Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scientific Names and Their Origins: Sinensis

I've been curious lately about the scientific names of plants and their origins. How are they put together? What do they mean?

What's in a Name?

One name I see frequently is sinenis. Camellia sinensis and Miscanthus sinensis are two plants that use sinensis in their name but there are many others. Camellia sinensis is the plant that makes tea. Green tea is harvested from the fresh green leaves while black tea is made from the fermented leaves. Miscanthus sinensis is an ornamental grass that is very popular here in the United States. There are variegated varieties like 'Zebrinus' (one we have) and many others. What do these two plants have in common aside from the last part of their name? They are very dissimilar plants but what they do have in common is their origin. Camellia sinensis and Miscanthus sinensis are both natives of Asia and more specifically of China. Sinensis is from Latin and essentially means from China. The first part of the word 'sin' comes from Sinae which according to Wikipedia was the Greek and Roman name for the people who inhabited an area of China just south of what was once called the Seres region. The Latin prefix 'sin' has been traditionally used to refer to China. It's a good bet that if a plant has the last name of sinensis it's from China!

4 comments :

  1. Thanks for explaining about the name. Those two plants didn't seem to have anything in common at all. I have a book by Bill Neal titled "Gardener's Latin" that has similar info on what those names mean. I highly recommend it.

    Frances at Faire Garden

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  2. Thank you for the Latin lesson. Since quitting the nursery I am getting rusty.

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  3. you beat me to the punch on this subject! good post.

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  4. After looking up this one little word I find it amazing how much can be told with two little (ok not really little) words! That book sounds very interesting Frances!

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