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Where do plant names come from?




By Debby Looney, gardening expert

Have you ever opened up a gardening book and been confused by all the names?

It is pretty daunting to be faced with Latin, illegible and irrelevant words, possibly very few pictures and a whole gamut of words in italics.

Many people just close the book again thinking they will not make any sense of it, which is a shame, as so much can be learned! I meet people who grumble that they cannot find a plant in a book, or by Googling it, and this is often because they are using the common name, which, especially with Google, will bring up an unfamiliar plant on an American website. Imagine if all plants only had a common name - it would be great! Or maybe not so handy, for example, take the flower ‘Bluebell’ - in Ireland it can be one of two species of bulb, in Australia it’s a climber and in America it’s a Mertensia. If I say I love Spirea, do you think of as Sorbaria, Astilbe, goatsbeard or an actual Spirea?

So how did we arrive at the correct names we have?

We owe our binomial nomenclature, to give it its correct terminology, to Carl Linneaus, a Swedish naturalist born in 1707. He studied medicine and botany, which was one of the required subjects when studying medicine. At the age of 30 he developed a system of classification for all organisms, which is more or less still the one we use. Unfortunately for us, Latin was the scientific language of the time, so this is what has been kept. The genus and species names are always italicised (something about which I am very lazy), or, in handwriting, underlined.

When you look at a plant name, for example Cornus sanguinea, the first part denotes the genus, which is a large group of plants sharing similar characteristics. The second part is the species with the name often descriptive, in this case sanguinea comes from the Latin for blood, as Cornus sanguinea has brightly coloured stems. The species name can relate to many different characteristics, where a plant comes from as in japonica - Japan, occidentalis – America, arabis – Arabia, - or colour; alba - white, purpurea – purple. Where it grows; saxatile – rocks, campestris – fields, how it grows; fruticosa – bushy, repens – creeping, and so on.

There are a few curveballs thrown in too, where a plant is named after a person, as in fortuneii – Robert Fortune - who is credited with bringing us tea!), or darwinii - Charles Darwin. The RHS have a lovely book called 'Latin for Gardeners' which is a gem if you are interested in this type of thing!

Now is the time to start thinking about the flower garden. It is the perfect time to plant begonia bulbs in pots, as starting them off in the greenhouse or even shed will get you a much earlier flowering time. The depressed part of the bulb is the top, which is unusual. Do not plant them too deep! Dahlias are also available currently, again it is a good idea to start them off indoors, as they are not very hardy if we get a late frost. Plant them with their crown level to the soil, and when shoots appear only leave five grow. I know it seems wrong, but this will produce strong plants with a lot of flowers. As Dahlias grow, pinch the top of the shoots out to encourage bushy growth. All dahlias have different speeds at which they grow, so don’t despair if one seems very slow compared to others!



Kerry rowing clubs flock to Killarney for the start of the coastal season

There was a fantastic spectacle of colour and rowing on Lough Leane last Sunday (June 16th) with the coastal rowing clubs of Kerry participating in the first ‘Head of the […]




There was a fantastic spectacle of colour and rowing on Lough Leane last Sunday (June 16th) with the coastal rowing clubs of Kerry participating in the first ‘Head of the Lake’ time-trial for coastal one-design boats.

The event, hosted by the local Flesk Valley Rowing Club, signalled the start of the summer season for clubs rowing the coastal ‘one-design’ boats.

It was fitting that on the weekend that the Killarney National Park celebrated the 60th anniversary of the opening of Muckross House to the public, that hundreds of people also flocked to the Flesk Valley shore to appreciate and enjoy the splendour of the park.

Speaking after the event, Flesk Valley chairman, John Fleming thanked all the Kerry clubs who supported this new event and congratulated all the first-time rowers taking to the water in a competitive event for the first time.
“We were delighted to welcome our neighbouring clubs Workmens’ and Fossa, and look forward to renewing rivalries with them again at the Killarney Regatta at the end of this month,” he said.

“We would also like to thank Mary B. Teahan, Andrew Wharton, Johanna King and the Kerry Coastal Rowing Association for all their support and encouragement, and Denis O’Leary for coordinating safety on the water.”
Flesk Valley would also like to thank the Killarney National Park, Leanes Tool Hire, Hegartys Shop and Muckross Rowing Club for their support.

“This was a great start to the coastal rowing season, and augurs well for the months ahead as clubs build towards the All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships to be held in Dingle at the end of August,” added the chairman.

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NPWS announces nature scholarships to mark ‘Muckross 60’

Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Niall O’ Donnchú, this week announced the inaugural ‘Muckross 60’ nature scholarships to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of […]




Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Niall O’ Donnchú, this week announced the inaugural ‘Muckross 60’ nature scholarships to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of Muckross House and Gardens to the public. The scholarships will be funded and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Niall O Donnchú said, “Killarney and Muckross have a very special place in Ireland’s heritage legacy, and  such beautiful gems need constant care, nurturing and indeed protecting by future generations. In supporting these third level scholarships, the NPWS is building the knowledge base of the future to assist those generations in continuing to realise the full beauty and nature value of the very unique Muckross House and Gardens and Killarney National Park.”

Mr O Donnchú added: “Killarney has a long history of scholarship, research and frontier work on nature and that continues to this day in the management of Killarney National Park and Muckross House and Gardens. The endowment of these annual scholarships is a very clear attestation that this crucial work continues to be undertaken across our national park system and especially here in Killarney and Muckross. This work has been pioneering in respect of wildlife and nature research and indeed the reintroduction of endangered species and the discovery, even this year, of more.”

Minister for Education and Kerry T.D. Norma Foley also welcomed new scholarships to mark the 60th anniversary of Muckross House.

“Muckross House is one of the jewels in the crown of Kerry tourism and received almost one million visitors last year. These scholarships will further add to our understanding of this outstanding part of our national heritage,” she said.

Muckross House was built by the Herbert family, who were local landlords. They became very wealthy during the 18th century due to the working of the copper mines on the Muckross Peninsula. They commenced the building of the present Muckross House in 1839. It was completed in 1843 at cost of £30,000, just two years prior to the Great Irish Famine. The Herbert family hosted the visit of Queen Victoria to Muckross House in 1861 but later got into financial difficulties and lost the house in 1897.

It was then bought by Lord Ardilaun, a member of the Guinness family. He in turn sold it in 1911 to William Bowers Bourn, a wealthy Californian gold miner. Bowers Bourn gave it to his daughter Maud as a wedding gift when she married Arthur Rose Vincent, an Irish barrister who later became a Senator.

After Maude died from pneumonia in 1929, Arthur Rose Vincent decided to donate Muckross house to the Irish nation as a memorial to his wife. Muckross House was transferred to the state in 1932 with its 11,000 acre estate and became Ireland’s first National Park in 1933.

The park and gardens were opened to the public but the house remained closed until 1964 when it was reopened as a folk museum on June 14, 1964 following a campaign by people in Killarney.

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