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Why Use Scientific (Botanical) Names for Plants

green milkweed seeds flowers

Why do I need to know the scientific names of plants?

scientific name for this plant is A. hirtella
Tall Green Milkweed

While it is sometimes difficult to pronounce the scientific name of a plant, it is important to recognize and know the scientific names of plants.  Many plants have similar common names, or even the same common name.  If you use just the common name, you may be talking about a different plant than someone else using that same common name.

With all the variations in common names, using the scientific name is the one way to make sure we are talking about the same plant.  The scientific name will have two parts:  the genus name is first, followed by the specific epithet.  The binomial nomenclature (two part name) creates the species name.  In addition to the scientific name and the one common name we use at Joyful Butterfly, we also list the other common names on our website.  This aids in searching for plants known by many names.

Same name, different plant?

Scientific name of plant is A. viridiflora
Short Green Milkweed

Look at green milkweed.  Depending on where you live, your green milkweed may be Asclepias viridis, while someone else’s green milkweed may be Asclepias viridiflora .

Joyful Butterfly carries three different “green” milkweeds: green (A. viridis), tall green (A. hirtella), and short green milkweed (A. viridiflora).  To tell them apart, we always put the scientific (botanical) name on the label along with the common name we use.  We strive to add to our milkweed collection, but we must be careful with the names to avoid confusion.

Same plant, different name?

To complicate it further, the same plant may go by many different common names.  The plant, Asclepias viridiflora, goes by green milkweed, short green milkweed, green-flower milkweed, and green comet milkweed.

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is a milkweed that is highly preferred by Monarch butterflies. Other common names for A. incarnata are Rose Milkweed, Rose Milkflower, and Swamp Silkseed.   We call it swamp; you may call it rose; caterpillars call it lunch!

When looking for a plant, look at the different common names and the species name.  The native habitat will also give you a hint if it is the plant you are expecting.  Let us know if you see a plant that has another nickname that we don’t list.  We want to give our customers as much information as possible and we love hearing from you!