Why use Latin scientific names?
Latin scientific names are our only means of referring unambiguously and consistently to a given plant species.
Only Latin scientific names are formally assigned following internationally recognised rules (ICN, Melbourne Code), and associated with a reference or voucher specimen (known as a 'type' and usually a dried plant specimen held in one or more Herbaria around the world; the type for Illicium verum Hook.f. is illustrated here, as an example). It is these type specimens, used by the author when describing the plant, that fix the meaning of a name and can be used to resolve disputes or decide what the correct name for a particular plant is. Any changes to the name of a plant will also be published, again following rules, so they can be tracked through the literature. No other class of plant name, e.g. Latin pharmaceutical names or common names, are governed by any rules, have voucher specimens associated with them, or have any means by which their use is standardised.
A single set of rules for the publication of Latin scientific plant names is used throughout the world, and names are written in Latin so that no living language is favoured. As the distribution of a plant, its trade and knowledge about it, can cross national boundaries, it is important that a single name can be used globally.
Latin scientific names are included in legislation concerning the use of plants in medicines and food supplements, their harvesting from the wild and trade across national boundaries. It is essential that the right names and their synonyms are included in any legislation to ensure that it can be applied rigorously and comprehensively. Weak legislation using out of date, incorrect, incomplete or ambiguous names has the potential to prevent the use or trade of a plant that it was not intended to control, and allow the use or trade of a toxic or endangered plant.
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew