Specific names explained --Introduction

Have you ever wondered where those Specific { Latin} names come from or what they mean.Here in the first of the series we look at the names of plants and birds whose common name begins with A. The common and scientific names will be explained. This will add to your knowledge of Plants and Birds.

 Public domain courtesy of Fae at WikiCommons

Plants whose common names begin with A

Agrimony--There is some doubt to the origin of this name but there are three schools of thought.1, The name may come from the Greek meaning a spot on the eye. 2, it derives from Argemone a word given by the Greeks to plants which were healing to the eyes. 3, Wild flower of the field. ie poppy of the field. 

eupatoria, the specific name which is always begins with a small letter may recall Mithradates of Eupator, the king who resisted the Roman conquest on Asia Minor in the first century BC,and was said to have introduced the plant to medicine.


Almond--The early English name seems to have been 'almande' both this an the old name and its more modern form came through the french word amande,derived from the Latin amendala,which in turn is a form of the Greek amygdalus, the meaning of which  is obscure.

dulcis a specific name means sweet.

amara =the bitter almond.


Anemone nemorosa The wind flower 

Anemone, There is a legend that states that Anemos-the wind,gave his name to plants that flower in the early spring,to herald his coming. According to Pliny the Elder, the flowers will not open until the wind blows. Both give rise to another popular name for the plant -wind flower.

nemorosa the specific name indicates of the woods


Alexanders Smyrnium olustrum 

Alexanders, the plant is a herb of Macedonia the country of Alexander the Great. 

Smyrnium The genus name. The whole plant is edible and the name comes from the Greek smurna,meaning Myrhh,and refers to the taste of the plant.

olusatrum, the specific name alludes to its old name of Black lovage .The fruit is formed into nearly two globular haves with prominent ridges. When ripe it is almost black. Old herbalists called it 'Black pot herb' sspecies name therefore derives from olus-a pot herb and atrumindicating black.


Angelica Angelica archangelica.

Angelica, there are two schools of thought. 1, It derives from angelos meaning a messenger. This alludes to a legend that tells of an angel that appeared to a monk,in a dream, saying to him that this plant would cure the symptoms of the plague. 2, Refers to its angelic properties in healing. 

archangelica is the cultivated variety used in confectionary and medicine.

Angelica sylvestris is the wild angelica,sylvestris indicates of the woods.


Alecost { Costmary} Tanacetum balsamita.

Alecost , the common name the first syllable of its common name,ale, derives from the fact it was put to use during the middle ages, when its scented leaves and flowers were used  to clarify,preserve and impart flavour to ale{ beer} 

Costmary-the alternative common name derives from the Latin costus, meaning an oriental plant, the root of which was used as a spice and as a preserve 'mary' refers to 'Our lady'. in the middle ages the plant was widely associated with her name and was known in France as Herbe Sainte-Marie.

Tanacetum, the genus name derives from a Greek word meaning immortal or long-lived.

balsamita, the specific name, derives from the fact that the whole plant emits a soft balsamic odour-which is pleasanter and more aromatic than that of its near relative the Tansy. The specis name means'bearing balsam' 

Angelica   Courtesy of Kristian Peters CC BY-SA 3.0 unported license.

Arnica Arnica montana { Leopard's bane}

Arnica from the Greek Arnakis, meaning lamb's tail skin, referring to the rough texture of the leaves.

montana, indicates of the mountains.


Allseed Radiola linoides.

Allseed, the seed production of this tiny plant is so enormous,and the fruiting heads are numerous especially in the autumn, that the common name is very apt. 

Radiloa the genus name, indicates radical stems.

linoides, the specific name means like Linum-{flax] family in which it is classed.


Adder's tongue fern. Ophioglossum vulgatum.

The genus name of Ophioglossum also refers to the common name from ophios indicating a serpent and glossa -a tongue.

vulgatum the species name indicates common.


Alder,common--Alnus glutinosa.

Alder, from the old English alor,related to the old German elira.

Alnus. is the Latin name for Alder.

glutinosa the specific name indicates sticky refers to the young leaves and shoots.

Alnus incana the Grey Alder, incana means grey and alluded to the underside of the leaves.


 Adder's tongue fern  Courtesy of Wolffia CC BY -SA 3.0 unported license




Azalea  species Rhododendron luteum.

Azalea derives from azaleos,meaning dry,from its supposed preferences to dry situations.

Rhododendron derives from the Greek rhodo meaning red,or some say rose,+ dendron a tree in illusion to the flowers.

lueum,  the specific name derives the Latin meaning yellow.   


Aven, mountain, Dryas octopetala.

Aven comes from an old French word avence,from medieval Latin avencia-a type of clover.

Dryas the genus name The leaves of this evergreen plant were thought to resemble those  of the oak leaf. Dryad alludes to Dryad alludes to Dryad a nymph of oak trees.

octopetala,the specific name means eight petals -flower formation.


Aven,Wood.  Geum urbicum, 

Aven see above.

Geum - the specific name means 'to impart' an agreeable flavour,refers to the aromatic roots of some species.

urbanum-grows in urban settings once grew near houses as a herb. 


Wood Aven--Geum urbanicum

Courtesy of AnemoneProjectors, originally on Flickr CCA-SA 2.0 generic license.


Asphodel; Narthecium ossifragrum

Asphodel derives from a Greek word that means 'sceptre'

Narthesium, the genus name derives from narthex a Greek plant name.

ossifragrum-- means bone breaker. Sheep browsing on wet moorland used to suffer from foot rot,this was attributed to them browsing on this plant. 


Agrimony-Hemp; Eupatorium cannabium.

Agrimony;see Agrimony top of the page.

Euopatorum, from a Greek plant name.

Hemp and cannabium-- The general form of the leaf is similar to the Hemp plant that produces cannabis.


Ash tree--Fraxinus excelsior.

Fraxinus is the Latin name of the flowering ash tree.

excelsior--means tall or taller. 


Part two birds whose common name starts with A

Aquatic warbler.  Acrocephalus.paludicola.

Acrocephalus ,from akros =pointed + kephale =head

The specific name  paludicola from palus= a marsh + colere to live.{ inhabit}


Arctic Skua--Stercorarius parasiticus.

Stercorarius from stercus=dung + arius=belonging to.

The specific name -pararsiticus.-parasitic.


Avocet;  Avocetta recurvirostra 

Avocet and avocetta is the Venetian name for the bird.

The specific name  of recurvirostra  from the Latin recurvus=bent+ rostris =bill, the bill curves upward.


Arctic Tern.  Sterna paradisaea.

Tern derives from the old English stearn

paradisus =paradise 




Public domain courtesy of Ron Eggert   Commons.

Other Latin names that start with the letter A that may be encountered along with their meanings.

atrosanguineum---A dark red colour.


aureus ------------Golden

aurantiacus -----orange

atrorubens-------deep red

atrgentium-------silvery  aggregata-silvery argentea-silvery argyros---silvery

aglios -------------bright

acetosa ----------acid leaves {taste sour}


adenia or aden-gland 


aethiops ---------of unusual appearance 

aestivalis--------of summer   aestivum--of summer

agape ------------love

aggos-------------field          ager------field


angustifolia ----narrow-leaved



akros-------------tip or summit


atissima -------tall or tallest



alpestre--------of lower mountains







andros--------male {anthers}--aner---male.{anthers}



aithron -------joint

arbuscula --dwarf like tree

arguta-------sharply toothed

aster--------star   astron-star  { Greek]

aster -------'it is similar'         { Latin} 

asperum---rough            asper --rough

auriculata--basal lobes  ear-shaped

azalea------dry { usually refers to habitat} azo=dry

apten-------wing  ala-- wing 

arvensis---of cultivated field             arvens--of cultivated fields

anthricus---hollow stems

arboricolum---growing on trees  arborcola---growing on trees.

arenarius---- of sandy places  arenaria--- of sandy places


agrostis-----field grass



acer,-------sharp tasting           acre--sharp tasting

apoda -----stalkless

aviculare---of small birds {seeds}

avium------ of birds

agrifolia----with spiny leaves


agusta------stately or noble

acicularis--needle like    aquifolia --needle like points

arborecens -becoming tree like

apiculata ---at leaf tip

acuminalata---with a large point

angustisectum--having narrow divisions

amplexicaule--leaves grasping stem.

axillaris----------Flowers grow in leaf axil

aquifolium------needle like leaves

acuparia-------catch-bird {berries and seeds}

australis-------southern hemisphere

arnakis--------lamb's tail



althae --------to cure.

ammos-------cold {could also mean sand }

accumbre---to recline

aniso---------not equal


althoe {altho}--to cure

aquatica-------in or near water.




alopex---------a fox


asclepis------Greek god of healing

aparo---------to seize

aktea---------actea   Greek for elder.



athyros------doorless { refers to late opening.}

antenna  Aria---feeler

artemis------Greek goddess of chastity.

agan-----------Very much

affinis-------- related too.

atumnnale --of autumn


arunia--------read like 



anagelao----laughter or gay

alary--ala ---wing



anemos----the wind


arktos------bear { a}

argemos--white spot

achusa----paint {alludes to the dye}



akos--------a bag

abigo-------to drive away

acinos-----aromatic herb.

arabis-----of Arabia 

aitho-------Indicates I burn {sting or acrid taste}

ameria----by the sea




arethusa--Greek nymph

actinos----a ray







astragalos--knuckle bone.

alschymo--shame { flower -blush }

arthron------a joint



arvensis-- of arable fields


acicularis-needle like



albiflos---white flowers.


aleitris----a female slave


anandros--lacking males { no stamens}

aethusa   aithos--- fiery taste --fire

adenophylla--with glandular leaves



albicaulis---white stem

attenuata---drawn out

arbuscula---like a small tree

andena-----of the Andes



ampulla ----bottle or flask 

aerugo------copper rust

 acarus- akari---a small thing or mite

acaudal-----having no tail

accrete-----to grow or cause to grow or cause to grow together.

arcuatus---bow shaped.

aiguptos-- an Egyptian .


achiamydeous--with out petals or sepals  from a signifies without+ chiamys a cloak


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This series will be in an A-Z format of common names { plants and birds}