Among succulent enthusiasts, common names are more often used instead of scientific names because common names are more natural and easier to remember. However, you may sometimes find a newly cultivated or discovered succulent without a common name. And some different succulents with same common names or, one succulent with multiple common names. In such cases, it’s helpful to at least know and understand the scientific names.
Purpose of this blog post
This blog post is neither written by a taxonomist nor about taxonomy, but to introduce a more accurate way to ID succulents and understand a name tag when shopping for a plant.We only need to understand what the scientific names are what the two or three Latin words stand for, not to memorize them.
Also called binomial name, is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed two parts (from Wikipedia). The first part of the name identifies the genus (usually ended with ‘us’, ‘a’ or ‘um’ and the first letter should be capitalized) of the plant and the second part identifies the species within the genus (not capitalized). The whole name should be italicized.
Generic name specific name
Trinomial name of a succulent is similar to binomial name but more specific on the rank of species, namely variety (abbreviated var.), cultivar (abbreviated cv.) and subspecies (abbreviated ssp. or subsp.)
Varieties often occur in nature and most varieties are true to type (seedlings grown from a variety will also have the same unique characteristic of the parent plant). The variety name is usually not capitalized and preceded by the abbreviation var.
Echeveria agavoides var. prolifera
Cultivar means “cultivated variety” and may not be true to type; they are selected and cultivated by humans. The Cultivar name is usually the first letter capitalized preceded by the abbreviation cv. or placed in single quotation marks.
Echeveria agavoides cv. Ebony
Echeveria agaviodes ‘Ebony’
Sometime you may see plants come with more than three parts in their scientific name. With succulents, they are usually three different forms (or forma), variegation, Cristata, and Montrose.
Variegation is the appearance of different colored zones in the leaves or stems of the plant. Variegated plants usually have their names followed by the word ‘Variegata’ or ‘f. variegata’.
Cotyledon tomentosa f. variegata = Cotyledon tomentosa ‘Variegata’
Or Cristate is a rare mutation of abnormal growth in a plant that produces elongated or flattened tissue. It’s usually followed by the word ‘Cristata’ or ‘f. Cristata’.
Aeonium arboreum f. cristata = Aeonium arboreum ‘Cristata’
A monstrose mutation is even more distorted than a crested one. It usually involves all the meristematic tissue in a plant and results in a club or cylindrical-like shape or sometimes uneven surface. This is more common to cactus. It’s usually followed by the word ‘Monstrosus’or ‘f. Monstrosus’.
Lophocereus schottii f. monstrosus = Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’
Hybrid is breeding plants to create new varieties and to improve old ones. It’s especially popular with Echeverias, and Korean is famous for producing beautiful hybrid Crassulaceae.
The parent flower that furnishes the pollen is called the pollen parent; the one that bears the seed is called the seed parent. Seed parent always come first, and pollen parent comes second, and the symbol ‘╳’ is put between them.
Seed parent ╳ Pollen parent
Echeveria shaviana ╳ Echeveria affinis
=Echeveria ‘Black Prince’
The above rules of succulent scientific names are far from complete but should cover most problems when browsing your local nursery collections. Since the purpose of this post is to simplify matters, I am not going to cover plant author, field collection number and time of discovery are less common. You may find these useful when you become a serious succulent collector. If interested, find out more in this article.