Common Name Confusion

I predominately use the scientific names for plants. Why? It’s not to sound smart (although it does help). I use them because for one, they are the plants’ names, and two, to avoid confusion. Common names are thrown around so loosey goosey and are often used to describe totally different plants. Relying on common names alone is tricky and will lead to one person talking about Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’ f. variegata (referred to as “Coral Cactus”) and the other person talking about Rhipsalis cereuscula (also referred to as “Coral Cactus”). Two completely different plants, from two completely different genera. These two aren’t even from the same plant family, let alone the same plant order! They aren’t closely related, but they do share a few broad taxonomic commonalities. They both belong to the same kingdom, Plantae. Yes, they’re both plants, you would have never guessed. They also belong to the same phylum, or plant division in botany, Anthophyta. This consists of the clade, angiosperms, which are the flowering plants. They are both eudicots¹ as well, but lets not get too deep in our Biology textbooks here. I can see your eyes glazing over. Let’s just say they are both succulent plants, with the same common name.

Without giving you a full-on Biology lesson, here is a basic plant taxonomy chart I made to give you a bit of context. If you want to nerd out with me, there’s a link that will blow your mind at the bottom of this post.²

taxonomy chart


Moving on with the “Coral Cactus” example from above, the common name should not be taken literally. Neither of these plants is a type of coral, and only one is a type of cactus. Common names often describe what the plant looks like, not what it is.

Common names will often imply that the plant in discussion is actually a certain type of plant, e.g. “Lucky Bamboo”. Interestingly enough, Lucky Bamboo isn’t even real bamboo. What people refer to “Lucky Bamboo”, is actually Dracaena sanderiana, a type of Dracaena. Think about the popular Dragon Tree or Corn Plant. Lucky Bamboo is grown in water, but bamboo cannot be grown in water. Trust me, I work at a bamboo nursery. Well… I guess it could be grown in water until it dies from being “grown” in water.

Common names are somewhat useful, because scientific names are less known. Everybody knows Spider Plant. Most people don’t know Chlorophytum comosumBut keep in mind that common names are often localized to certain regions.

A few basics about nomenclature before I continue:

(I apologize in advance if this gives you PTSD from Biology class.)

The genus and species of a plant is always italicized. If a plant has a variety or cultivar, the name is normal typeface and will be in single quotes, i.e. Genus species ‘Cultivar’. Common names are always in double quotes, i.e. Genus species ‘Cultivar’, “Silly Plant Name That Doesn’t Mean Anything”. Also, Genus is always capitalized, while species is not. Since I’m self-diagnosed with OCD, if you pay attention, you will see that I am meticulous about using these distinctions throughout this entire website. Most other websites will not, including ones selling the darn things. There is a lot of misnaming out there, even in professional plant nurseries. The intent of this post is to help clear it up.

You will see on my Plant Education page that I always have the taxonomy listed for plant species as follows:

Scientific Classification:
Sub-Family: (sometimes)
Cultivar: (if applicable)

I will always include any known common names as well.

So what’s the difference between cultivar and variety? In short, cultivars are man-made hybrids. Varieties are true forms found in nature. “Form” is synonymous with variety and cultivar.

Sometimes you might see var., f., subsp., sp., and spp. across my site.

var. In plant nomenclature, the “var.” in the name stands for variety, a taxonomic rank below species but above form or cultivar.
f. The “f.” stands for “form”, or “forma”. In plant nomenclature, it is secondary to the variety or cultivar. The primary form of Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’ f. variegata is Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’, which is an all-green form. The variegata form is the same variety (or cultivar in this case), only it has a different leaf appearance.
subsp. “Subsp.” stands for sub-species.
sp. Sp.” is used when the particular variety of the plant either cannot be identified or need not be specified.
spp. Spp.” (plural) is used to refer to multiple plants in the same genus, or “several species”.

Alright, we made it! We’re done with botany semantics. Let’s go back to more examples of common name confusion.

Lets take “Asparagus Fern”. There are multiple plants that share this common name. It could refer to Asparagus aethiopicus ‘Sprengeri’, a.k.a. Sprenger’s Asparagus. Or it could refer to Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’, a.k.a. Foxtail Fern. It could even refer to Asparagus plumosus (synonymous with Asparagus setaceus).



Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’

As you can see, these three plants look totally different from one another, yet people still use the same common name for them. All of these plants belong to the same genus, Asparagus, the same family, Asparagaceae, and the same order, Asparagales. You could call them asparagus, but they are not the same as the garden asparagus we all know and love, Asparagus officinalis. They all have a fern-like appearance, but they are not true ferns. Asparagus are angiosperms, or seed-producing plants. Ferns are spore-producing plants. Check out this diagram³ for a visual.


Now this is our culprit, “Wandering Jew”. What a misnomer mess.

At least four species of Tradescantia are called Wandering Jew:

Also, at least four species of Commelina are called Wandering Jew.

  • Commelina africana
  • Commelina benghalensis
  • Commelina cyanea
  • Commelina ensifolia

Both Saxifraga stolonifera and Tinantia pringlei are called Wandering Jew as well.

Do you think Wandering Jew has an identity crisis?

Are you confused yet? No need to be! Use Latin names instead.

We have Carl Linnaeus to thank for starting our system for plant nomenclature when he wrote Species Plantarum in 1753.

Bionomial Nomenclature

bi·no·mi·al no·men·cla·ture
/bīˈnōmēəl ˈnōmənˌklāCHər/


  1. the system of nomenclature in which two terms are used to denote a species of living organism, the first one indicating the genus and the second the specific epithet.

Today, The International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) is the set of rules and regulations for botanical names. It is governed by the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT). Their latest publication is the Shenzhen Code, 2018. Fascinating casual read.

I am officially a plant nerd.

Thanks for reading!


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With the exception of the source footnote #3, all photos belong to Cristie R. Kiley. Please ask permission before taking.

PS: I love this post about using scientific names from Plants are the Strangest People.

¹If you are a plant nerd like me, read about what classifies an eudicot here.
²If you want to nerd out with me about plant taxonomy, click here.
³Plant classification diagram.


So Lush and So Green, Green

“Ain’t no planter dope as me, I’m planted so lush and green (so lush and so green, green)”. Wait, those are the Outkast lyrics, right?

These succulent planters are the most lush ones I have. Just look at the size of those Blue Chalksticks!


IMG_3476.1 copy

Plants pictured above:

  1. Crassula perforata
  2. Curio talinoides var. mandraliscae “Blue Chalksticks”
  3. Pachyphytum oviferum “Moonstones”
  4. Sedum kimanchii
  5. Sedum oaxacanum
  6. Sedum pachyphyllum
  7. Sedum ruprestre 

These planters are among the handful of plants I recently brought to my new greenhouse. Read about the details at Fighting the Winter Blues.


Despite the clever name for this post, green leaves don’t always indicate the best growing conditions when it comes to brightly-colored succulents. Leaf “greening” will occur when they don’t receive enough light, like these ones. They won’t die from lack of full sun, but they will dull to a pale green.

After only three weeks of greenhouse living, my Pachyphytum oviferum “Moonstones” got its lavender tones back!


Pachyphytum oviferum lavender tones

Here is Pachyphytum oviferum before, on the left. And after 2 months of greenhouse living, here is Sedum pachyphyllum, on the right. Notice the blush tones?

After only 3-4 weeks, the leaf margins of my Crassula perforata started getting their red back as well!

IMG_7093 (1)

Not only was my Sedum kimnachii dulled to an overall green color from living in a redwood forest, but it was also becoming very stringy. So I easily propagated it by pulling off the heads and starting the plant over. I’m excited to see the beautiful peachy tones.


These are the same exact cuttings from my Graptopetalum paraguayense:


December 2nd, 2018


February 5th, 2019


March 1st, 2019

Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon…

The stems turned red and the faded red leaf stripes came back on my Aeonium simsii.

My Echeveria prolifica got its pink tint back!



Isn’t this all so amazing?!

You can only imagine how thrilled I am.


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All photo rights belong to Cristie R. Kiley.  Please ask permission before taking.


Fangs and Foliage: Pet Safety Guide

When we have four-legged family members roaming our homes, it’s important to make sure any plants within paws-reach are non-toxic. Both dogs and cats alike can get very sick from ingesting poisonous plants, and the toxicity will mainly affect their gastrointestinal tract. Some symptoms include difficulty breathing, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination, and irregular heart beat. If you suspect that your pet has ingested a toxic plant, call the Pet Poison Hotline at (855) 764-7661 right away!


Onyx amongst ivy

In the following lists, you might see a “spp.” (plural), which is used to refer to multiple plants in the same genus, or “several species”. For example, “Dracaena spp.” refers to multiple species within the Dracaena plant genus. If you would like further clarification regarding the confusion surrounding plant names, please see my super nerdy post, Common Name Confusion.

The following list includes, but is not limited to, common houseplants that are TOXIC to dogs and cats:

Note: For safety purposes, please assume all plant species of the same genus would be toxic to pets. So for example, Monstera deliciosa is toxic to pets; therefore, it’s safe to say that all ~50 species of Monstera would also be, e.g. Monstera adansonii.

  • Alocasia
  • Amaryllis
  • Aloe vera
  • Begonia
  • Caladium
  • Coleus
  • Dracaena spp.
  • English Ivy, Hedera helix
  • Jade
  • Kalanchoe spp.
  • Lavender
  • Marijuana
  • Mint
  • Peace Lily, Spathiphyllum wallisii
  • Pencil Cactus, Euphorbia tirucalli
  • Poinsettia
  • Pothos, Epipremnum aureum
  • Sago Palm
  • Satin Pothos, Scindapsus pictus
  • Snake Plant, Sansevieria trifasciata
  • Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera deliciosa
  • Umbrella Tree, Brassaia actinophylla
  • Wandering Jew, Tradescantia flumeninsis
  • Weeping Fig, Ficus benjamina
  • Yew, Taxus baccata

If you can’t live without some of these plants, I don’t blame you. I can’t either. But be sure to keep them out of reach. Keep them off any counters or shelves where your feline friends can get to. For example, keep your Pothos, English Ivy, or Wandering Jew trailing along the ceiling where your cat can only admire them from afar. You could even consider keeping your toxic plants in a room that is off-limits to your pet. If your pet is strictly indoors, depending on the plant and your hardiness region, you could keep it outside.

Another thing you can try, is to make a tea with chili flakes. Let it cool, put it in a spray bottle, and spray on the leaves to deter your pet from ingesting toxic plants that are impossible to keep away from them. Test in an inconspicuous area first to make sure no damage will be done to the appearance of the leaves.

Here is a list of NON-TOXIC common houseplants for dogs and cats:
  • Air Plant, Tillandsia
  • African Violet
  • Asparagus Fern, Asparagus densiflorus
  • Asparagus plumosus
  • Bamboo
  • Boston Fern
  • Button Fern
  • Calathea spp.
  • Donkey’s Tail, Sedum morganianum
  • Ghost Plant, Graptopetalum paraguayense
  • Goldfish Plant, Hypocyrta nummularia
  • Haworthia spp.
  • Hens and Chicks, Echeveria elegans
  • Holiday Cactus (includes “Thanksgiving Cactus”, “Christmas Cactus”, and “Easter Cactus”)
  • Ice Plant, Lampranthus piquet
  • Lipstick Plant, Aeschynanthus humilis
  • Parlor Palm, Chamaedorea elegans
  • Peperomia obtusifolia
  • Pilea ssp.
  • Rattlesnake Plant, Calathea lancifolia
  • Spider Plant, Chlorophytum comosum
  • Staghorn Fern, Platycerium bifurcatum

I try to keep my cats away from all my plants, just because I don’t like how the leaves look when masticated by feline fangs. Wheatgrass specifically grown for cats can help curb their appetite for your ornamental houseplants. As Jackson Galaxy would say, “follow a no with a yes”.

Pet Wheatgrass Growing Kit, $15.97

A note about bamboo: My cats love it. The minute they go outside, they love chomping down on my several bamboo plants. They’ll visit each variety like they’re at a salad bar. Oh is it annoying! But after all, bamboo is a grass, which in small amounts actually helps them with digestion.


Siyah amongst plants


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All photo rights belong to Cristie R. Kiley.  Please ask permission before taking.

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