What's in a (Botanical) Name? Photo Credit: Fotolia
What's in a (Botanical) Name? Photo Credit: Fotolia

In the course of my work as an aromatherapy educator, writer, editor, researcher, and consultant I have come across the same spelling errors in the botanical names of plants and essential oils many times. It is not surprising that these names are misspelled time and time again as Latin, as a dead language, is not a familiar tongue. With thousands of botanical names for plant species and genera, many of which are very similar, it is just as important to correctly identify the plants in the Latin language, as it is in the English language.

Here are a few commonly misspelled botanical names for essential oils that I regularly come across in my work.

Lavender Essential Oil

The lavender species belongs to the Lamiaceae plant family and although true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common member of the lavender species, the botanical name of all lavender species starts with the name Lavandula. I have seen Lavandula listed as Lavendula, Levandula, and various other conjectures.

Rose Essential Oil

Rose, another common essential oil in use in aromatherapy, consists of various genera within the species. The most commonly misspelled botanical name for rose that I have encountered on a regular basis is that for Damask (Damascus) rose. Damask rose is botanically known as Rosa x damascena, although I have often seen it listed as Rosa x damascene. Both The Plant List and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) list Damask rose as Rosa x damascena.

In addition, the letter x in the botanical name for Damask rose indicates that the plant is, in fact, a hybrid. Sometimes, the letter x is “forgotten” in the botanical name but this should always be included.

Frankincense Essential Oil

The use of frankincense as an essential oil has been changing in recent years due to the limited supply of traditional Boswellia carteri. However, Boswellia carteri is both still used as an essential oil and referred to in literature. Variations that I have seen from the correct botanical name include Boswelia carteri, Boswellia carterii, and Boswellia cartaeri.

In addition, other species of frankincense contain the species name Boswellia, so the correct spelling is appropriate to these other species, too.

Palmarosa Essential Oil

Palmarosa’s botanical name is often confused with a popular beverage of the same name! Although the common English name of martini refers to a cocktail of gin, vermouth, an olive, and/or a lemon twist, the native Indian grass palmarosa bears no resemblance! Palmarosa’s botanical name is Cymbopogon martinii (var. martinii), and not Cymbopogon martini.

Essential Oil Names with the Letter x Inserted

In last week’s post, I discussed the use of the letter x in the names of some plants, and subsequent essential oils extracted from them. To re-cap, the letter x indicates that the plant (and essential oil) is a hybrid. However, I have seen the letter x dropped from many plant and essential oil botanical names in several texts and papers, often leading to additional research of my own to make sure that I am reading the “correct” information.

Common hybrid plants that produce an essential oil include peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Damask rose (Rosa x damascena), grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi), and lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia). Refer back to last week’s post for further explanation.

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  • Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons

  • The Plant List website

  • The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) website

  • Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author and editor in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.

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