Mentha .information on mint plants
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Names of mints


There is quite a lot on this page and it's all about how to write the names of mint so that it is of use to someone else as well as yourself. All mint naming on this website, as with the records of my Collection, is done in accordance with the Codes, the practical side of which follows below.

Writing it down

This page will I hope help you to understanding exactly what is being "said" to you by the way the mint name is written.

Unfortunately some nursery folk, label makers, publishers and even TV programme editors are apparently not as aware of the correct way to write plant names as they should be. There may be some degree of difference of opinion as to the origins of a variety, form, hybrid or cultivar, even whether the name has been superceded or changed, but the way each opinion is written is laid out in Codes agreed internationally, to be sure that everyone is using the same "language". So I'm afraid we start off with not only what is being written being possibly wrong, but also the way it is written being wrong, which could be describing a different mint or even a plant that isn't a mint. But don't give up now, buy your plant, just keep an open mind and learn through disappointment. Very occasionally you'll get a new plant to you, that might take years of enjoyment before you identify it.

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What's your name?

You can, of course, call a plant anything you like for your own reference - I do - or even when you talk to another person that knows what you are on about. But when you are talking to someone you don't know, or when writing something for publication, or giving a talk to a horticultural Society, or even creating a National Plant Collection, there is really no latitude for personal idiosyncrasies. The rules for the naming of plants are there to avoid misinformation, misunderstanding and disappointment. If, as a plant nursery owner, you sell your "apple mint" as Mentha suaveolens, when in fact it is Mentha x villosa alopecuroides , and should better be called Bowles' mint, then to a mint collector it's like the "DVD" you want for your young daughter turning out to be "Die Hard" when you wanted an episode of "Pingu".

To someone wanting some mint to go with their new potatoes, that are then covered in gravy, it may not matter which form of Mentha suaveolens, or Mentha x villosa, or Mentha spicata, or maybe even Mentha x smithiana you use. How many people could tell the difference anyway? Well the point is if the wholesaler, retailer or gardener doesn't definitely know what it is, they should only write what they do know. "Garden mint" is not a specific common name, and doesn't guarantee the plant apart from implying a reasonable flavour. "Mint" is often used as a shorthand for the same sort of plant, but could of course legitimately be used for any Mentha species or cultivar. Mint is sometimes used for both spearmint and peppermint, even though they both have individual common names and botanical/horticultural names. The common name spearmint should only be applied to Mentha spicata, but there are variations even within this species, with named cultivars, subspecies, varieties and yet-unnamed variants. How many of these really warrant being included in the common name spearmint is open to question, but not clear-cut. 

Where are you from?

In the last decade a number of "new" mints have come to the UK from various parts of Europe, and from Canada or the USA. Sometimes the "new" part is just the name, as we have had the plant in the UK for a long time, and maybe the import even originally came from the UK, although not being sold or listed in the current RHS Plant Finder. (As helpful as it is the RHS  Plant Finder is only a list of those commercially available plants actually notified to the RHS in the winter of the previous year.) When I started growing mints in the early 1980s there was less variety available from Herb Farms, but you could find them, and went round them all, and compared the variety of plants to names, there was many pleasant surprises. These days we have the RHS Plant Finder online, and nurseries with websites, but still unfortunately not good accompanying pictures. (This website no exception!)

Plants go in and out of fashion, so maybe 200 years ago Mentha arvensis 'Banana' was growing in the UK, in a Monastery or in the wild. The plant being sold under that name in the UK now was new to me when it was introduced by Janet Elliott of Old Hall Plants, from Richters in Canada, at the time the nursery imported a lot of herbs to the UK, and then the unusual banana mint got taken up by many other UK herb growers. Chocolate mint, Mentha x arvensis 'Chocolate' was introduced by, amongst others, Arne Herbs who got their plant from Well Sweep in the USA, but I know there were similar or identical plants in the UK, but again not actually commercially available at the time, so in this case some of the chocolate mint you will buy today will be from non-USA origin. Other mints have appeared in catalogues or the nursery benches, within a few years and it isn't possibly to find who brought it to the UK, or who noticed it in the wild or in a garden and bulked it up in such a short time.

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Complications

A large number of the different mints that you will find actually for sale are different forms of hybrids between species, e.g. Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate', Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Lime', Mentha x piperita  piperita  and  Mentha x piperita 'Swiss Ricola'. But you can also get varieties of single species, e.g. Mentha arvensis, Mentha arvensis var. piperascens & Mentha arvensis var. piperascens 'Sayakaze'. Long names, but that's the way it is. Common names can sometimes help, Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate' is known at chocolate mint, but Mentha arvensis var. piperascens 'Sayakaze' is not Japanese mint, which is Mentha arvensis var. piperascens, but a further variant without a common name. If the cultivar name is ever used by nurseries to describe the plant I hope they also give you the long name so you know it is a cultivar name and not a common name.

The reality is that the name listed by a nursery cannot be relied on completely. Common sense would indicate the larger the list of mints, the more likely the name is to be accurate, however a small nursery owner may know his plants far better than a nursery with many mints if they are only part of a vast list of plants. The Plant Finder started and established by Chris Phillips' (originally published by The Hardy Plant Society) and eventually given to the RHS to maintain, has helped considerably and I would say that over half the nurseries in the UK have been improved by this reference work to plant names available elsewhere in the UK. But there are still nurseries out there using botanical names that were incorrectly applied before I bought my first mint plant. You will need to accept a percentage of purchases will be duplicates of what you have bought or acquired under another name. Knowledge comes with time and experience, even if it is of disappointment.

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Naming of Plants

Wild plants are given names in a specific language, a botanical form of Latin, which also includes some Greek and Latinised personal names from all countries. The naming is done by botanists and so as gardeners we gardeners just accept what they say. Sometimes a earlier description of the plant is found in a reference somewhere and then the plant appears to change it's name, and our acceptance gives way to annoyance. But the rule is the first naming of a particular plant that has a description that conclusively identifies the plant, takes priority, even if all the world knows it by a name given by a more popular botanist, 2 years later on the other side of the world. These names should always be written in italic type, eg Mentha suaveolens, unless this is impossible, such as when written by hand, when they should be underlined, eg Mentha suaveolens. Any other words in the name but not strictly part of the name should not be in italic or not underlined, eg Mentha suaveolens var. timija  or eg Mentha suaveolens var. timija.

The Genus (plural Genera) name, eg Mentha, should begin with a capital letter. The species (plural species) (sometimes described as the specific epithet) names, eg suaveolens, should always begin with a small letter. Sometimes growing species vary slightly, due to isolation or situation and these differences are stable enough in the wild population for botanists to describe them as subspecies, varietas (in English, variety) or forma (in English, form), in decreasing degrees or differences. These names are to be written the same way as the species name above, except the abbreviation of what sub-category it is given, in normal type, if known! For example, Mentha longifolia subsp. schimperi, Mentha arvensis var. piperascens  &  Mentha x piperita f. citrata. The last name contains an "x" which indicates a natural hybrid between two species, and this should not be in italics either. In type the specific symbol used for multiplication should be used, if this isn't available then a small letter x can be used but not in italic.

(Sometimes there is an additional letter, abbreviation or full name after the species name and/or the full name. It should not be in italic and it should really be in a different font or slightly smaller. This is to identify the botanist that applied the name to the plant. In many cases this additional information is of no particular help in identification, but occasionally with mints it could be. There is an annoying amount of duplicate naming with mints because so many botanists have described the species and hybrids, before the days of mass information. This doesn't usually intrude into the average mint collectors life, but with a larger collection and deeper study, botanist abbreviations may need to be noted. You will see this to a very limited extent in the RHS Plant Finder, notably with Mentha angustifolia. Botanist names are rarely given on plant labels.)

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That's the easiest bit! Plants that have been specifically breed or that breed naturally but are discovered in cultivation come under a different Code for the naming of plants. The person who breed the plant, or discovered it, can name this plant, providing this has not ever been done before. They must publish in some way a description of the plant, that would enable it to be distinguished from similar forms already named. The code on naming of plants says for it to be given a valid name, it must be distinct from other forms already named. There are some limits as to what is now acceptable, such as no latinised names, a name of only three words; see the latest Code for these. However just because the owner hasn't seen this particular form before, doesn't mean it has not appeared before and quite possibly been named before! The first name again has priority, but because of the nature of the horticultural trade an invalid name can end up being used to sell the same plant to an unsuspecting public. Communication is the best way to avoid this, and with present day technology this is easier. However the disadvantage of the masses of wonderful small nurseries we have in the UK, keeping a greater variety of plants going, is that the owners are very busy growing the plants with little time for researching every genera.

Plant arising only in cultivation, or wild plants maintained solely in cultivation, are named as a Cultivar. This description came from joining the two words Cultivated variety. It should always be written in normal type and enclosed by single quotation marks, e.g. Mentha suaveolens 'Mobillei' or Mentha x smithiana 'Capel Ulo'. In the Garden Centre you may well see names written without the single quotation marks. This could easily be sloppiness or ignorance of the label makers or label writers. But it could also be that the name is a Trade Mark name, used for marketing purposes. These plants do have a cultivar name as well and it's often there on the label somewhere, although it could (but not always) be just letters and numbers. So far I have not found any mints that come into this category. A third possibility is that this is a common name someone has mixed in with the Botanical/Horticultural name, e.g. Mentha x piperita citrata Eau de Cologne mint, or, Mentha x villosa alopecuroides Bowles' mint (as appears incorrectly in the RHS Plant Finder!). This is understandable where there appears to be no known species or cultivar name e.g. Mentha lavender mint.

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Common names, e.g. peppermint, corn mint or water mint, are often, but not always, very old and helpful. But they are by their nature unregulated and "new" common names are often pushed by wholesalers or nurseries to help marketing irrespective of any need for it or any complications that the use of their specific idea may cause. Recently the very well known name and plant, Bowles' mint (Mentha x villosa alopecuriodes) appeared under a "new" common name "Epicure mint". In 2099 the labels from this wholesaler went back to Bowles' mint. I notice that North American sources, even more than British sources, find it essential to give a "common name" alternative to the botanical/horticultural name. In the UK the use of the Cultivar name alone is often used -  to my mind this is far more helpful, if an alternative is felt to be essential, but would be helped with the retention of the single quotation marks. But it is not without it's own problems - Japanese mint is a mint, but Korean mint and Oregan mint are not, they are Korean mint and Oregan mint!

Common names should be written in normal type with a small first letter, unless it is a Place name or Person's name, e.g. spearmint, Japanese mint & Bowles' mint, or the word begins a sentence of course.

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The last naming variation you may see on this website, and in lists of the National Mentha Collection, in Wales, is the use of double quotation marks. I use these in conjunction with a name that is in common usage, if I have any doubt as to whether this is a valid name (under the relevant Code) - true identification of the plant may not have been validated or the name may not be valid under the International Naming Codes. It is me quoting the name from the original source, e.g. Mentha "angustifolia", Mentha "lavender" & Mentha "Welsh Green Heart Mint". It doesn't necessarily mean that it is not correct. (NB. If you then want to quote that name from my website, lists or book, remember to still use the double quotation marks! )

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The Codes on naming plants say that when writing only about one genus, like mint plants there is no need to write Mentha every time you write a name, if you don't want to. But if there are other genera within the book, article or website, Mentha must be written each time, unless there are no other genera starting with an "M", in which case M. can be used after the first time when Mentha should be written in full. You will find that I always do include Mentha when writing anything to be published. It helps in web searches, but more importantly if any names are copied in isolation there is no chance of misunderstanding which Genus is meant.

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Pronounciation

A last word on how to say the names correctly. Plant naming originated and continues as a written system of  identification. The botanical part is based on a language that is not used by any nation today (except maybe the Vatican City), and Botanical Latin is unique and so international. Being a "Dead" language, primarily written, but spoken by all peoples any country, it would be difficult to say what is the correct pronunciation of any word. There are recommendations in some books, and there is probably a preferred (botanical) pronunciation. Most people in the UK will say species names more or less the same way, but when it comes to the practicalities of speaking to people from other countries there will be always be differences to work around.

 


Names of mints
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