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Tip of the Week: What

Latin names mean more once you look a little bit closer. Find out how these terms can help you know a plant's shape without even seeing it.
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OK, so we’ve all encountered those crazy plant names that leave us tongue-tied and longing for something short and sweet, like mums or iris. The Latin used in binomial nomenclature—or the language of horticulture—serves a purpose, so that we can speak botanically from Odessa, Texas, to Hokitika, New Zealand. Now, within some of those Latin names, you can learn things about a plant simply by reading its name. Check out these names that indicate the shape.

acerosus, needle-shaped

acetabulosus, cup-shaped or concaved

acicularis, like a pin or needle

aciformis, needle-shaped

acuminatus, tapering to a point

alveolatus, hollowed out, channeled

annularis, ring-shaped

apiculatus, with a short-pointed end

applanatus, flattened

arcuatus, bent or curved like a bow

attenuatus, tapering to a point

bucinatus, like a curved horn

calathinus, cup-shaped; like a basket

calceiformis, calceolatus, shaped like a little shoe or slipper

campanulatus, bell-shaped

canaliculatus, with a channel, like a pipe

cassideus, shaped like a helmet

catilliformis, shaped like a saucer

caudiforms, shaped like a tail

clathratus, like a lattice or trellis

clavatus, claviformis, club-shaped

conicus, cone-shaped

convolutes, rolled up lengthways

cordatus, cordiformis, heart-shaped

corniculatus, with little horns

cornutus, horned

cristatus, crested

cruciatus, cruciformis, cross-shaped

cucullatus, hooded

curvulus, slightly curved

cuspidatus, with a sharp point

cyathiformis, cup-shaped

cylindricus, cylindraceus, cylindrical

deltoides, triangular

depressus, flattened

ellipticus, elliptic

ensatus, ensiforms, sword-shaped

falcatus, curved like a sickle

flabellatus, fan-shaped

flexuosus, zigzag

fornicatus, arched

fungiformis, mushroom-shaped

fusiformis, shaped like a spindle

gibbosus, hunchbacked

lanceolatus, spear-shaped

lunulatus, like a crescent moon

mucronatus, pointed

nidiformis, nest-shaped

nummularius, like a coin

obconicus, like an inverted cone

orbiculatus, disc-shaped

ovalis, oval

ovatus, egg-shaped

peltatus, half-moon shaped

planus, flat

platy-, broad or flat

poculiformis, cup-shaped

prismaticus, prism-shaped

pulvinaris, pulvinatus, like a cushion

pungens, ending in a hard sharp point

pyramidalis, pyramid-shaped

reniformis, kidney-shaped

rhombeus, rhombicus, rhombiformis, diamond-shaped

rotatus, shaped like a wheel

saccatus, like a bag; with sacs

sagittalis, sagittatus, arrow-shaped

sphaerocephalus, with globose heads

spicatus, bearing a spike

stellatus, star-shaped

strepto-, twisted

tabularis, tabuliformis, flat like a board

uncinatus, hooked

undulates, undatus, wavy

Adapted from Horticulture Plant Names Explained: Botanical Terms and Their Meaning. Learn more about this book.