Explanations of some of the terms used on the Medicinal Plant Names Services (MPNS) website.
- Accepted name: The validly published Latin scientific name that should be used to refer to a plant in preference to any other name (synonym) that has been published for that plant.
- Author: The author is an important part of a Latin scientific name and should be used to avoid ambiguity. In some instances the same name (genus plus species) has been used independently by different botanists (authors) to describe different species – this happened more frequently in the past when it was difficult to know about all the other work that had been undertaken. The author part of the name indicates which application of the name is being referred to. The first use of the name has priority. The second use is known as a later homonym and must be given an alternative name, for which it will then become a synonym.
- Genus (pl. genera; adj. generic): A group of species that are considered to be more closely related to each other than to other species, i.e. they share certain characters that are not shared (in their entirety) by any other species. Some species are considered to be so distinct and different that they are in a genus on their own (a mono-specific genus), but a genus usually contains more than one species and can have several hundred.
- Homonym: The same name can be published for different species if the second (and subsequent) author(s) is unaware of the earlier use of the name. These different applications of the same name are known as homonyms. They will differ only in the name of the author, and it is therefore important to include the author when writing a Latin scientific name in order to avoid any ambiguity. The first use of the name has priority. Subsequent uses of a name are ‘later homonyms’ and alternative names need to be published for those species.
- Medicinal plant: A plant whose internal or external use has a positive effect on the health of the person, or other type of animal, using it. The Medicinal Plant Names Services project collects the names of plants included in pharmacopoeias and other publications about medicinal plants. It does not make a judgement about whether a plant actually has medicinal properties, and inclusion of a plant name in the MPNS resource should not be taken as an endorsement of any medicinal use or efficacy.
- Species: The basic unit of plant classification. Usually a group of individuals that look similar to each other, but different from others; although for some plants the similarities and differences are quite technical (or small) making them difficult for non-specialists to appreciate. The individuals of one species can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, whereas although breeding between different species of plant can often be successful if they are closely related (resulting in a hybrid), the offspring often aren’t fertile.
- Specific epithet: The name of a species consists of two parts, the first being the name of the genus to which it belongs and the second being the specific epithet.
- Synonym: When more than one name has been published for a single plant species, genus or family, these are called synonyms. More than one name can be published for one species, genus or family if the second author is unaware of the first publication, or has a different opinion about the limits or description of the species, genus or family.
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