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Ever wanted to name a new plant?

Amanda Mackinnon

Amanda Mackinnon

September 9, 2012

When I worked for a plant marketing company I was often asked to explain how new plants get their names. Most of us are aware that latin is the universal botanical language, however what about the marketing names for the many new plants that hit your local garden centre every year? Names like ‘Ruby Glow’, ‘Blueberry Ruffles’ or ‘Green Mist’ that conjure up beautiful images in ones mind.

Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’

Usually the honour of naming a new variety is the domain of the plant breeder or discoverer. Behind so many new plants is a breeder who has spent 5, 10, 15 even up to 20 or 30 years working on its development. Not many people stop and think that a new variety takes patience, experience and skill to develop. For most breeders each new variety represents a true labour of love.

With such an attachment to their plants, its little wonder many breeders like to name them themselves. Many breeders are however, happy to have guidance from a marketing perspective. It’s always exciting in our office when we get the chance to suggest a name for a new variety and easy to spend hours throwing around potential concepts.

Hakea ‘Stockdale Sensation’

Sometimes breeders have had a name in mind from the start of their breeding project. It might be a term that honours a friend or loved one, such as Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’ or a reflection of where the plant was bred such as Salvia ‘Santa Barbara’. Hakea ‘Stockdale Sensation’ for example for named after the breeders property, ‘Stockdale’.

Breeders often choose a special characteristic of their new plant to emphasis in the name. Take Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ for instance. The name tells you something about the plant doesn’t it? And indeed, ‘Eternal Fragrance’ blooms repeatedly throughout the year offering a long lasting perfume in your garden.

Tibouchina ‘Groovy Baby’

Likewise Tibouchina ‘Groovy Baby’ was named after its vivid purple flowers, very reminiscent of the ‘70’s. Grevillea ‘Fire Cracker’ was indeed named for its bright red and yellow flowers and Helleborus ‘Winter Sunshine’ certainly tells you to expect an impressive display during the cooler months.

Helleborus ‘Winter Sunshine’

Just launched onto the market is ‘The Princess Lavender’. With its intense pink blooms it really is something special, and the name was selected to reflect it superior colour. Also hitting Australia is a collection of Tibouchinas taking the name of ‘Fantasy Flowers’. Wow, that really encourages landscapers and gardeners the chance to create a dream in their outdoor spaces.

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’

Occasionally a plant name holds a special story, like Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’. The breeder of this beauty is a lady named Wendy who generously donates the proceeds from the sale of ‘Wendy’s Wish’ to Make-A-Wish Australia. Early next year another salvia will be released onto the market, again in support of Make-A-Wish. This new variety is being named by a family who have lost children of their own and are now heavily involved with Make-A-Wish themselves. Plants can touch people in so many ways. It’s lovely that by purchasing one we can also support an amazing charity at the same time.

So next time you’re standing in your local garden centre reading plant labels, spare a thought for what’s behind the name. What is it telling you about where the plant came from and what special characteristics it has?

How do you think you would come up with a name for a new plant?

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Julie Thomson
11 years ago

Thanks for that, Amanda. Certainly opened my eyes about plant naming.
I always thought it would be the ultimate honour to have a plant named after me. Footballers can have their statues, movie stars their handprints in sidewalk concrete and sovereigns and sports stars can have their heads on stamps.
If I could have my nobler, shinier side preserved for future generations to inspire and delight them , I can think of nothing more glorious than a flower to carry it forward. It would also naturally have to smell delicious. I think it is the most powerful sense and the one that conjures up images and memories most vividly.

I really enjoy your posts.
Thank you.

11 years ago
Reply to  Julie Thomson

Thank you for your lovely words Julie.
Very occasionally a plant is offered up for naming, so I will make sure I post any opportunities on here in the future so you can have your shinier side preserved for the years ahead!