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Botanical Names for the Fearful

Oct. 13, 2021 9:30 p.m. to Oct. 20, 2021 11 p.m.


In this two-session course offered on Zoom and led by Judith Summer, we will begin with a tour of the plant kingdom with attention to plant names and their history. We’ll explore the work of Linnaeus and the origin of botanical binomials — the naming system in place since 1753 — and decode the Latin and Greek roots that occur commonly in plant names. Illustrated lectures will weave botanical nomenclature with science, exploration, history, and the state of modern plant names, from the ancient Doctrine of Signatures to modern DNA analysis. We’ll also discuss why names sometimes change (Hint: not to vex gardeners!). Visuals will include both familiar plants and some that are quite rare, accompanied by explanation and decoding of their botanical names. An opportunity to gain confidence in dealing with scientific plant names, we will examine several techniques for learning names with ease, and the course will conclude with a collaborative “quiz” to pool our collective knowledge. Participants will receive two recent articles written by Judith Sumne on Linnaean history and the useful details of botanical nomenclature.

Judith Sumner is classically trained botanist and author who specializes in ethnobotany, flowering plants, plant adaptations and garden history. She is a graduate of Vassar College and completed her graduate studies in botany at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; at the British Museum; the Jardin des Plantes; and did extensive field work in the Pacific region on the genus Pittosporum. In addition to writing, her projects include field studies in the Great Smoky Mountains and work with the United Nations developing petroleum-rich plants in the Caribbean. She served as a visiting scientist for several summers in the LEAP (Learning about Plants) program at Harvard for Boston school teachers and has volunteered as a National Public Radio Science mentorJudith has been the scientist-in-residence at the Star Island Natural History Conference and a guest on the “Martha Stewart Living” TV show, the PBS program “Cultivating Life,” and various other PBS and educational programs. She lectures widely and is an award-winning writer including: The Natural History of Medicinal Plants (Timber Press); American Household Botany (Timber Press); and Plants Go to War: A Botanical History of World War II.

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