Latin Orchid Names

Long Latin orchid names can be intimidating. They’re tough to pronounce with lots of syllables, like Paphiopedilum, Coelogyne, and Lepanthopsis astrophora. For orchid growers who don’t know any more of Ancient Rome’s mother tongue than “Veni, vidi, vici,” it can be a big barrier. Many orchids don’t have common names, so Latin is unavoidable. Orchid species names are entirely in Latin, like Phalaenopsis hieroglyphica. For hybrids, the first part of their name, the genus, comes from Latin, but the following hybrid and cultivar names can be from any language, like Epidendrum Wedding Valley ‘Sakura Komachi’.

Why Latin? Well, you could blame Carl Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomy. However, scientists were already using Latin for centuries before him. Its main advantage as a global language of science is that Latin allows everyone to know they’re using the same names for the same plants and animals.

Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and other Romance languages are direct Latin descendants. Latin has also had a strong influence on English, and many common English words have Latin origins, including the word “orchid.” I’ve never studied Latin, but I know some Spanish and French. That helps me guess what they sound like. Even experts make mistakes and debate correct pronunciations, so don’t be embarrassed to try. When I mispronounce something, I’ve found that other orchid lovers usually offer a friendly correction, and then joke about their own troubles with the language.

To learn how to pronounce Latin names, talk to fellow orchid growers. There are many helpful online resources like these tips for Latin pronunciation. Another helpful site is Google Translate, which can give pronunciations for any word you enter. Pick ‘English’ in the first text box, type an orchid name, and make sure your speakers are turned on. Then click on the small ‘Listen’ icon in the bottom right corner of the box. Google Translate isn’t perfect (i.e. it mistakenly says Oncidium like “Woncidium,”) but it does work for many varieties.

Want to learn more? Read Latin for Gardeners: Over 3,000 Plant Names Explained and Explored by Lorraine Harrison, and Fearless Latin: A Gardener’s Introduction to Botanical Nomenclature by Sara G. Mauritz.

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5 Comments on “Latin Orchid Names”

  1. c.r.a.zykarrywang Says:

    Very informative article post.Really looking forward to read more. Awesome.

  2. Ann Shiau Says:

    But yeah Many thanks for taking the time to chat about this, I studied Latin in school but I cannot prounounce it either. In actuality I like learning more on this topic. Thanks for the tip about using google. I tried it and works! If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your website with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

  3. Grace V Says:

    I can never pronounce orchid names bt there are so many different kinds. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Alla0765 Says:

    Im obliged for the blog post.Really thank you! Fantastic.

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