2 min read
25 Jan

Why should I use botanical names?

Author: Louise Jakobsen


I want to talk about plants with other keepers, why should I consider using botanical names when it is easier to just use the common name of a plant?

With today’s social media, communicating across counties, countries and continents have never been easier. And as we love to share experience and get ideas from one another, these platforms are ideal as you can reach thousands in an instant.

With browse provision (as well as provision of fresh plant material in general) rapidly becoming more widespread and the range of species offered widened, there are regularly information shared across the social media platforms which is great for our animals.

Yes, I am sure you can hear the ‘but’ coming. And there is a ‘but’. When horticulturists talk about plants, they always use botanical names as individual plant species very often have numerous common names and many plant species also share common names. By using the botanical name of a plant, the horticulturists can be certain they are talking about the same plant.

Horticulturists are trained that way, keepers aren’t. We hardly even use scientific names when discussing animals. But it is a very good idea to get familiar with those botanical names when sharing browse lists with other keepers because in some plant families, there are a great variety of constituents in species within the same family; one plant species can be safe to feed out but another plant species in the same family can be toxic.

One very classic example is the cherry (Prunus spp.). Ask any North American keeper about cherry and they will all say it is toxic and should not be fed to animals. This may puzzle a European keeper as he/she may have been feeding cherry regularly to some animals with no apparent problems. The reason is that the cherry species native to North America are all considered highly toxic although there are some animals that will tolerate small amounts and others are very susceptible to poisoning. But the European Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) has much lower levels of these toxins and is safe to feed in moderation to a variety of animals. Same goes for the Chinese Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata).

There are similar examples with oak (Quercus spp.) and maple (Acer spp.) species to name a few.

It is not just with trees, this is important to be aware of. Also wildflowers share common names with one another. One example is Goat’s Beard. Tragopogon spp. is safe to feed to for example tortoises but Aruncus dioicus is considered toxic.

So it is not only important to correctly identify certain plant species, but when sharing information, you must make sure that everyone knows exactly the plant in question! You can of course use the common name in the conversation, but do add the botanical name in brackets to be on the safe side.

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