Knowing the proper name of a plant you want can be critical to finding and purchasing it. Whether you’re looking at the local nursery or searching online, knowing the right name makes all the difference, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill.

Things can get surprisingly complicated if you don’t know the proper or complete name. Say, for instance, you’re at the nursery and ask for a jasmine. The response could be, “Are you looking for a Confederate jasmine, Asiatic jasmine, yellow jessamine, primrose jasmine or Grand Duke jasmine?”

The more precisely you know the name of what you’re looking for, the more likely you are to find it.

In addition, knowing the proper name is the key to finding information about a plant.

“When I get an email request for information, there often is not much I can do if the gardener does not know the name of the plant he or she is asking about,” Gill says.

You also have the issue of common names versus scientific or Latin names.

Common names can be useful, and most gardeners get by using them. But they have their limits.

Unfortunately, people generally don’t like Latin names, Gill says. But it’s really not that bad. Many familiar names actually are Latin, such as magnolia, chrysanthemum, lantana, clerodendrum, vinca and verbena.

Why deal with these unfamiliar and foreign words? Because they are the best names to know. Common names are useful, but may change from region to region for the same plant. Some plants may have several common names, or one common name may be used for several different plants.

Each plant has only one official Latin name, however, and it is used worldwide. In the age of international Internet communication about plants, Latin names are becoming increasingly important to avoid confusion.

“I encourage people to try to use Latin names more often in their gardening efforts,” Gill says. “Although you may hate them, scientific names often are critical to properly identifying plants.”

And whenever you are asking questions, doing research or looking to buy a particular plant, having the Latin name will make your efforts more effective.

Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.