Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
I warned you that there were a whole lot of color-related specific epithets, didn’t I? You can find the previous color-name posts at Black, White, and Shades of Gray and Through the Rainbow Part I. And now, the conclusion.
Compared to the red-orange-yellow part of the color spectrum, green offers pretty slim pickings in the name department, which is surprising when you consider the abundance of greens in nature. If it’s true that there are so many Latin names for shades of red because the Romans had many ways to make red dyes, then the answer may be that there weren’t many ways to make greens. In the plant world, names that indicate green coloration aren’t all that useful anyway, since it’s so common, unless it’s referring to something that’s normally not green, such as a flower.
In botanical names, green appears mostly as virens (think of the green-leaved lavender cotton [Santolina virens]) or as viride or viridis (as in Helleborus viridis, one of the green-flowered hellebores, or the green-flowered form of love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus ‘Viridis’).
|Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’|
Virescens or viridescens refers to becoming or tending toward green, as in the bizarrely cool green-flowered wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa ‘Virescens’).
It’s easy to remember that the prefix “chlor-” (as in chlorophyll) also refers to green. Logic would dictate that Trillium chloropetalum, the most obvious example, has green petals, and sometimes it does. But sometimes it doesn’t, which is a good reminder that all this nomenclature stuff isn’t infallible.
There’s also euchlorus (-a, -um), translated to “good green”; for example, Tilia x euchlora (Crimean linden), with rich green, glossy foliage.
And for blue-green, there’s aerugineus (-a, -um), as in Linaria aeruginea, with blue-green foliage, and aeruginosus (-a, -um), as in Rhododendron campanulatum subsp. aeruginosum.
Blues, too, are pretty sparse when it comes to plant names. They appear mostly in relation to flower and berry colors; “blue” leaves are usually described with gray-related terms.
For deep blues, there’s azureus (-a, -um): think of Lathyrus sativus var. azureus (chickling or grass pea) and Anchusa azurea (Italian bugloss).
|Lathyrus sativus var. azureus|
Sky blue is covered by caeruleus/coeruleus (-a, -um) and caerulescens, as in Passiflora caerulea (blue passionflower) and Allium caeruleum (blue allium). Coelestis and coelestinus (-a, -um) also fall here: e.g., Commelina tuberosa Coelestis Group (dayflower).
For a gray-blue, there’s caesius (-a, -um), as in Solidago caesia (wreath goldenrod), which has a pale bluish to grayish bloom on its stems.
Hyacinthinus (-a, -um) should indicate an intense purple-blue, though the best known example – Hosta ‘Fortunei Hyacinthina’ – has rather washy, light purple flowers.
One more set of blue terms, based on cyan, the Greek word for blue, includes cyaneus (-a, -um) and the prefix “cyan-”, as in Cuphea cyanea (black-eyed cuphea, with rich blue anthers) and Centaurea cyanea (bachelor’s buttons).
Various purples complete the rainbow of colors for flowers, foliage, and fruits.
Purpureus (-a, -um) and purpuratus (-a, -um) are easy to remember: think of Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower, which is actually pink) and Lablab purpureus (hyacinth bean).
For deep purple, there’s atropurpureus (-a, -um): e.g., Lysimachia atropurpurea and Solanum atropurpureum.
And for “being or becoming purple,” there’s purpurascens, as in Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ (purple sage) and Asclepias purpurascens (purple milkweed).
For lilac-purple, there’s lilacinus (-a, -um): for example, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii Lilacina’ and Echeveria lilacina.
No bonus points for guessing that amethystinus (-a, -um) indicates various shades of purple; e.g., Festuca amethystina (with purplish flower stalks).
Violaceus (-a, -um) is another easy one to guess. Well, you’d think it means violet; in reality, it seems to be pretty much any purple. Clematis ‘Venosa Violacea’, for instance, has white-marked violet flowers, but Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic) has purplish pink flowers.
Phoeniceus (-a, -um), phoenico-, and puniceus (-a, -um) usually refer to a reddish purple: think of Verbascum phoeniceum (purple mullein), Rubus phoenicolasius (wineberry, a bramble with reddish purple hairs on the stems), and Symphyotrichum puniceum (purple-stemmed aster).
And finally, there are a bunch of terms that relate to coloration, rather than specific colors.
Tinctus (-a, -um) is a general term for tinged or colored. Knowing that and a few other color terms, you could guess that Crocus chrysanthus var. fuscotinctus is a crocus with golden (chrysanthus) flowers that are tinged (-tinctus) with brown (fusco-) streaks. It would would be easy to confuse tincta with tinctoria, but the latter has a different meaning: used for dyeing, as in Isatis tinctoria (dyer’s woad), which creates a blue dye, and Anthemis tinctoria (golden marguerite), which produces a rich yellow dye.
|Fritillaria meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba|
To indicate that leaves, petals, or other structures are one (or the same) color, there’s concolor, as in Abies concolor (white fir), with needles that are the same color on both sides. It’s easy to guess that unicolor, too, means “one color,” as in Fritillaria meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba: a really long name for the checkered lily with plain white flowers instead of the usual dark-and-light patterned petals.
For structures that have different colors, there’s discolor: rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor), for instance, has silver and green and sometimes maroon, too, in its leaves. And bicolor, obviously, means “of two colors,” as in Caladium bicolor, which usually has at least two different colors in its boldly marked leaves.
|Capsicum annuum ‘Tricolor Variegata’|
Moving on in the numbers of colors, there’s:
|Zea mays ‘Quadricolor’|
Changing colors are indicated by versicolor (e.g., Epimedium x versicolor) and mutabilis (as in Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’, as well as Nicotiana mutabilis, which ages from white to rich pink).
When basic color markings are involved, there’s variegatus (-a, -um), meaning variegated, of course, as in Actaea simplex ‘Variegata’ (variegated bugbane), and pictus (-a, -um), meaning painted: e.g., Phalaris variegata var. picta (variegated ribbon grass).
|Actaea (Cimicifuga) simplex ‘Variegata’|
When colors appear as spots, there’s…
Marmoratus (-a, -um) refers to mottling, as in the mottled leaves of Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’ (Italian arum).
|Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculata’|
For striping, there’s…
|Polgonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’|
Marginatus (-a, -um), obviously, refers to color markings along the leaf margins, as in Euphorbia marginata (snow-on-the-mountain).
And last, if you can remember that a reticule is a netted purse, or that a retiarius is a gladiator who fought with a net, then there’s no trouble to make the connection between reticulatus (-a, -um) and netted markings, as in Lonicera japonica ‘Aureoreticulata’ (goldnet honeysuckle). Easy, right?
|Lonicera japonica ‘Aureoreticulata’ on Thalictrum flavum subsp. glaucum|