Science Teaching Series

Internet Resources

I. Developing Scientific Literacy

II. Developing Scientific Reasoning

III. Developing Scientific Understanding

IV. Developing Scientific Problem Solving

V. Developing Scientific Research Skills

VI. Resources for Teaching Science

Understanding Scientific Names of Sierra Trees

Try to guess at the meaning of the specific name (epithet). Move the cursor over the second term in the parentheses to check your answer. Click here to see photos of trees and read about them.

magnifica - magnficient, upright, large tree

balfour - named in honor of John Balfour who financed botanical research

concolor - co (two) color (color). The top of the leaf is green, and the bottom is white.

keloggi - named after the botanist, Kellog.

chrsyopelis - chrys (yellow). This oak has yellowish leaves

racemosa - flowers in racemes (strings of flowers)

agrifolia - agri (spiny), folia (leaves) . Oak with spiny leaves.

rhombifolia - rhomb (shaped like a rhombus), folia (leaves). Leaves shaped like a rhombus.

californica - found in California

mexicana - common in Mexico

latifolia - lati (lateral, or large), folia (leaves) - This has large leaves.

densifloris - densi (dense), floris (flowers) - This has a dense clustering of flowers

macrophylum - macro (large), phylum (leaf) - This is the large leafed maple

occidentalis - found in the occident or west. This is the western birch.

tremuloides - "trembling, or quaking leaves" Commonly known as quaking aspen because the leaves treble or quake in a slight breeze.

lobata - the leaves of this oak tree have large lobes

contorta - the conductive tissue is "contorted and forms a spiral around the triee

albicaulis - alb means white. This tree has white bark.

occidentals - from the occident, or west. This is the western mountain juniper.

giganteum - gigantic. The Sequoiadendron giganteum is the largest tree in the world.

Sequoiadendron - Sequoia (named after Sequoia), dendron (tree)

flexilis - limber or flexible - This tree has very flexible branches. Hence the name, "limber pine"

monophyla - mono (single), phyla (leaf) - Only one leaf (needle) per fascicle or group

jefferyii - Named for its discoverer, John Jeffrey, a 19th century Scots botanist who traveled
in Oregon and California and who found the tree in the Shasta Valley of California

ponderosa - very ponderous, or large.


Generic names (Genus)

Classical Latin plant names, sometimes transferred by modern botanists to other plants: Quercus (oak), Fagus (beech), Pinus (pine), Acer (maple), Cornus (dogwood), Rosa (rose), Lilium (lily), Malus (apple), Ilex (holly).

Some names are made from one or more Greek words: Liriodendron (tulip poplar), Philodendron (philodendron), Chionanthus (fringe tree, granddaddy greybeard), Helianthus (sunflower).

Names of famous botanists and other people, put into Latin form: Linnaea (twinflower), Cunninghamia (chinese evergreen), Gardenia (gardenia), Woodwardia (chain fern), Torreya (torreya), Sequoia (redwood).

Specific names (Species)

The second word in a species name, the specific epithet, plays one of three grammatical roles: an adjective modifying the genus name, a noun in the genitive case meaning “of x” (where x is the noun that forms the epithet), or a noun “in apposition to,” or placed next to, the generic name.

Adjectives: Quercus alba, “white oak;” Pinus palustris, “swamp pine” (longleaf pine). These adjectives must match the genus name in gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter), number (singular or plural), and case (for example, nominative or genitive).

Genitives: Pinus elliottii, “pine of (Stephen) Elliott” (slash pine); These genitives often commemorate the first collector of a species.

Nouns in apposition: Acer negundo, “Negundo maple” (box elder); Aesculus pavia, “pavia buckeye” (red buckeye); Diospyros kaki, “kaki diospyros” (Japanese persimmon). These nouns do not have to match the genus name in gender. Many of these names in apposition are names for the plant in other languages taken over as specific epithets.


Meanings of Tree Names -University of Virginia.