Descriptive botanical names
Descriptive botanical names are names that are governed by Article 16 of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), which rules that a name above the rank of family may be either descriptive or formed from the name of an included family. The latter leads to names such as Magnoliophyta and Magnoliopsida.

Descriptive plant names are decreasing in importance but many are still in use, such as Plantae, Algae
Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

, Musci, Fungi, Embryophyta, Tracheophyta, Spermatophyta, Gymnospermae, Coniferae, Coniferales, Angiospermae, Monocotyledones, Dicotyledones. Such descriptive names have a very long history, often preceding Carl Linnaeus. As Latin was the universal scientific language in those days such names are in good Latin, and usually take the form of nouns in the plural.

At the rank of family

Article 18 of the ICBN allows a descriptive name, of long usage, for the following eight families. For each of these families there also exists a name based on the name of an included genus (an alternative name that is also allowed, here in parentheses):

family Compositae = "composites"

family Cruciferae = "cross-bearers"

family Gramineae = "grasses"

family Guttiferae = "latex-carriers"

family Labiatae = "lipped ones"

family Leguminosae = "legumes"

family Palmae = "palms"

family Umbelliferae = "parasol-bearers" -

The Asteraceae or Compositae , is an exceedingly large and widespread family of vascular plants. The group has more than 22,750 currently accepted species, spread across 1620 genera and 12 subfamilies...


Brassicaceae, a medium sized and economically important family of flowering plants , are informally known as the mustards, mustard flowers, the crucifers or the cabbage family....


The Poaceae is a large and nearly ubiquitous family of flowering plants. Members of this family are commonly called grasses, although the term "grass" is also applied to plants that are not in the Poaceae lineage, including the rushes and sedges...


The Clusiaceae or Guttiferae Juss. is a family of plants formerly including about 37 genera and 1610 species of trees and shrubs, often with milky sap and fruits or capsules for seeds. It is primarily tropical...


The mints, taxonomically known as Lamiaceae or Labiatae, are a family of flowering plants. They have traditionally been considered closely related to Verbenaceae, but in the 1990s, phylogenetic studies suggested that many genera classified in Verbenaceae belong instead in Lamiaceae...


The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. The group is the third largest land plant family, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with 730 genera and over 19,400 species...


Arecaceae or Palmae , are a family of flowering plants, the only family in the monocot order Arecales. There are roughly 202 currently known genera with around 2600 species, most of which are restricted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates...


The Apiaceae , commonly known as carrot or parsley family, is a group of mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems. The family is large, with more than 3,700 species spread across 434 genera, it is the sixteenth largest family of flowering plants...


Special provision has been made for what might be described as one of the subunits in Leguminosae. If this were more universally adopted it would help in avoiding the confusion attending the name Fabaceae (which can refer to either of two, quite differently sized, families). This subunit has two special names (in both the ranks relevant here):

family Papilionaceae = "butterfly-like" - -

subfamily Papilionoideae


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