Q&A: Latin for Vegetables

I've noticed in catalogs, books and magazines that Latin names are included for ornamental plants but not vegetables. Why is this? Do vegetables have Latin names?
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Question: I've noticed in catalogs, books and magazines that Latin names are included for ornamental plants but not vegetables. Why is this? Do vegetables have Latin names?

Answer: You're right—conventionally catalogs, etc., call vegetables just by their everyday names. Ornamental plants often have English (or French or Spanish or whatever) names that vary by region, so the best way to communicate to a national (or international) audience is to use their universally accepted botanical Latin name. A reader in Kansas and a reader in Oregon might see a certain English name and picture two entirely different plants. When it comes to vegetables, perhaps there is less concern that people would confuse two plants; for the most part, a "carrot" is a carrot in Texas, Alaska, Maine, etc.

However all plants, whether ornamental or edible, have a botanical Latin name, and there is some benefit to learning the Latin of vegetables:

  • There are some variances regarding common names; for instance in the United States it's an eggplant while in England it's an aubergine. In both places it's Solanum melongena.
  • Plants in the same genus or family face similar pests and diseases. Knowing that watermelons and cucumbers both belong to the family Cucurbitaceae will help you rotate your crops in the proper way.

Here are a few common vegetables and their Latin names:

Legume Family: Fabaceae

Beans, lima: Phaseolus limensis

Beans, snap: Phaseolus vulgaris

Mustard Family: Brassicaceae

Brocolli: Brassica oleraacea Italica Group

Brussels sprouts: Brassica oleracea Gemmifera Group

Cabbage: Brassica oleracea Capitata Group

Cauliflower: Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group

Rutabaga: Brassica napus Napobrassica Group

Turnip: Brassica rapa Rapifera Group

Amaranth Family: Amaranthaceae

Beet: Beta vulgaris

Swiss chard: Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla

Onion Family: Alliaceae

Garlic: Allium sativum

Leek: Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum

Onion: Allium cepa

Nightshade Family: Solanaceae

Eggplant: Solanum melongena

Potato: Solanum tuberosum

Tomato: Solanum lycopersicum (syn. Lycopersicon esculentum)

Gourd Family: Cucurbitaceae

Cucumber: Cucumis sativus

Squash and pumpkins: Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata

Zucchini: Curcubita pepo

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