Real Gardeners

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Why use botanical plant names?


Koelreuteria paniculata

Many of us are put off by the long mystifying 'proper' names that plants have. But the thing is, it's the only way to be sure what plant you're talking about.

One person's Golden rain tree might be Laburnum (which has poisonous seeds), while another's might be Koelreuteria paniculata (which has edible seeds) - so it can be pretty important!

There's another advantage to using the botanical name: it can tell you useful information about the plant, giving you a good idea of what that innocent-looking little seedling is going to turn into, or what conditions it needs to thrive.

Rosa gallica versicolor

Rosa gallica versicolor

Plant names are in Latin* in two or three parts: Genus, species, and maybe variety or 'cultivar' too.

The Genus is the basic name of the plant. A rose is a rose whether it's a bush or a climber and whatever its colour is, so all roses have the basic name of Rosa (with an initial capital letter, in italic).

The species name might tell you the look of the plant, the colour, where it's from, or perhaps who first discovered it. It should be written in small letters in italic. The rose could therefore have gallica, meaning French.

A variety generally occurs naturally. Variety names are also descriptive and are written in small letters in italic, e.g. alba or var. alba. If versicolor were to be added to our example it would mean it was variously or multi coloured.

And so Rosa gallica versicolor - is a French multi-coloured rose.  This way, without even seeing a picture of it, we know a lot about this plant.

Rosa spinosissima 'Andrewsii'

Rosa spinosissima

The final piece of the jigsaw is 'Cultivar' which is a variety that has been cultivated for particular desirable characteristics, such as shape, size or colour.

These names are generally not descriptive and are written in single quotation marks with a capital letter at the start of each word, e.g. 'New Dawn' or 'Pink Fir Apple'.

A common name may (or may not!) reflect the meaning of the botanical name. Kolkwitzia amabilis is, appropriately enough, called the Beauty bush, but why Dictamnus alba should be the Burning bush isn't so obvious.

Some plants do not even have common names, or only have them in their local language.

The rose on the left is botanically known as Rosa canina and its common name is Dog Rose.

Jasminum officinale

Salvia officinalis

Because they're Latin*, the endings of species and variety names might change. For example: white might be albus, alba or album; lovely might be amabilis or amabile. This doesn't affect the meaning, so it's simplest just not to worry about it.

*Note for pedants: or a Latinised form of Greek or other language.

And now we come to the area where we discover what each of these botanical names mean. Below is a selected list with illustrations where possible. We hope you find it fascinating using this area as a reference, and enjoy getting to know any new words.

Botanical names are listed in alphabetical order. If you want to search this page press Ctrl-F and you'll get a search box.

Click on any picture to see it full size.

Species name Meaning Example Illustration
africanus African Agapanthus africanus (African lily)
alatus winged

Euonymus alatus (Winged spindle, Winged euonymus, Burning bush)

Gladiolus alatus (Turkey chick, South African gladiolus)

Mimulus alatus




Cornus alba (White dogwood)

Dictamnus alba (Burning bush)

Meliotus albus (White sweet clover)

alpinus alpine

Aster alpinus (Alpine aster)

Dianthus alpinus (Alpine pink)

Erinus alpinus (Fairy foxglove)

alternifolius alternating leaves

Buddleia alternifolia

Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda dogwood, Alternate-leaf dogwood)

Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea tree)

amabilis lovely

Abies amabilis (Silver fir)

Kolkwitzia amabilis (Beauty bush)

Phalaenopsis amabilis (Moon orchid)

amygdaloides almond-like Euphorbia amygdaloides (Wood spurge)
angustifolius narrow leaved

Agave angustifolia

Allamanda angustifolia

Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)

Typha angustifolia (Lesser bulrush, Narrow-leaved cattail)

annuus annual

Capsicum annuum (Chili pepper)

Erigeron anuus (Fleabane)

Helianthus annuus (Sunflower)




Aloe arborescens (Krantz aloe)

Crassula arborescens (Tree crassula)

Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth hydrangea, Wild hydrangea)

argenteus silvery

Celosia argentea (Silver cockscomb)

Crassula argentea (Jade plant)

Dichondra argentea (Kidneyweed)

aromaticus strong smelling

Cinnamomum aromaticum (Cassia)

Eupatorium aromaticum

Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)

arvensis of the fields, meadows

Knautia arvensis (Field scabious)

Menta arvensis (Field mint)

Viola arvensis (Field pansy)

asiaticus Asiatic

Rannunculus asiaticus (Persian buttercup)

Trollius asiaticus (Asian globeflower)

atropurpureus dark purple

Euphorbia atropurpurea

Pseudanthemum atropurpureum

atrosanguineus dark blood red Cosmos atrosanguineus (Chocolate cosmos)
aurantiacus orange

Lampranthus auranticus (Trailing ice plant)

Mimulus auranticus (Sticky monkey)

Pilosella aurantiaca (Orange hawkweed)




Alstroemeria aurea (Peruvian lily)

Carex aurea (Golden sedge)

Disa aurata

autumnalis autumnal

Colchicum autumnale (Autumn crocus)

Eucomis autumnalis (Pineapple flower)

Mandragora autumnalis (Devil's candle)

azureus sky blue

Allium azureum (Blue globe onion)

Anchusa azurea (Italian bugloss)

Ceanothus azureus (Californian lilac)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration




Taxus baccata (Yew)

Yucca baccata (Spanish bayoney)

banksii Joseph Banks (plant hunter)

Astelia banksii (Wharawhara)

Grevillea banksii (Red silky oak)

Rosa banksiae

barbatus bearded

Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William)

Penstemon barbatus

bicolor two-coloured

Buddleja bicolor (Butterfly bush)

Caladium bicolor (Elephant ear)

Erysimum bicolor (Perennial wallflower)

borealis northern

Erigeron borealis (Alpine fleabane)

Linnaea borealis (Twinflower)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
caeruleus blue

Didiscus caeruleus (Blue lace flower)

Lonicera caerula (Sweet berry honeysuckle, Blue berry honeysuckle)

Passiflora caerulea (Blue passion flower)

campensis of fields or plains Impatiens campensis (Orange balsam)
candicans white-ish

Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira)

Galtonia candicans (Summer hyacinth)

Populus candicans (Balsam poplar)




Amorpha canescens (Leadplant)

Carex canenscens

Erigeron canus (Hoary fleabane)

Lithospermum candescens

Tiquilia canescens (Woody crinklemat) 

Ulmus canescens (Grey-leaved elm)

caninus of dogs (= worthless)

Plectranthus caninus (Scaredy cat)

Rosa canina (Dog rose)

Viola canina (Dog violet)

cardinalis deep scarlet

Delphinium cardinale

Gladiolus cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)

Mimulus cardinalis (Monkey flower)

chinensis Chinese

Belamcanda chinensis (Leopard lily)

Lorapetalum chinensis (Fringe flower)

Schisandra chinensis

cinereus grey

Copiapoa cincerea

Salix cinerea (Grey sallow)

Vitis cinerea (Graybark grape)

cirrhosus having tendrils

Clematis cirrhosa

Odontoglossum cirrhosum (Wavy odontoglossum)

coccineus scarlet

Banksia coccinea (Scarlet banksia)

Hibiscus coccineus (Scarlet rose mallow)

Phaseolus coccineus (Scarlet runner bean)

communis of the common, growing in company

Juniperus communis (Common juniper)

Lapsana communis (Nipplewort)

Myrtus communis (Common myrtle)

Ricinus communis (Castor oil plant)

contortus twisted

Corylus avellana contorta (Corkscrew hazel)

Pedicularis contorta (Coiled lousewort)




with heart-shaped leaves

Doronicum cordatum

Hypocalymma cordifolium

Leucospermum cordifolium (Pincushion)

Pelargonium cordifolium (Heart-leaved pelargonium)



used for making wreaths or garlands

Anemone coronaria

Philadelphus coronarius (Mock orange)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
dentatus sharply toothed

Ligularia dentata

Rhus dentata (Nana berry)

Viburnum dentatum (Southern arrowwood)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
edulis edible

Carpobrotus edulis (Hottentot fig)

Lonicera caerulea edulis

Passiflora edulis

elatus tall

Acacia elata (Cedar wattle) 

Aralia elata

Delphinium elatum

elegans elegant

Acer palmatum elegans

Salvia elegans (Pineapple sage)

erectus upright

Philadelphus lemoinei erectus

Tagetes erecta (French marigold)

Trilium erectum (Purple trillium)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
fastigiatus erect, closely branched

Rhus fastigiata

Taxus baccata fastigiata

flavescens becoming yellow

Hedychrysum flavescens (Yellow ginger)

Phoradberon flavescens (American mistletoe)

Sophora flavescens

flore pleno double flowered

Clematis florida flore pleno

Ranunculus ficaria flore pleno

Trillium grandiflorium flore pleno

foetidus foul smelling

Helleborus foetidus (Stinking hellebore)

Rosa foetida

Sterculia foetida (Stinky hazel)

foliolosus small-leaved

Castilleja foliolosa (Indian paintbrush)

Chamaebatia foliolosa (Mountain misery, Bearclover)

Rosa foliosa

formosus beautiful

Isopogon formosus (Rose cone flower)

Leycesteria formosa (Pheasant berry)

Platylobium formosum (Handsome flat-pea)

Rhododendron formosum

forrestii George Forrest (plant hunter)

Hedychium forrestii (Ginger lily)

Iris forrestii

Pieris forrestii (Lily-of-the-valley shrub)

fortunii Robert Fortune (plant hunter)

Euonymus fortunei (Fortune's spindle)

Saxifraga fortunei

Trachycarpus fortunii (Chusan palm)

fragilis brittle, fragile

Cystopteris fragilis (Brittle bladderfern, Common fragile fern)

Opuntia fragilis (Prickly pear) 

Salix fragilis (Crack willow)

fragrans fragrant

Abronia fragrans (Prairie snowball)

Osmanthus fragrans

Viburnum fragrans

fruiticosus shrubby

Amorpha fruticosa

Penstemon fruticosus (Greene bush penstemon) 

Potentilla fruticosa (Shrubby cinquefoil)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
gallicus French

Rosa gallica (Gallic rose) 

Silene gallica (Small flowered catchfly) 

Tamarix gallica (Manna plant)

germanicus German

Iris germanica (German iris)

Stachys germanica (Downy woundwort)



smooth, hairless Begonia glabra

Bougainvillea glabra (Paper flower)

Corylopsis glabrescens

glaucus covered with a white or
blue-grey bloom
Canna glauca

Festuca glauca

Rosa glauca

globosus spherical

Buddleia globosa

Traunsteinera globosa

glomeratus clustered

Campanula glomerata (Clustered bellflower)

Cerastium glomeratum (Sticky mouse-ear)

Dactylis glomerata (Orchard grass)

gracilis slender (of form) Deutzia  gracilis

Galphimia gracilis

Potentilla gracilis

gramineus grasslike Acorus gramineus

Iris graminea

Ranunculus gramineus

Stellaria graminea (Lesser stitchwort)

grandis large Abies grandis (Giant fir) 

Arcotis grandis (Blue-eyed daisy)

Meconopsis grandis (Blue poppy)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
hirsutus hairy

Hypoxis hirsuta (Yellow star grass)

Lupinus hirsutus (Blue lupin)

Mandevilla hirsuta (Plebian trumpet vine)

Nepenthes hirsuta

hookeri Joseph Hooker (plant hunter)

Anthurium hookeri (Bird's nest Anthurium)

Scaevola hookeri (Fan flower)

Templetonia hookeri

hortensis of gardens

Anenome hortensis

Atriplex hortensis (Garden orach)

Marjoram hortensis

Primula hortensis

Ruta hortensis (Rue)

Weigela hortensis

humilis low growing

Chamaerops humilis (European Fan Palm, Mediterranean Fan Palm) 

Iris humilis (Sand iris)

Rivina humilis

Sarcococca hookeriana humilis  (Christmas box)

hyemalis of winter

Agrostis hyemalis

Crocus hyemalis

Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) with crocus

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
 ibericus Spanish

Aster ibericus

Geranium ibericum

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
japonicus Japanese

Lathyrus japonicus (Beach pea)

Ophiopogon japonicus (Fountain plant)

Styrax japonicus (Japanese snowbell)

jasminoides Jasmine-like

Solanum jasminoides

Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star jasmine)

junceus rushlike

Spartium junceum (Spanish broom)

Strelitzia juncea

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
 lanatus woolly

Carthamus lanatus

Citrullus lanatus (Watermelon)

Encephalartos lanatus (Woolly cycad)

Erigeron lanatus (Woolly daisy)

Holtus lanatus




lance-shaped leaves

Aster lanceolatus (Panicled aster)

Callistemon lanceolatus (Lemon bottlebrush)

Clusia lanceolata




Campanula lusitanica

Prunus lusitanica (Portugal laurel)

luteus yellow

Asphodeline lutea (King's spear)

Gentiana lutea (Yellow gentian)

Gloriosa lutea

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
maculatus spotted

Arum maculatum (Lords and ladies)

Geranium maculatum (Spotted cranesbill)

Lamium maculatum (Spotted nettle)

micranthus tiny-flowered

Bidens micrantha

Heuchera micanthra (Alum root)

Zigadenus micranthus (Smallflower deathcamas)

mollis downy, soft

Alchemilla mollis (Lady's mantle)

Callicarpa mollis (Beauty berry)

Hamamelis mollis (Witch hazel)

montanus of mountains

Cercocarpus montanus (Mountain mahogany)

Myoxanthus montanus

Sempervivum montanum (Mountain houseleek)

moschatus musk scented

Abelmoschus moschatus (Musk mallow)

Erodium moschatum (Musky stork's bill)

Lamium moschatum (Musk deadnettle)

mutabilis changeable

Allium mutabile

Magnolia mutabilis

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
nanus dwarf

Ananas nanus (Miniature pineapple)

Gladiolus nanus

Lupinus nanus (Sky lupine)




Helleborus niger

Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrenscens (Lilyturf, Black dragon, Ebony knight, Black mondo grass)

Phyllostachys nigra (Black bamboo)

nivalis of the snow

Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)

Saxifraga nivalis

Sinningia nivalis

nudicaulis bare stemmed

Aralia nudicaulis (Wild sasaparilla)

Delphinium nudicaule (Orange larkspur)

nudiflorus flowering on bare branches

Azalea nudiflora

Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter jasmine)

nutans nodding

Billbergia nutans (Queen's tears)

Ornithogalum nutans (Nodding Star of Bethlehem)

Silene nutans (Nottingham catchfly)

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
occidentalis western

Grewia occidentalis (Lavender star flower)

Senna occidentalis (Coffee senna)

Thuja occidentalis

oculatus with an eye

Phyllobolus oculatus

Polystichum oculatum

Stanhopea oculata

Turnera oculata

odoratus scented

Galium odoratum (Sweet woodruff)

Ribes odoratum (Clove currant)

officinalis medicinal (often of herbs)

Althaea officinalis (Marshmallow)

Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Salvia officinalis (Sage)

orientalis eastern

Agapanthus orientalis

Brunsvigia orientalis (Candelabra Flower)

Galega orientalis

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
palmatus lobed, divided like a hand

Anemone palmata

Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)

Cordylanthus palmatus

palustris of marshes or bogs

Caltha palustris (Marsh marigold)

Euphorbia palustris (Marsh euphorbia)

Quercus palustris (Swamp oak)

parviflorus small-flowered

Echium parviflorum (Small flowered bugloss)

Impatiens parviflora

Malva parviflora (Marshmallow, Small-flowered mallow)

patens spreading

Hamelia patens (Fire bush)

Pulsatilla patens

Salvia patens

persicus Persian

Cyclamen persicum

Parrotia persica

pictus painted

Abutilon pictum (Redvein abutilon)

Athyrium niponicum pictum (Japanese painted fern)

Mimulus pictus (Calico monkeyflower)

plenus double

Neptunia plena

Nerium oleander luteum plenum

Sanguinaria canadensis plena

polyacanthus thorny

Acacia polyacantha (White thorn)

Opuntia polyacantha (Panhandle prickly pear)

polyanthus many-flowered

Primula polyantha

Sinningia polyantha

polycarpus many-fruited

Amelanchier polycarpa

Idesia polycarpa (Iigiri tree)

praecox very early, early-
ripening, premature

Agapanthus praecox (Blue lily)

Anemone hupehensis praecox

Chimonanthus praecox

pratensis of meadows

Geranium pratense (Meadow cranesbill)

Salvia pratensis (Meadow sage)

Pulsatilla pratensis (Pasque flower)

prostratus lying flat

Ceanothus prostratus

Cistus salviifolius proastratus (Sageleaf rock rose)

Kennedia prostrata (Running postman, Scarlet runner)

pubescens downy

Canavalia pubescens 

Cinchona pubescens

Hypericum pubescens

pumilus dwarf

Erigeron pumilus

Iris pumilla (Dwarf iris)

Philadelphus pumilus (Dwarf mock orange)

purpureus purple

Calostemma purpureum

Lablab purpureus (Hyacinth bean)

Lamium purpureum

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
radicans rooting (stems)

Campsis radicans

Woodwardia radicans (Rooting chain fern, chain fern)




Ajuga reptans (Blue bugle)

Polemonium reptans (Jacob's ladder)

Potentilla reptans



red (though we might
often call it pink)

Centranthus ruber (Red valerian)

Cytinus ruber

Picea rubens (Red spruce)

rugosus wrinkled (of leaves)

Agastache rugosa (Purple giant hyssop)

Rosa rugos a

Solidago rugosa

rupestris found near rocks

Viola rupestris (Teesdale violet, rock violet)

Crassula rupestris

Silene rupestris

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Species name Meaning Example Illustration
scaber rough

Dianthus scaber

Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean glory vine)

Pelargonium scabrum (Rough- leaved pelargonium)

scandens climbing

Billardiera scandens

Cobaea scandens (Cup-and- saucer vine)

Dicentra scandens (Climbing bleeding heart)

semperflorens ever-flowering

Begonia semperflorens

Rosa chinensis semperflorens

sericatus silky

Entoloma sericatum

Horkelia sericata (Silky horkelia)

Lupinus sericatus (Cobb mountain lupin)

Oreocereus doelzianus subsp. sericatus

sempervirens evergreen

Buxus sempervirens (Common box)

Gelsemium sempervirens

Iberis sempervirens

serotinus late

Crocus serotinus

Dianthus serotinus

Pulsatilla serotina

serratus toothed

Banksia serrata (Saw-tooth banksia)

Fucus serratus (Toothed wrack)

sibiricus Siberian

Iris sibirica (Siberian Iris)

Larix siberica (Siberian larch)

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill)

sinensis Chinese Wisteria sinensis

Camellia sinensis (green tea)

Citrus sinensis (navel orange)



spiked, in spikes

Chloranthus spicatus (Chulantree)

Costus spicatus (Spiked spiral ginger)

Eriostemon spicatus

spinosus spiny, thorny

Capparis spinosa

Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn, Sloe)

Sarcopoterium spinosum (Thorny burnet)

stellatus starry, star-shaped

Hohenbergia stellata

Magnolia stellata (Star magnolia)

Pogostemon stellatus

stenophyllus narrow-leaved

Acacia stenophylla

Berberis stenophylla

Phebalium stenophyllum (Narrow-leafed Phebalium)

 striatus striped

Calochortus striatus (Alkali mariposa lily)

Geranium sanguineum striatum (Striped cranesbill)

strictus upright

Dianthus strictus

Penstemon strictus

suaveolens sweet-scented

Brugmansia suaveolens

Mentha suaveolens (Apple mint)

Nicotiana suaveolens

suffruticosus nearly a shrub

Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa (Dwarf box)

Flueggea suffruticosa

Paeonia suffruticosa



of woods or forests

Malva sylvestris

Pinus sylvestris

Senecio sylvaticu s (Woodland ragwort, Heath groundsel)

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Species name Meaning Examples Illustration
tenax tenacious

Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax)

Xerophyllum tenax (Beargrass)

tomentosus densely hairy

Cottoneaster tomentosus

Rhododendron tomentosum

Senecio tomentosus (Woolly ragwort)

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Species name Meaning Examples Illustration
vagans wandering Erica vagans
variegatus variegated

Codiaeum variegatum syn. Croton variegatum (Garden croton, variegated croton)

Iris variegata (Hungarian iris)

Perargonium variegatum

veris spring-flowering Primula veris (Cowslip)



of Spring

Crocus vernus (Spring crocus)

Hamamelis vernalis

Luzula vernalis

versicolor variously coloured, multicoloured

Iris versicolor (Blue flag iris)

Rosa gallica versicolor (Rosa mundi)

Trametes versicolor (Turkey tail mushroom)

verus true, genuine

Aloe vera

Lavandula vera

Pistacia vera (Pistachio)

villosus hairy

Nepenthes villosa (Pitcher plant)

Calycotome villosa

Vicia villosa (Hairy vetch)

virens green

Ficus virens (White fig)

Rhus virens (Evergreen sumach)

Santolina virens (Cotton lavender

virescens turning green, greenish

Delphinium virescens (Prairie larkspur)

Echium virescens

Gladiolus virescens

viridiflorus green flowered

Callistemon viridiflorus (Green bottlebrush)

Narcissus viridiflorus

vulgaris common, usual

Calluna vulgaris (Ling)

Dracuncula vulgaris (Voodoo lily)

Pulsatilla vulgaris

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Species name Meaning Examples Illustration
willsonii Ernest Henry Wilson (plant hunter)

Codonopsis grey-wilsonii

Magnolia wilsonii

Melaleuca wilsonii (Violet honey myrtle)

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Species name Meaning Examples Illustration
zebrinus striped

Calathea zebrina

Miscanthus sinensis zebrinus

Scirpus zebrinus (Zebra rush)



zoned, banded

Cryptanthus zonatus

Pelargonium zonale (name refers to coloured bands on leaves)

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Thank you to:

Forest and Kim Starr for allowing us to use their images of Senecio sylvaticus, Malva parviflora and Canavalia pubescens.

Wikimedia Commons -  - and Wikipedia - - for use of their images.

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