ way around the stem.

Here are six scientific names (or binomials) that you will find in this field guide. Each of them is the name of a different species:
Aulax umbellata, Leucadendron platyspermum, Leucadendron xanthoconus, Protea cynaroides, Protea neriifolia, Protea susannae.

From the names it is possible to see that some of these plants are more closely related than others. For example, there are two species in the genus Leucadendron. These are both Conebushes (Tolbosse) so they have been put into one group.

There are three species of the genus Protea. Most people know what a Protea flower looks like, and all three of these plants have Protea-type flowers.

When you read the descriptions of the plants in this guide, you will discover that all six plants in this list belong to the same family: the Proteaceae [say: pro-tee-ay-see] or Protea family. So, even though the flowers of an Aulax, a Leucadendron and a Protea look quite different, these genera are similar enough to be put into the same family group.

In this Field Guide for Wild Flower Harvesting, we use the family, genus and species names of the plants. As you use this guide, you will become more familiar with the scientific names of plants. This will help you to develop an understanding of plant classification.